On a nocturnal tour of Paris's Montmartre neighborhood, moody singer-songwriter Keren Ann reveals the bohemian side of the vibrant city she calls home.

By Kristin Hohenadel
May 16, 2011
Rebecca Lewis Keren Ann on the streets of Montmartre.
| Credit: Rebecca Lewis

Keren Ann epitomizes the multicultural modern nomad: born to a Javanese-Dutch mother and a Russian-Israeli father, the 31-year-old singer-songwriter settled down in Paris at age 11. These days, the artist splits her time between Paris and New York, and even wrote her last album, the melancholy Nolita, as a tribute to her adopted city; for her, Manhattan is the other pole in a bicontinental urban existence. "You don't have to belong anywhere to belong in New York or Paris," she says. "Every street corner is recognizable from cinema. The ambience, the vibe—everything is so familiar." Still, Keren Ann has remained loyal to the village-like neighborhood of Les Abbesses in Montmartre for the past eight years. Recently, T+L trailed the singer through a typical evening in her Parisian life.

5:45 P.M. A night in Paris may as well begin among the dead—at the Cimetière de Montmartre (20 Ave. Rachel; 33-1/ 53-42-36-30), one of Keren Ann's must-see city haunts. "Dalida and many artists are buried here," she says, leading the way across the Pont Caulaincourt in the rain. "At no time is it spooky. There's a nice energy, and the stained glass is really beautiful in the daylight."

6:45 P.M. Moving at a Parisian-quick trot past the movie-set cafés on the Rue des Abbesses, we stop at La Mascotte (52 Rue des Abbesses; 33-1/46-06-28-15), an unassuming brasserie with old wall tiles and a Bordeaux-themed clock, for belon oysters and a glass of chilled Macon. She smokes steadily, chatting up the characters at the bar. This could be a scene out of Jean-Pierre Jeunet's Amélie, much of which was filmed nearby.

7:20 P.M. "Salut, ma chérie, ça va?" Keren Ann calls out to a toothless woman camped out on a stoop on Place des Abbesses, the neighborhood's main square. "Do you have enough cigarettes?" Keren Ann supplies this local fixture with smokes, while the nearby épicerie provides her with a daily liter of milk. "I've known her for seven years. She calls me Barbara, and herself Mademoiselle Gangster," Keren Ann says. "She says she's a messenger sent to protect the area from cars that are actually aliens."

7:30 P.M. It's a half-hour until closing at Keren Ann's favorite book and music store, L'Oeil du Silence (91 Rue des Martyrs; 33-1/42-64-45-40), a shop with high ceilings and an eclectic mix. "It's best to come in and let yourself be surprised," she says, adding that this is where she goes for hard-to-find items like DVD's of Nico performing live and a John Cale biography in French and English. She pets the owners' dog and sits down on the mosaic tile floor to leaf through Emily Dickinson, translated into French.

9 P.M. At the intimate Café Burq (6 Rue Burq; 33-1/42-52-81-27; dinner for two $64), co-owner Frédéric Péneau pours the singer a glass of champagne at the bar, which is lit with sherbet-colored Christophe Pillet–designed wall sconces. "When I'm writing or recording and I want a drink, I'll come here—it's just two steps from my house," Keren Ann says, pausing to double-kiss a flow of fashionable acquaintances who squeeze past the bar on their way to dinner. "It's a real neighborhood sort of place, but people come from all over town for their roasted Camembert," she says. Her favorites on the menu: veal liver sautéed with figs, rump steak with shallots and soy sauce, and a crumble with seasonal berries for dessert.

9:45 P.M. Down the hill from Les Abbesses in the Pigalle quarter, bustling Boulevard de Clichy is lined with sex shops and flooded with tourists spilling out of the topless show at the Moulin Rouge (82 Blvd. de Clichy; 33- 1/53-09-82-82; dinner and show from $210 per person). "I love this area," Keren Ann says. "There's something old and very French about it." She's also fond of Montmartre's music halls—especially the Théâtre Le Trianon (80 Blvd. Rochechouart; 33-1/44-92-78-00), with its red velvet seats and slanted stage.

