In reopened Paris, creative energy and festive euphoria set the mood
By Mary Winston Nicklin,
Kiran Ridley Getty Images
On the long-awaited June day when restaurants reopened in Paris, I met a friend for dinner at Vivant 2. We hadn’t been out in so long, we had almost forgotten how to order. The brisk waiter brought us amuse-bouches and let us linger over the menu, watching the chefs bustle in the open kitchen, the dishes sent out in a cloud of fragrant steam. After so many months of meal planning during the pandemic, it was tellement agréable to let someone else prepare the fish with beurre blanc sauce. And when we finally ambled outside, giddy on a few glasses of crémant de bourgogne, we just had to stop to take in the scene.
The Rue des Petites Écuries was packed. Lining the length of the street were open-air restaurant terraces, the tables spilling onto the sidewalk and into parking spaces. During the pandemic, Paris City Hall allowed restaurants to extend their outdoor dining and occupy this public space; now, this initiative has become permanent. There was music and laughter, and the late evening light illuminated the building facades in a golden glow. We walked through the 10th arrondissement, and when we arrived at Place de la République, we were surprised to find that the square had been converted into a dance floor, with couples spinning around in the euphoric summer night.
The city was back.
Mary Winston Nicklin for The Washington Post
There was dancing in the streets when pandemic restrictions were lifted in Paris. Here a live string band plays in front of the Institut du Monde Arabe for weekend dancers in the spring.
In Paris, life is lived on the street. A baby’s first word might be escargot, in the case of my daughter Cecilia, who used to pick up snails from the sidewalk. Teens congregate and blast music, while couples indulge in public displays of affection (or loud lovers’ quarrels). In the parks — de facto living rooms — retirees gossip on benches and feed the swans morsels of stale baguette. This theatrical street life is an age-old reality; market vendors have been hawking their wares on Rue Mouffetard for centuries, wandering musicians sometimes play for residents who toss down coins from their balconies and inebriated bon vivants have been sampling the nightlife on the Rue de la Huchette long before author Elliot Paul chronicled the street’s colorful cast of 1920s characters in “The Last Time I Saw Paris.”
A century after the dawn of the Roaring Twenties, spring 2020 ushered in a historic moment of a different kind. One of the world’s strictest pandemic lockdowns altered the urban landscape to such an extent that it was almost unrecognizable. Not because of the complete absence of car traffic, but because the streets were empty of this human theater. Successive lockdowns, each with different rules for residents, dimmed the lights and dropped the curtain on the pageantry. Now the city has come roaring back to life.
“Paris is always evolving and renewing, but the health crisis actually gave us new opportunities,” says Corinne Menegaux, managing director of the Paris Convention and Visitors Bureau. “An example is the [expanded] restaurant terraces. We came up with this idea to solve a problem, but we turned it into an opportunity, and now we’ve decided to keep them, . . . the same with the new cycling lanes. The crisis accelerated a movement. In fact, I think Paris is one of the cities that made the most out of the situation. We could’ve just waited out the pandemic, but that was not the case here.”
On their return to the French capital, vaccinated American travelers will find the city’s creative energy translated into a host of exciting new offerings. Here’s what you shouldn’t miss:
Mary Winston Nicklin for The Washington Post
The city’s newest destination for contemporary art, the Bourse de Commerce-Pinault Collection occupies what once served as the grains and commodities exchange, showcasing original painted frescoes in the rotunda.
Museums and monuments
It’s been years in the making, and now billionaire François Pinault has secured city-center digs to show off his contemporary art collection. The Bourse de Commerce, now home to the Bourse de Commerce-Pinault Collection, once served as the grain and commodities exchange; now, the circular structure has been transformed into a museum by Japanese architect Tadao Ando, who retained historic features such as the Medici Column, a vestige from a 16th-century residence of Catherine de Medici. Step into the rotunda, where the glass cupola illuminates the painted frescoes, and marvel at Urs Fischer’s melting wax sculptures. Other highlights include Ryan Gander’s talking mouse in a hole in the boutique wall, 30 works by African American artist David Hammons, photographs by Cindy Sherman, and the basement sound installation by Tarek Atoui, previously exhibited at the Venice Biennale in 2019. Celebrated culinary duo Michel and Sébastien Bras conceived the beautiful Halle aux Grains restaurant, its cereals-based cuisine (featuring barley, flax, millet) inspired by the building’s history.
