In the past, we’ve struggled to enjoy drinking beer in Paris, but this time it’s worked out well, and we found some great places.
There’s some disconnect between British and French manners that can make hospitality experiences challenging.
That’s one reason we haven’t been there for a while. Not avoiding it, exactly, but not prioritising a return visit either.
And, look, Brussels is just over there!
This time, though, on our way back from Italy, we scheduled a few nights there and tried again, applying things we’ve learned over the past couple of decades.
Say hello when you enter a bar or cafe
This sometimes happens in the UK but mostly in smaller establishments.
You wouldn’t cut towards the bar to greet the staff in a branch of Wetherspoon, though, before finding a table.
In France, we’ve found, people will do exactly that, effectively announcing their arrival, and getting (quiet, possibly unspoken) permission to take a seat.
This is true (we think) even in craft beer bars where service may be at the bar, and there’s loads of English being spoken and on signs. It might not feel like it but you are still in France.
Of course we got it wrong at craft beer bar FauveParis at 49 Rue St Sabin on our way out to Italy, while we were still warming up.
We then spent 30 minutes trying to win over the staff whose feelings we had hurt.
They wouldn’t look at us, talk to us or crack a smile because, fair enough, we’d rudely walked in and failed to greet them before looking at the beer list.
By the time we left, though, they were keen to chat to us about our beer choices and gave us a cheery send off.
This was, in some ways, a helpful calibration exercise, and self-induced etiquette complications aside, we’d recommend the bar.
Although the tap list was, on our visit, dominated by beers from London, there were enough non-British beers to keep our interest, ranging from decent (Fauve’s own Weizen) to excellent (Viti Vine Vici by Brasserie Dunham of Québec).
Avoid the very centre of the city
This is becoming something of a golden rule for our visits to major cities. We wouldn’t go to London and hang out around Leicester Square, would we?
In Munich a few years ago, we stayed in a suburb because it was cheaper, but fell in love with a local beer garden we’d never heard of.
And we only really started to feel as if we had got the hang of Brussels when we started avoiding the Grand Place and heading into the (slightly) outer neighbourhoods, where the apartment blocks are.
On this trip to Paris we stayed in Reuilly (12th arrondissement) just beyond the Gare de Lyon.
It’s busy, down-to-earth, and tourist friendly without being tourism driven.
Our plan was to drink in and around this neighbourhood as far as possible, near our hotel, without doing tons of research.
On our first night, after a 7-hour train ride from Milan, a quick search for ‘craft beer’ on Google Maps led us to BEER Paris on Rue de la Forge Royale, just over the border into the 11th arrondissement.
We immediately felt at home here – as in, it could almost be in Bristol.
We’ve grumbled about the generic craft beer style in the past but this was somewhere between that and a micropub.
It didn’t take us long, either, to spot the uniquely Parisian elements, such as couples on dates slicing cured sausage at the table and feeding each other slices.
We were served by the owner, Max, as we learned from later Googling, who could not have been more welcoming. He switched effortlessly between English and French, drawing us into the chat with regulars at the bar.
He also encouraged us to join in the bar’s signature game: throw your bottle cap into a vase from a marked spot and win a free beer. Throwing bottle caps at a target turns out to be great fun. But we need more practice.
Go with the flow
The next place we picked because Google told us it had Belgian beer: Troll Café at 27 Rue de Cotte, in the 12th.
This one is definitely a boozer with a bar surrounded by blokes and an air of delight at its own scuzziness.
We wandered in and fell at the first hurdle: who should we say hello to? And how, given the crowd, would our hello be noticed?
Struggling to reach the only gap at the bar, we launched into the dialogue, only for the man behind the bar to give us a death stare and shrug with incomprehension.
Without thinking, or maybe thinking of BEER Paris, we switched to English: “Can we sit down somewhere?”
His stare hardened further. “I’m sorry, I don’t speak English,” he said in perfect English.
Someone else intervened: “It’s OK, yes, you can sit down.”
“No, it’s not OK,” said the boss, sternly. “You order here at the bar, then you sit down. We don’t have…” A wave of the hand. “Waiter service!”
At this point, we realised the piss was being taken, not least because his English was better than perfect. But, enjoying the awkwardness of it all, we played along.
As we drank our first round, he stopped by the table to ask if everything was OK, and where we’d travelled from. We told him we liked the live music.
When we ordered Belgian bottled beer for the second round, we got another visit and congratulations on choosing XX from de Ranke. Then a third visit to ask if we liked football and which teams we support.
On the third round, we got an enthusiastic reaction for ordering Orval, and he joined us for a bit longer to ask how we knew of this beer and what we thought of it.
By the time we left, with smiles and waves, it felt as if we’d earned respect for (a) our good taste and (b) our resilience.
You might think, huh, this doesn’t sound like fun, but we certainly felt we’d had something like an authentic human experience. And some bloody good Belgian beer, too.
Follow your instincts
We spotted Café Titon, a ‘café germanophile’ at 34 Rue Titon (11th arrondissement), as we wandered past it one afternoon and made a mental note to come back in the evening.
We were excited at the thought of German beer, yes, but it also gave off, like, a good energy, man.
We arrived a little before 10pm when it was in full swing with:
- families eating German-inspired food
- hipster lads drinking lager at the bar
- couples and pairs on dates
- people buying takeaway to drink in the street
There were five German beers on tap, including Maisel’s Weisse, Bayreuther Hell and Alpirsbacher Kellerbier. There were also a ton of German beers in bottles, including our beloved Schlenkerla Helles and Jever.
It had a totally relaxed atmosphere and we were made welcome with a spiel that slipped effortlessly from French to English.
It doesn’t feel remotely like being in Germany. That’s not the idea. It’s a very Parisian bar that happens to focus on German products. When we ordered a Jever, the barman said: “Yesssss!” and gave a discreet air punch, which might give you a sense of the vibe.
Everywhere is beer town now
As we said in our newsletter this month, the days of trekking across major cities trying to find decent beer in a handful of specialist bars have passed.
Wanting somewhere for a final pint before our train home, we spotted La Binouze, a craft beer bar at 72 Rue Marguerite de Rochechouart, not far from the Gare du Nord.
Our hopes weren’t high, to be honest, because bars near stations often stink. (With honourable exceptions, of course.)
This one was far better than it needed to be. There was a huge list of draught beers covering most styles, with a mix of French and British breweries.
The welcome was, again, casual and friendly.
Yes, it felt more purely Craftonian than anywhere else we visited – decorative skateboards, corrugated metal, benches made out of scaffolding.
But we liked it, and would have stayed for a few more if we hadn’t had to catch a train.
What a change compared to 2009, when we last tried to get a decent beer in this part of town.
It’s worth saying that while Paris now has plenty of interesting beer, craft beer is still the outsider choice. It is priced accordingly.
The cheapest beer we bought, we think, was a craft pilsner at €6 for 500ml. Imported bottled beers were more like €8 or €9. And French craft beer on draught tended to land at around the same.
Meanwhile, you can still get a glass of wine for around €4.
We drink too much, too quickly, of course, coming from a session drinking culture.
“The trick,” Ray muttered at one point, “is that these people never actually never drink the beers they’ve got in front of them.”
But what do we know?
If you’re someone who knows Paris well, or France more generally, we’d welcome any insight you might have into etiquette.
We’re also up for recommendations for good places to drink, too, ready for next time we’re in town.