Think you know gay Paree? Then think again, Mon ami. Steven Unwin drops in on some of the gayest places in the French capital
Paris, the city so gay they should think about putting “gay” in front of it, can be a bit of a bugger to visitors. It’s pretty on the outside, pretty rough if you wander into the wrong bits, and pretty impenetrable unless you know people.
A quick jolly over on the ol’ Eurostar can be wasted unless you’re clued up as to what you’re doing. Which is where this handy guide comes in, in a Top Nine format so it fits into your life and your Burberry tote.
And the absolute first port of call on any same-sex-oriented trip to Paris, before you settle down into a routine of madeleines and regret, before you even think of taking selfies in front of all the greats – Eiffel, Louvre, Notre Dame – or tied some rusty old padlock on the Pont Neuf, or got plastered on Beaujolais Nouveau from the strike of midnight on the third Thursday of November, is the rancid old bar where it all went tits up for John Galliano. The place where arguably the greatest fashion designer of his generation had a contretemps – and not in a good way – with some members of the general public, and became the most famous persona non grata of that same generation, is up there with Marie Antoinette’s prison cell when it comes to gay-interest folklore. It’s called La Perle, and it’s a café-cum-bar notable for being nothing much to look at. It remains buzzy with gays and, ironically, it’s on Vieille du Temple, just down the rue from the now-destroyed Temple where Marie Antoinette was held in the run up to her execution. There’s a joke about heads falling in there somewhere.
Café La Perle
78 rue Vielle du Temple
Talking of the Marais – replace “the” with “le” if you want to go all authentic – it’s obvious but, well, it is still the throbbing heart of Parisian gay life. Like London’s Soho, it’s queer-to-middlin’ in terms of appeal, just as touristy as it is gay, with nothing too edgy in terms of the scene but fun and sexy and rammed with really, really good restaurants and still deliciously quirky. On rue des Archives, right where it straddles rue Sainte-Croix de la Bretonnerie, you’ll find l’Open Café, which could be described as the axis of the gay village – so let’s describe it as the axis of the gay village – and it remains hugely popular as a starting point for a night out. Walk in and it could be any year from 1983 (the look is page 7 from the Gay Bar Catalogue) but the Kir Royales are strong and the atmosphere often louche.
17 rue des Archives
Still in the Marais (we’ll leave eventually, promise) is Les Mots à la Bouche, the oldest gay bookshop in Paris and one of the gayest book shops in the world. It’s been there since 1980; some people reading this weren’t even born then! Literature, saucy mags, tomes of local interest, scene fanzines and flyers for all the right clubs – and some of the wrong ones – it’s a must-go if you need some pertinent info, if you fancy a good read (there’s plenty in English if your French is a bit non-Frenchie) and, if you’re in the mood, pop downstairs for the naughty stuff.
Les Mots à la Bouche
6 rue Sainte Croix la Bretonnerie
Bottom by name, Derrière is one of Paris’s hottest restaurants and actually owes its moniker to its location, tucked behind two other gastronomic superstars Andy Wahloo (69, rue des Gravilliers , andywahloo-bar.com) and 404(69 rue des Gravilliers, 404-resto.com) that also belong to the brothers Mamouz. It’s a little ramshackle with junk-shop furniture jostling with ping-pong tables (you’re encouraged to play – we’re always too busy drinking) but the food is French-with-that-twist that really does elevate classics like joue de boeuf, roasted cod, and homemade game terrine. And the staff – get ready to stop the press – are delightful. Now don’t go falling headfirst for the “Parisians are rude” cliché, but, well, you know. But this lot here have managed to charm their way out of that old chestnut every time I’ve popped in. Oh, and if Mamouz rings a bell, the brothers are also behind London’s Momo and Sketch.
69, rue des Gravilliers
So this one, for gayest hotel in town, is a toss up between Jules et Jim and Mama Shelter. So let’s go for both. The former is in the thick of the Marais, on Rue des Gravilliers, and is cuter than your average button, intimate and romantic, only a few years old and clustered around two gorgeous courtyards, with rooms that are quirky, hi-spec and oh-so classy. Then there’s Mama Shelter, Philippe Starck’s mini-masterpiece over in the 20th arrondissement (out of the centre of town but not ridiculously so) where living the stripped-down sexy Starck life comes (relatively) cheap.
Hôtel Jules et Jim
11 rue des Gravilliers
109, rue de Bagnolet
Paris regulars might be a bit, “Oh, that old thing!” when it comes to Le Dépôt, but there’s a reason it’s stuck around for longer than we care to remember. Upstairs it’s all dancey and fun, downstairs it’s all windy and naughty, with allegedly the largest dark room in Europe possibly having something to do with it. It’s a one-stop-shop sort of club, cruisey if you want it, voyeuristic if you don’t, with a mixed disco vibe squished in between.
10 rue aux Ours
Paris and shopping go together like so many clichés you couldn’t even throw a stick at them, but you’ve often got to sort the wheat from the crap. Which is where gorgeous mini-emporiums like Merci come in. It’s on boulevard Beaumarchais and it’s fit to bursting with just, you know, gorgeous things. Something between a Conran Store and Mayfair’s Dover Street Market, you’ll find a curated selection of clothes, interior objets and gardenware, none of it tat. And as anyone who knows about these sorts of places will tell you, it’s as much about the stuff as it is about the clientele. And if that isn’t enough to fill your boots/ house/ garden, there’s always Karl Lagerfeld’s Marais outpost, on rue Vieille du Temple, which is fabulous on an international scale.
11 boulevard Beaumarchais
25 rue Vieille du Temple
Gays like a Sunday. Especially one where they don’t have to get up the following morning, which is where both Café Étienne Marcel and LIM come in. The first of these holds a fortnightly Sunday party that’s along the lines of Beige, where gay New Yorkers who are afraid of complex carbs go to be seen, and is popular with the fashion lot who love the fact that this place belongs to the Costes brothers, something of a design-powerhouse duo around Paris. LIM, however, is monthly and a tea party, something Paris has a strong tradition of doing well, and is more hipster, which normally means less attitude. Not that we’re sniffing at attitude.
Café Étienne Marcel
64 rue de Ticquetonne
40, rue du Colisée
Scented candles. And we hate to go all stereotypical on your back-bottoms but us gays do like a room that smells better than good, and not courtesy of something that has to be plugged in. And Diptyque is the grande dame of better-than-good when it comes to scented candles. Their flagship store is on boulevard Saint Germain, the prices are pound-for-euro, and you’ll leave floating on Feu de Bois. Or Figuier, depending on your mood.
34 boulevard Saint Germain