The largest square in Paris, the Place de la Concorde commands strategic real estate with vistas unfurling in dazzling perspectives along the Champs-Élysées and Jardin des Tuileries. It’s here that a must-visit monument debuted in June. Once the depository for the royal furniture collections and later home to the French Navy, the Hôtel de la Marine has been meticulously restored by hundreds of artisans as a showcase of 18th- and 19th-century decorative style. Closed to the public for centuries, the edifice now opens directly onto the square, the Café Lapérouse tempting visitors to stay awhile. Another restaurant called Mimosa will follow in September — overseen by Michelin-starred chef Jean-François Piège. “This courtyard was full of life in the 18th century,” said monument administrator Jocelyn Bouraly at the launch, “and now we’ve restored it as a place for flâneurs.”
One of the most dramatic transformations is the Musée Carnavalet, housed in a pair of centuries-old mansions in the Marais district. Devoted to the history of Paris, the museum closed in October 2016 for a top-to-bottom overhaul that updated the scenography, opened up rooms with natural light and adapted the exhibits to be more child-friendly. (Hélas, Roman numerals have been abandoned!) “The grand novelty is the opening of the historic basement cellar, which required a huge excavation,” said Noémie Giard, head of visitor management, on a pre-opening tour. Here is where you can admire the remarkably preserved wood canoe discovered in a Neolithic archaeological site on the Seine. In the leafy courtyard garden, chef Chloé Charles, a popular contestant on “Top Chef” 2021, has created a vegetable-centric menu for Les Jardins d’Olympe, the museum’s first restaurant.
People sit on the lawn of the Champ-de-Mars as the Eiffel Tower reflects on the glass panels of the Grand Palais Éphémère ahead of the inauguration of the temporary structure in Paris on May 3.
The Grand Palais, the glass-topped monument originally built for the 1900 Universal Exposition, has closed for an important restoration that’s expected to wrap in 2024. In the meantime, the blockbuster art exhibitions usually hosted there will be staged in a temporary structure on the Champ-de-Mars. Designed in wood by architect Jean-Michel Wilmotte, the Grand Palais Éphémère was built in an eco-friendly way to reduce energy consumption, its modular structure to be reused after it’s dismantled in autumn 2024. (The building will also host sporting events, such as judo and wrestling, for the 2024 Summer Olympics.)
Long-awaited exhibitions have been extended, so culture-hungry visitors can appreciate the shows they missed. For example, the Conciergerie, the former palace/prison where Marie Antoinette was held before her execution, is hosting an exhibit by Ghanaian artist El Anatsui, who was given carte blanche in the monumental space. Works made of bottle caps shimmer in the enormous fireplaces, while two video projections of the Seine, filmed during the lockdown, flow through the room. “We had to send the artist 3-D models and exact dimensions of the space, as his work is all made to measure,” curator N’Goné Fall said of the pandemic complications that prevented the artist’s travel from Nigeria.
And in September, the Arc de Triomphe will be wrapped in silvery blue fabric for 16 days, a posthumous project conceived by artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude — a longtime dream finally coming to fruition.
A new Paris hospitality trend, only intensified since the pandemic, is the transformation of hotels into lively local hangouts for Parisians who bring their laptops for co-working, stay for end-of-day aperitifs and meet up with friends for weekend brunch. One of the addresses that embodies this zeitgeist is Le Grand Quartier, a four-star hotel near the Canal Saint-Martin. The 83 rooms are comfortable and filled with light; a few interconnect to create “family rooms.” There’s a store featuring a changing selection of local lifestyle brands, a rooftop terrace for yoga classes and a cafe serving up coffee roasted by La Brûlerie de Belleville. “Top Chef” 2021 finalist Sarah Mainguy has taken over the leafy courtyard restaurant until the end of October.
