After almost two years, the construction crew around Place de la Republique finally packed their trucks and revealed the new look of the 700-year-old square. At 280 meters long and 120 meters wide, it boasts being one of the biggest, most alluring and versatile plazas in Paris, covering five metro lines and joining the 3rd, 10th and 11th arrondissements.
During the summer, the 3rd arrondissement hosted their free annual rock festival here, but even during the average weekend it’s not hard to find a guitarist or a small group showing off their dancing skills. Due to its convenient location, Place de la Republique acts as a home base for the bobo’s (french slang for bourgeois bohême) of the surrounding neighborhoods, whether they stop by to wait for friends or to start their evening cross-legged with a flask on the concrete slabs. Other frequenters of the square include teenage boys attempting to out-trick one another on skateboards, girls in oversized jean jackets awkwardly smoking cigarettes, tourists with unfolded metro maps, impatient traffic, bicyclists clanging their bells and corporate Parisians rotating through the plaza’s glass-encased café for an apero or quick coffee.
A five-minute walk from Place de la Republique is the Canal Saint Martin, a lovely man-made canal lined with boutiques, bars and restaurants, famously known for its appearance in Jeunet’s film Le Fabuleux destin d’Amelie Pulain. The canal stretches more than four kilometers, making it a popular daytime stroll for parents with strollers or dogs prancing alongside their owners. On the canal’s edge, artists hunch over journals, drunks gather for a mid-day drink and the occasional duck braves a dip in the dirty water. The real excitement comes after dark on the concrete border and iron footbridges. As public drinking is legal in France, night picnics (full of cheese, wine, fresh bread, greasy saucisson and whatever the seasonal fruit) are a favorite amongst trendy twenty-somethings who either enjoy spending the night under the chestnuts with cheap alcohol, or are simply too hip to be caught inside a bar.
Cross over the canal and head south towards metro stop Parmentier to find rue de Jean Pierre Timbaud. A lesser-talked about street than the overflowing rue Oberkampf, JP Timbaud has a low-priced dive bar practically every other shop.
- Au Petit Garage – Be careful not to confuse it for the actual mechanic shop a few doors down. The primary sign is blackened and smudged, making it easy to overlook, and the second window reads BOUCHERIE, a token from the previous owners. The walls, crumbling in certain places, painted chipped and worn, have often-explicit graffiti covering every available spot. The furniture consists of wobbly, nicked schools desks and chairs from several decades ago. The setting isn’t forced; the place has actually earned its raggedness. The clientele is an interesting mix of bearded bikers and hip Parisians, both crowding outside the floor-length windows opening to the street for a cigarette. Happy hour deals: 2€ for wine, 3€ for a beer or 5€ for a mixed drink. Sunday brings an extra bonus of happy hour all day long.
- Orange Mecanique – Painted an electric orange, this retro bar may pay homage in name and style to Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange, but the vibes are the complete opposite of Alex’s eerie, violent world. Reminiscent of a 1960’s dorm party, funk, soul and disco stream from the speakers, silent movies project onto the walls, and album covers and psychedelic posters plaster the walls. The bar is so small that it’s impossible not to join in conversation with everyone else. Wine is 1.5€ a glass and beer 2.5€ a pint, but even outside of happy hour beer is pretty unbeatable at 4€ a pint. A large beer selection is available at higher prices, as are inventive cocktails (notably the Clockwork Orange), which start at 7€.
- La Droguerie Moderne – Its whimsical lettering and glass façade makes this bar instantly intriguing. Inside, upcycled street-side throw-aways, such as a severed bathtub and fallen street signs, serve as tables and chairs. The crowd is a little classier here; think expensive fashion that gives the impression of being a thrift store bin find. Only 3€ for a beer (5€ outside of happy hour), and they make a mean mojito for 7€ that is definitely worth the splurge.
- Au Chat Noir – Better for a week-night release than bar hopping on the weekend, Au Chat Noirwelcomes a steady flow of performers to its basement, a small cement cave with no windows, dim lighting, a piano and a random assortment of chairs and benches. Comfort and appearance may be understated, but the artistic quality is solid. While Au Chat Noir hosts concerts or expos every weeknight, the most famous is Spoken Word Paris, a poetry-centered open mic held at 8pm every Monday. Expats of all ages and countries come to express themselves, primarily in English but with cultural or instrumental touches as well. If great art isn’t intriguing enough, at least come and have a 2€ glass of wine with some locals on the terrace.
Café Cheri – Cross over the Boulevard de la Vilette to Belleville, the up-and-coming neighborhood in Paris for artists and bohemians. During the day, Café Cheri looks rather unimpressive: a relatively simple storefront, dark interior and garish red tables and chairs to match the paint. Café-dwellers gather for people watching, newspaper shuffling or smoking a cigarette. At night, step into a flashback from a college frat party: sticky floors, poor lighting and a LOUD sound system rocking electro, rock, hip-hop, punk from underground bands. Happy hour = 3.5€ a pint.
Bar Culture Rapide – A little deeper into Belleville, Bar Culture Rapide is a retro, hippie-style café and bar. Outside, thirsty locals sit on spray-paint streaked chairs in front of a stone wall littered with graffiti, watching the daily progression of Belleville’s colorful inhabitants. Inside, find slams, jams, readings and performances on a small stage surrounded by flashy paintings and a surplus of liberal-focused bumper stickers. All their prices are reasonable, but the best deal is the 5€ cocktails.