top of page
  • Writer's pictureAbsolutely Anything

My Guide to Paris

I had an incredibly successful first trip to Paris. No Paris syndrome for me. I’m glad Anthony Bourdain felt the same way, decreeing it “one of the greatest, most beautiful, most magical cities in the world.” It’s exactly how I feel. Any place that values cheese, croissants, chocolate, cinema, and, evidently, other words with the letter ‘c’ is all right by Cathleen! I also love the French’s need for a dinner reservation (RSVP is short for “Répondez s’il vous plaît.”)


I also had plenty of time to explore and wander, and I knew what was and wasn’t worth seeking out because I have some very honest cosmopolitan friends. (The Moulin Rouge was a resounding “AVOID.”)


I didn't go inside.

Cafes

Cafe de Flore

My first day in Paris: I landed, rode in a car to the hotel, dropped off my bags, and walked to Cafe de Flore. I waited in a fifteen-minute line, made friends with the people behind me, and got a table for one. I ordered a hot chocolate with cream and a croissant and sat next to an older man in a pop art sweater. There was a group of six British girls (possibly on a bachelorette hen trip) across from me who very loudly told their waiter he did not give them proper service. The French man next to me stood up and shamed the British girls: “This is France!” he exclaimed. It was an astounding moment to witness and felt comically similar to a sub-plot from an Emily in Paris episode. I think I told the man, “Right on!” once he sat down.



I know some people say this is a tourist trap. Don’t listen to them. Oscar Wilde loved this place; I love this place; Ina Garten loves this place; and that’s all the reason you need.


To get in the mood, listen to “Love In The Time of Socialism” by Yellow House. There’s a line about Cafe de Flore, which helps anyone struggling on their French pronunciation.


For my history buffs, before World War II, Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir were a couple of the Existentialists at the Café de Flore. Albert Camus also frequented, choosing to sit on the opposite side of the room from Sartre. Truman Capote also stopped by whenever he was in Paris.


I read that “discussions at the ‘philo-café’ are held upstairs on the first Wednesday of the month, from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.” I haven’t done it myself, but I’d love for you to tell me your experiences.



Les Deux Magots

Let’s say you’re intimidated by the line at Cafe de Flore. Good news. Literally down the street on Saint-Germain is Les Deux Magots. I personally think you should do both de Flore and Deux Magots when you visit. Chances are one will speak to you more. 


Between de Flore and Deux Magots, Deux Magots is a little bit less tourist-y. It was significantly less crowded when I went. Overall, it’s understandable why this place resonated with Ernest Hemingway. He even wrote The Sun Also Rises here and used the cafe as the setting. The Surrealists—Man Ray, Max Ernst and Joan Miró—also set up camp in this cafe. They would situate the table in front of the door to commentate on anyone who entered. 



Order a pot of hot chocolate à l’ancienne or the Viennese hot chocolate, which is much thicker. Why? There’s egg yolk in there. This is what I got when I went, and I definitely did not know that then. The desserts are from Pierre Hermé. 


Les Deux Magots is just one of the many places in Paris where Hemingway drank.

Carette

Another popular and iconique Paris spot. This is a chain throughout the city. I went to the one closest to the Louvre and had an all-too delightful afternoon eavesdropping by myself. As tastemaker Madame de Sevigné said of the hot chocolate—chocolat chaud—, it will “make the most unpleasant company seem good to you.” To that, I say salut.


Musee de la Vie Romantique

The museum itself is very small. You can cruise through it in 30 minutes. It’s also really just a museum of a group of friends’ stuff. I was amused by the idea of turning the UWS townhouse my college friends and I lived in into a museum with hairballs and. In a century, that could honestly make a rather great collection.



The reason I recommend Musee de la Vie Romantique is for its cafe. It’s beautiful, so tranquil. I did a virtual meeting from here and had a lovely time catching up on correspondence.



When you go, try the museum. (It’s free, why not.) Come to your own conclusion on the collection and then unwind in the cafe.


KB Cafe Shop

This is more coffee shop than Paris cafe, if that makes sense. I had a great time. An old Frenchman hit on me, and the entire ordeal was so cliche that I heartily laughed as it was happening and thoroughly confused him. 


That aside, KB is located in SoPi (Southern Pigalle) near Montmartre. Very good coffee with roasts from Ethiopia, Columbia, Guatemala, and Indonesia and creates its own signature blends. I don’t drink iced coffee, but if you do, they have that here. That’s notable for Paris.


Cafe Buci

This was a recommendation from my friend Caroline, and it was the perfect last-day meal. It’s very French. I particularly liked the graffiti near our table that read, “I did cocaine in the bathroom with Willie Nelson.” I love running into fellow Texans abroad.