Another example is Chouchou, a fun hotel in the Opera district. Whatever night of the week, the restaurant is a happening scene where locals gather for entertainment and shared plates (oysters, charcuterie and cheese platters). Equipped with Toto toilets and supremely comfortable beds, the rooms have a stylish design; the three top-floor suites were inspired by musical icons Edith Piaf, Boris Vian and Serge Gainsbourg. The “Arrache-Coeur” suite has views of the Palais Garnier opera house.
And slated to open in September in the ninth arrondissement, Maison Mère bills itself as “a place full of life,” equipped with a bar, co-working space, art gallery and pop-up store.
Mary Winston Nicklin for The Washington Post
The contemporary youth hostel Les Piaules has opened a second location overlooking the newly landscaped Place de la Nation in the 12th arrondissement.
Rooftops are always a hot commodity in the city, and this trio of new hotels has sky-high perches to enjoy the views. Unveiled in May, the Canopy by Hilton Paris Trocadero has one with killer views of the Eiffel Tower. The new movie-themed Hotel Paradiso has a rooftop for open-air cinema. Opened in June, Les Piaules Nation is a contemporary youth hostel with a small rooftop overlooking the Place de la Nation, which was completely transformed in 2019 as a landscaped, pedestrian-friendly square.
On the luxury end of the spectrum, the five-star Hôtel Elysia in the eighth arrondissement is showing off a chic makeover by Maison Numéro 20, the in-demand design studio based in Saint-Germain-des-Prés. Hôtel Costes, a favorite of the fashion crowd, has opened a swank new addition on the Rue Castiglione. The Hotel Bel-Ami in Saint-Germain-des-Prés has launched five private apartments with kitchenettes and washing machines.
Meanwhile, the city’s famous palaces — the supreme hotel category awarded by the French government to distinguish luxury hotels with serious wow factor — took advantage of pandemic closures to renovate. Le Bristol refurbished its suites and transformed its garden courtyard to showcase the region’s biodiversity, while the Hotel Plaza Athénée revamped its splendid Art Deco suites. And the Ritz Paris launched the new Comptoir, showcasing the signature pastries of executive pastry chef François Perret, named “Best Restaurant Pastry Chef in the World” by the Grandes Tables du Monde in 2019. His goal is to create transportable treats, easy-to-eat sandwiches, even a liquid dessert (“the Ritz in a glass”) that you can take with you while strolling around Paris. “Food doesn’t have to be on a porcelain plate to be good,” he said at the cafe’s launch.
During the pandemic, the city’s vacant restaurants were playfully populated by giant stuffed bears known as Les Nounours des Gobelins. The brainchild of bookstore owner Philippe Labourel, these teddy bears have been making the rounds (and brightening Parisians’ moods) for the past few years, popping up in salons, wine shops and pharmacies, and on park benches. During the pandemic, they migrated to the bistro chairs of cafes such as the Deux Magots. Now the bears have relinquished their seats to grateful restaurant-goers who are back dining with gusto. Here are some of the most talked about new or reimagined spaces.
La Samaritaine, the historic department store that used to draw shoppers for bargains and rooftop Seine views, has gone luxe in a big way. Closed for 16 years, the newly dubbed Samaritaine Paris Pont-Neuf has emerged from a costly renovation by owner LVMH, which has preserved historical Art Nouveau and Art Deco features while adding a new glass building on Rue de Rivoli. And with 12 dining venues, including a coffee shop by Brûlerie des Gobelins and Street Caviar by La Maison Prunier, it’s a destination for eating as much as designer shopping. Note that the rooftop will be an exclusive bastion for guests of the ultra-luxe Cheval Blanc hotel opening in September.
Mary Winston Nicklin for The Washington Post
During the pandemic, restaurants were allowed to expand their sidewalk terraces into parking spaces on the street. Paris City Hall has decided to keep this initiative.
Occupying the terrace of the Musée d’Art Moderne, Forest is a popular place for shared bites and drinks (cocktails, kombucha, matcha lattes) with Eiffel Tower views and a DJ-spun soundtrack. Chef Guy Martin is shaking things up at Le Grand Véfour. Founded in 1784, the legendary restaurant will now serve a more affordable, all-day cuisine, from breakfast to dinner, and there’s even outside seating on the Palais Royal. With multiple locations in Paris, Rosa Bonheur channels the vibe of guinguettes, or historic riverside dance halls. The latest outpost is situated in the Chalet de la Porte Jaune on the Lac des Minimes in the Bois de Vincennes.
