PARIS, FRANCE — Hemingway and Joyce. Sweaty jazz clubs and cloudy absinthe. The loud, dirty, irresistible alleyways of the Latin Quarter. The smells and colors and tastes of Rue Mouffetard.
Left Bank Paris. It might not be the glittering, gin-soaked, literary haven that it once was, but this is still the place where Parisians and ex-pats alike know how to have a good time.
We flew into Paris for a long weekend to meet up with Ian and Sarah Roche and crash the beginning leg of their honeymoon.
Meeting up at their posh hotel along the Champs Elysses, we worked our way over to the heart of the Left Bank, the Latin District. We managed to pick our way through the throngs of tourists into the real quarter, following the cobblestones of a dark alley to the warm, glowing windows of Le Coup-Chou.
The 17th century townhome, once a private residence and barbershop (the name comes from the swish of a razor blade), has been transformed into relaxed French bistro and was a favorite hangout of the Lost Generation writers. We found a comfy table in what must have once been the living room and set about basking in glasses of “real” Bordeaux, buttery Escargot, medallions of Monkfish, roasted duck, Beouf Bourguignon and other French favorites.
It was truly an epic meal with long lost friends in a magical place. A meal that won’t soon be forgotten. A meal that needed an Armagnac in the bistro’s dark study to finish it off.
To sweat off the calories, we made our way back into the beating heart of the Latin Quarter and one of my favorite jazz clubs in all the world. La Caveau de Huchette was once a Medieval torture chamber, then a stronghold for the French resistance and, naturally, now one of the flashiest clubs in a jazz-crazy city.
We sweated, danced and drank to the up-tempo blues music in the club’s dim, humid vault. Before we knew it, it was 4am and the fog hung over the Seine as we clambered for cabs home.
The next day, Ian and Sarah were off for the Champagne region at 7am.
We lazed around our rented studio in Montmartre before heading off across the river again to explore the legendary Left Bank.
While they were off tasting 100 euro bubbly, we strolled through the food stalls of Rue Mouffetard, picking out fresh Brittany oysters, bread and wine–savoring a shoestring gourmet meal on the banks of the Seine just below Notre Dame.
Stomachs sated, our minds craved culture for dessert.
Making our way along the Quay, we stopped in at the legendary Shakespeare & Co. and topped that off with a closing-time scramble through the Musee de Orsay–its legendary Victorian train station architecture as awe-inspiring to me as the halls and halls stuffed with Impressionism.
Apertifs were slugged from wine splits as we met up with the Roches under the glittering lights of the Eiffel Tower.
Ian had got a tip on La Relais de Venise, an incredible Steak Frites spot nearby and we feasted away the evening. Unlimited rounds of steaks and frites poured onto our table and down our gullets.
As expected, more Armagnac ensued. More laughter. More of the life in Paris.
If you’re looking for the Left Bank of Hemingway novels and sepia-toned posters, you’ll might only find the ghost of it.
But it’s a ghost that peeks out from behind every facet of today’s Left Bank — floating down the jazz-drowned alleyways, crackling in the warmth of a bistro fireplace and filling your mind with fuzzy, dizzy, beautiful memories.
Sweet Paris, back again.