Pastries

Boris Lumé 

I have questions for myself. Why didn’t I try every croissant I came across in Paris? I think I only had three. One of them was Boris Lumé near Montmartre, and it was so good that maybe I decided I didn’t need any more. According to some list somewhere, they won “Best Pure Butter Croissants” and that was apparently enough for me. The next time I’m in France, I’ll have a more robust ranking for you.


The Ritz

I rarely tap out when it comes to dessert. The (shockingly reasonable) dessert tea service at the Ritz knocked me out.


Restaurants

Le Grand Colbert

I have a whole story about this place, but I'll get to that some other day. Here is a selfie designer Gaby Basora and I took with our maitre’d. I had a magical time here. I trust you will, too. 



 Maxim’s

Allegedly "the most famous restaurant in the world." I take that with the same grain of salt as the Hotel Frontenac in Quebec City, which is allegedly "the most photographed hotel in the world." Regardless, Maxim's is definitely worth visiting. I still think about the risotto and fish from this night.


Les Temps des Cerises

Just to look at this little house with its eighteenth-century mosaic façade is worth the trek, but what if I told you the food is quintessential French fare? Get a reservation for the beginning of dinner service, and get here early. While you’re sitting in the empty restaurant, you’ll think, “I don’t know why Cathleen insisted I get here early. Seems rather silly to me.” Give it fifteen minutes. The place will fill up, and you’ll be glad you were there before that happened.



I didn’t hear any English while I was there. It was filled with local patrons. This is also where I tried escargot for the first time. I’m an escargot a go go girl now. Thanks, Les Temps des Cerises.


When my mom visited me in Paris, this was our first reservation and her first meal of the trip. I got gold stars for taking her, and it set the tone for her entire Paris vacation. 

Chez Georges

I'd go there now if I could.



Le Train Bleu

NOT overrated. A must-visit for Mr. Bean fans.

Le Procope

My mom was hesitant when we sat down in this despuis-1686 restaurant. “I thought it was going to be a tourist trap,” she confesses. How wrong we were! The food was excellent. As my mom said, “This was finger-lickin’ good!”



You pay by QR code, which I understand sounds awful. Here you are in the OLDEST continuously cafe, and you’re paying by means of your hi-tec phone screen. That was a bit jarring. But other than this unseemly detail, I do think you should try to go.


A good song to play before going is anything from The Marriage of Figaro. According to Katrina Lawrence, “On the evening of the première of The Marriage of Figaro, Caron de Beaumarchais waited at Le Procope — just down the road, at 13 Rue de l’Ancienne-Comédie — to see if his play would be judged a success. He surely celebrated long and hard that night, before rolling home …”


Une Verre du Vin ou Une Bierre

Hotel Lutetia

James Joyce was a regular!



Harry’s New York Bar

Welcome home, Americans. This feels more like an Old New York institution than a Parisian bar, hence the incredibly a propos name. It’s where George Gershwin, Ernest Hemingway, and James Bond would go to feel like they’re back in the States. Gershwin even composed An American in Paris on the piano here.


From Atlas Obscura: "Its address, 5 Rue Daunou, was the bar’s calling card, with advertisements in the international press running a tagline telling visitors to simply ask taxi drivers to head to ‘Sank Roo Doe Noo.’”


Between you and me, the non-Franco places in Paris were often the least friendliest I visited. None of the Americans here wanted to chit chat or rendezvous. (I know, BOOOO!) But at least the hot dogs were very, very good.


I loved the atmosphere and decor (spot the colleges your friends and family went to and send them a picture. If they’re anything like my brothers, they’ll be completely underwhelmed.) Please appreciate the bar flies logo and enjoy the fact that you’re now part of the International Bar Flies Club.


I also found my alma mater Fordham on the wall with this pennant here.



I really want some of the Rowing Blazers x Harry’s Bar merchandise. Maybe one day. I didn’t even lead with this information, but Harry’s Bar is apparently responsible for the Bloody Mary drink. I know 21 Club claimed that, but they’re gone now, so. . . Fernand Petiot (again, apparently) invented the Bloody Mary here in 1921. Harry MacElhone of “Harry’s New York Bar” concocted the French 75 with champagne, gin, lemon juice, and sugar. When he took a swig of that, it knocked him out like a French 75mm artillery shell. 


And the hot dog was very, very good.