During the pandemic, the Israeli team behind Shabour opened a pop-up deli called Shosh for takeout sandwiches, with a permanent address on Rue Saint-Sauveur expected to open in September. And Alan Geaam, the self-taught Lebanese chef who holds a Michelin star at his eponymous restaurant in the 16th, opened Sâj on the Rue de Montmorency in the third arrondissement. Around the corner from Geaam’s excellent Qasti bistro, Sâj serves street food such as labneh, halloumi and kefta sandwiches. For dessert, try the ice cream by Maison Alpérel, crafted with local ingredients from the Paris region including Ferme de Grignon milk.
Speaking of glace, celebrated chef Alain Ducasse’s contract may be up at the Hotel Plaza Athénée, but he’s still got some sweet projects underway. Le Chocolat Alain Ducasse, his new ice cream shop in the Bastille neighborhood, scoops up interesting flavors, including Three Vanillas. Team Ducasse has also recently moved the historic Rech seafood restaurant to new premises inside the Maison de l’Amérique Latine on Boulevard Saint-Germain.
Please NotePotential travelers should take local and national public health directives regarding the pandemic into consideration before planning any trips. Travel health notice information can be found on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s interactive map showing travel recommendations by destination and the CDC’s travel health notice webpage.
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If you go
Where to stay Le Grand Quartier 15 Rue de Nancy
011-33-176-216-161 legrandquartier.com/en/ An independent hotel near the Canal Saint-Martin that’s a hub for locals who appreciate the pop-up shop, courtyard restaurant, rooftop yoga classes and gallery space. Promotional rates from around $130. Chouchou 11 Rue du Helder
011-33-187-445-479 chouchouhotel.com Situated near the Palais Garnier opera house, this stylish hotel attracts a fun local crowd for after-work drinks, dinner and nightly entertainment. Rates from around $160. Canopy by Hilton Paris Trocadero 16 Avenue d’Eylau
011-33-145-505-070 hilton.com/en/hotels/parpypy-canopy-paris-trocadero/ The first hotel in France for Hilton’s Canopy brand, first launched in Iceland in 2016 with a focus on local experiences and signature bedding (beds are topped with a local-inspired “canopy”). The rooftop terrace has Eiffel Tower views. Rates from around $275. Hotel Paradiso 135 Boulevard Diderot
011-33-188-592-001 mk2hotelparadiso.com/en/ The MK2 group, behind some of the most interesting cinemas in Paris, has opened its first hotel, a playful and fun homage to the movies. There’s an open-air cinema on the rooftop, plus movie projectors in each of its 36 rooms. Promotional rates start around $115 a night. Les Piaules Nation 28 Bis Place de la Nation 011-33-978-362-028 lespiaules.com/nation/ Overlooking the Place de la Nation, this new contemporary youth hostel offers bunk rooms alongside individual rooms with private bathrooms. The brand’s second location is in Belleville. Bunk room from around $32 per night. Hôtel Elysia 35 Rue de Berri
011-33-153-532-020 hotelelysia.fr/en/ This romantic five-star hotel near the Champs-Élysées is showing off a stylish makeover by the Maison Numéro 20 design agency. Rates from around $300. Hôtel Costes 7 Rue de Castiglione
011-33-142-445-000 hotelcostes.com/en A darling of the fashion crowd, the luxurious Hôtel Costes has launched a new addition called “Castiglione,” occupying what was previously the adjacent Hôtel Lotti. Rates from around $475. Where to eat Samaritaine Paris Pont-Neuf 9 Rue de la Monnaie011-33-188-886-000 dfs.com/en/samaritaine Newly opened in June after a no-holds-barred renovation by luxury group LVMH, the iconic department store on the Seine has 12 dining venues, including Ernest by Michelin-starred chef Naoëlle d’Hainaut, exclusive pastry by Dalloyau, and a coffee shop by Brûlerie des Gobelins, an adored Parisian roastery. Mains at Ernest about $24. Dalloyau pastries about $9. Cappuccino about $5. Forest 11 Avenue du Président Wilson