10:15 P.M. Nights often end at the kitschy cabaret-style bar Aux Noctambules (24 Blvd. de Clichy; 33-1/46-06-16-38), where the drink specialty is a Vodka Pomme Frozenn made in a slush machine and the house act is an old-timer named Pierre Carré, who sings French classics while playing a keyboard or an accordion. "You come in here at 2 a.m. and order a digestif or a bottle of champagne," Keren Ann says, "and he sings all these very cheesy—in a good way— songs from his heart."

11 P.M. From Aux Noctambules, it's a short walk back to her apartment, and Keren Ann strolls down the middle of the lamplit, rain-dampened streets. "I love the way Paris smells after the rain," she says. "Wherever I am, I always feel as if I'm somewhere else. But when I come here, I come home."

Aux Noctambules

At home in the Bohemian chic Monmartre, this caberet-style watering hole is often the last and most memorable stop on a night spent out in the city's famed nightclub district. Likeable in its quirky charm, the smallish blue-tiled space has frozen Vodka cocktails mixed in a slush machine and a gem of a house act. Cheesy-but-lovable old-school crooner Pierre Carre sings French classics while jamming alternately on his keyboards or accordian. An improvised dance floor allows patrons to dance late nights away with the eclectic clientele, ranging from tourists to university students to sailors.

Théâtre Le Trianon

More storied than the average music hall, this beautiful venue at the foot of Montmartre dates to 1894. Constructed on the site of the garden of the Elysee-Montmartre, Theatre Le Trianon was destroyed by fire in 1900, rebuilt by famed architect Joseph Cassian Bernard in 1902, and in 1988 took its place amongst France's official historical monuments. Restored in 2009, the 1,000-seat hall features red velvet seats, a slanted stage, and two levels of balconies. Stop for coffee at the ground-floor coffee shop, La Petit Trianon, before seeing one of the plays, classical concerts, operas, fashion shows, or musicals.

Moulin Rouge

Right at home on Pigalle's racy Boulevard de Clichy, this over-the-top homage to La Belle Epoque features kitschy striptease routines and a never-ending-parade of topless girls. Popular with the tourist set — buses frequently line the boulevard outside — this 20th-century incarnation of the famed Moulin Rouge club is a conscious throwback to the original cabaret. Dinner and drinks are served (prices are high and the menu is limited), but the shows and the ambiance are the primary draw. Each evening's finale is an exuberant send-off involving a dozen or more topless belles doing the Cancan.

Café Burq

Popular with Monmartre locals, this cozy, low-lit cafe and bar in the Place du Tertre is known for its good-looking staff and sexy feel. With an extensive wine list and swanky decor, including sherbet-colored wall sconces designed by Christophe Pillet, Cafe Burq attracts an upscale bar crowd, particularly after 9 p.m. (The cafe is mostly empty early evenings and an easy stop-in for authentic French dishes like Escargot in cream and veal liver sautéed with figs.) Attracting cheese lovers from all over Paris, Cafe Burq's roasted Camembert pairs nicely with a half bottle of wine late evenings.

L'Oeil du Silence

The book and music store has high ceilings and an eclectic mix.

La Mascotte

A fun spot to watch the natives drink and scarf down oysters, this neighborhood restaurant and bar in southern Monmartre has local color to spare. Opened the same year the Moulin Rouge and Eiffel Tower debuted (1889), La Mascotte features Art Deco decor and authentic Parisian cuisine. The menu centers around regional ingredients combined to create such classic French dishes as potée auvergnate (pork stew) and steak tartare. The seafood platters are La Mascotte's specialty, though; the fish is brought in fresh daily for the varying dishes and is always served in massive portions.

Cimetière de Montmartre

A popular destination for a stroll, this cemetery in northern Paris' Montmartre once served as home to French Revolution-era mass graves. Spruced up and formally christened "Montmartre Cemetery" in 1825, the 11-hectare space is now the final resting place of a who's who of French notables such as writers Émile Zola and Alexandre Dumas, artist Edgar Degas, and dancer Vaslav Nijinsky. Situated below street level atop an old quarry, the cemetery is well-known for its stained glass and abundance of shady maple trees. Maps are provided gratis at the cemetery's entrance, located at the end of Avenue Rachel just down the stairs from 10 Rue Caulaincourt.