The Vendome at the Ritz 

You might think I mean Bar Hemingway, but I wouldn’t know because my mom and I didn’t even go in. There was a line, which I’m told is rather standard, so we decided to sit in the Vendome. We had a grand time. The bar food was very good albeit a bit pricey, but this is the Ritz. We stayed for hours and had a divine time. We also met an interesting couple whose relationship dynamic I am still trying to decipher.


L’Hotel

What a night this was. We went on Thursday for jazz in the bar lounge and met some very interesting people. (Simon is a tale for another day.) I'm a big Oscar Wilde fan, and this is where he lived and died. I'm sure you've heard his famous last words: "Either this wallpaper goes, or I do." This is where that wallpaper was.


While L'Hotel was reek and squalid at that time, it is now a multi-starred hotel. I honestly think Oscar would love that.


Museums

Le Petit Palais

Probably one of my favorite places I have ever been to—ever. And, admission is free.



Musee de Rodin

I’m not a big Rodin fan. Not even of Rodin himself. But this is a beautiful place to visit. I will give credit where credit is due—The Thinker is great. Definitely worth seeing in person.


E. Dehillerin

This isn't a museum, but people visit it as if it were. Julia Child loved this 200+ year old cookery store so much that it's worth going just knowing she'd approve.


Musee Carnavalet

I found out about this from Mary Bly’s memoir, and I’m so grateful she noted it. This museum is devoted to the history of Paris from the ground up. It takes up two entire mansions—that isn’t hyperbole, it’s fact. There are over 2,600 paintings, 20,000 drawings, 300,000 engravings, 150,000 photographs, 2,000 modern sculptures, and 800 pieces of furniture in here. You’ll find Marie Antoinette’s personal belongings, paintings of the most beautiful woman in Paris, Marcel Proust’s room, a lock of Robespierre’s hair, and much, much, much more. And you don’t have to pay a thing.


I went by myself and was not expecting the lower level. It kind of spooked me out, it was so quiet. Again, this is one of those places where you may not hear a word of English. It’s not necessarily a tourist destination.


And then, of course, the Louvre and d'Orsay.


People Watching

  1. The Ritz. 

  2. Cafe de Flore

  3. Outside the Lourve

  4. Shakespeare & Co.

  5. Au Petit Théâtre du Bonheur

  6. The line outside Club Pachamama

  7. L’Hôtel


Bring Me Back a Souvenir

Marin Montagut

My mom is always in the know and has known about Marin Montagut for years. I want to get glassware and (more) journals from here next time I go.



The Paris Flea Market

Try the Saint-Ouen market, and be charmed. Unrelated but memorable: this was also the worst-smelling Uber ride of my life.


Galerie Vivienne

It’s the most beautiful little mall of all.


Shakespeare & Co.

This is the most famous English-speaking bookstore in Paris. Next time I'm here, I'm getting another journal and tote bag.


Books to Read Before Visiting Paris


The Dud Avocado by Elaine Dundy

The Paris Review calls this book “rollicklingly pleasurable,” which is kind of…just the right amount of tongue in cheek.


A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway

I really apologize for what I’m about to type. I loved this memoir by Ernest Hemingway.


Breakfast in America by Craig Carlson

This is by an American business owner in Paris. It contextualized so much that I had heard about Paris bureaucracy but hadn’t fully pondered. I finished it at my friend’s jiu-jitsu match on the outskirts of Paris, and I was so enthralled, I didn’t even notice that I was in a gymnasium full of athletes in gis. 


Lunch in Paris by Elizabeth Bard


Paris in Love by Mary Bly


Artist in the Age of Revolution by Laura Auricchio

More on why here.


Tips:

Get some rudimentary French down. It’s a matter of respect to simply make an effort. This entails knowing when to say “bonjour” and “bonsoir.” 


Bonjour= Good DAY

Bonsoir= Good EVENING


These are both greetings. If you’re leaving, saying “Bon journee” or “Bonsoiree.” These mean have a good day or have a good evening.


The only time I was chastised for pronunciation was when I wasn’t even speaking French. My friend and I were talking to a group of French 20-somethings outside of Club Pachamama and told them what we did that day. They completely teased us for our pronunciation of  “the D’Orsay Museum” and repeated it back to us in thick American drawls. For the rest of the week, I was miffed by the teasing, but I have since seen the light. (Heard the light?) When you say “D’Orsay Museum” and “Musee D’Orsay” out loud to yourself, I can understand why that might have been jarring. 


Here's a heads up: Everyone smokes. Even the pigeons. They nip at discarded cigarette butts just as much as they do baguette crumbs. If you’re from post-Bloomberg New York, this will be off-putting. The sooner you move past it, the better your experience will be.


Ask for “Une carafe d’eau, s’il vous plaît.”

Comments


bottom of page