011-33-184-251-222 forest-paris.com The terrace at the Musée d’Art Moderne is a delightful place to take in views of the Eiffel Tower and the Seine, now even more enjoyable because cool chef Julien Sebbag has opened a restaurant there. Entrees from about $20. Le Grand Véfour 17 Rue de Beaujolais
011-33-142-965-627 grand-vefour.com/en/ First opened in 1784 on the Palais Royal, Le Grand Véfour has served a “who’s who” of French historic figures, such as Napoleon Bonaparte and Joséphine, in its opulent dining room. Now, chef Guy Martin has changed tacks with a more accessible all-day menu. Entrees from about $21. Rosa Bonheur à l’Est Porte Jaune, Avenue de Nogent rosabonheur.fr The latest outpost of Rosa Bonheur, a lively, guinguette-style restaurant and dance hall, is in the Bois de Vincennes. There’s a countryside ambiance here in the historic Chalet de la Porte Jaune overlooking a lake. Pizzas from about $11, tapas from about $6. Sâj 51 Rue de Montmorency
011-33-145-667-775 lesaj.fr Michelin-starred chef Alan Geaam serves delicious Lebanese sandwiches (such as halloumi, kefta and chicken shawarma) at this spot in the Upper Marais district. Sandwiches about $9. La Glace Alain Ducasse 38 Rue de la Roquette
011-33-148-058-286 lechocolat-alainducasse.com/en/ice-creams Chef Alain Ducasse has opened an ice cream shop serving interesting, original flavors next to his chocolate and coffee shops in the Bastille quarter. Medium cup of ice cream about $8. Vivant 2 43 Rue des Petites Écuries
011-33-142-464-355 vivantparis.com An upbeat soundtrack, bar seating and a creative menu (try the mousse dessert that’s made with creamy Brillat Savarin cheese) make this intimate restaurant a top spot for a night out. Entrees from about $27. What to do Bourse de Commerce-Pinault Collection 2 Rue de Viarmes
011-33-155-046-060 pinaultcollection.com/en/boursedecommerce Billionaire François Pinault first announced plans for a Paris museum 21 years ago, and at long last, the Kering founder has a beautiful, centrally located venue to show off his collection. In a masterful restoration, architect Tadao Ando reimagined the 18th-century building that once housed the grain and commodities exchange as a showcase for contemporary art. Open 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.; late closure 9 p.m. on Fridays. Closed Tuesdays. Tickets about $17. Hôtel de la Marine 2 Place de la Concorde hotel-de-la-marine.paris/en After a meticulous four-year restoration enlisting France’s finest artisans, the Hôtel de la Marine opened in June to much fanfare. Originally commissioned by King Louis XV as part of a royal square, the monument on Place de la Concorde once housed the royal and state furniture collections (and the crown jewels), before morphing into the headquarters for the French Navy. Today, it’s a destination for dining, shopping at the concept store and gaping at sumptuous 18th-century decor in the exhibition rooms. Open daily 10:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. “Grand tour” tickets about $20; reception tour and loggia tickets about $16. Musée Carnavalet 23 Rue de Sévigné
011-33-144-595-858 carnavalet.paris.fr It was Baron Haussmann, the prefect who famously razed medieval quarters in the 19th century to modernize Paris, who first suggested the city open a museum dedicated to Parisian history. The Carnavalet has been a beloved Paris institution ever since. Housed in two historic mansions in the Marais district, the museum recently completed a stunning four-year renovation. Open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; closed Mondays. Free access to permanent collections. Conciergerie 2 Boulevard du Palais
011-33-153-406-080 paris-conciergerie.fr/en/ Once a royal palace in the Middle Ages, then a jail holding prisoners awaiting execution during the French Revolution, the Conciergerie is a popular tourist attraction that stages exhibitions, such as the current art show by El Anatsui. Open daily 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. El Anatsui exhibit open through Nov. 14. Exhibit and monument price ticket about $11. Combined tickets for Sainte-Chapelle, also managed by Centre des Monuments Nationaux, about $20. Information en.parisinfo.com M.N.
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