Bright Lights, Big City
The city of lights, romance and pastry, Paris is one of the world’s most effervescent cultural centers. The French capital sizzles and yet remains gentle in a beautiful paradox that allows you to live fast and party hard, while simultaneously inviting you to sit at one of its many immaculate parks to listen to music or read your afternoon away. The beauty of Paris is not in the bustling tourist attractions, but in the hidden corners and intimate settings. True, some of the most notable spots, such as the Louvre or the Trocadero still remain breathtaking, although somewhat impersonal. It was in the peaceful gardens of the Jardin des Plantes that I found my footing. After I realized that privacy was possible, even in the most public of places, I decided I'd take my time, soaking it all in.
No city in Europe makes me feel more comfortable and at home than I do in Paris. I understand this may seem odd, given the unfortunate fame the French have for their unpleasantness. I don’t find that to be true. Yes, they are ‘to the point’ and, yes, they can sometimes be honest to a fault, but I’ve learned over the years that part of what makes them so wonderful, are those exact things. They know everything; they are the best at everything; they have the best taste in everything. So what? No wonder they have some of the best food and wine in the world, not to mention art, literature, film and music. The French really got it all right – if it wasn’t for all the dog poo splattered around the city sidewalks and the occasional strikes, it would be the perfect place.
Whether in the seediness fun of the Pigalle or at the top of the hill at the Sacre Coeur - my favorite church in the world, which says a lot for someone who’s not religiously inclined - there was always an opportunity to stop at a hidden store, buy inconspicuous art and chat with the locals about what could be a great spot for dinner in the area, away from the extreme prices of the known locales.
L'Entrecote remains one of my favorite restaurants within Paris. Introduced to me during my first trip, it’s a French gem and normally my first stop whenever I’m in town. After standing in a long line out in the street (yes, it's that popular), you’re invited to sit down in a busy room, filled with vibrant chatter and delicious smells. However, no menu is ever presented; for a flat rate, you’re served L'Entrecote’s famous cut of meat with the secret mouth watering sauce, accompanied by fries and a salad. At the end of your meal, you’re given the choice of a dessert and the check. Just like that, in and out, no time is wasted, and it’s a fascinating thing to watch. This restaurant is such a big hit that it currently has three locations in Paris and even one in New York.
If my mood for dinner, however, is for a scene, I will most likely be seen at Cafe Ruc or Ginger. These two restaurants attract the core of the fashion industry. During Fashion Week, it’s an invitation to encounter some of the biggest top models dining alongside their agents and fashion editors from magazines from all around the world. For lunch, another restaurant favorite of mine that never disappoints is L’Avenue. Steps away from the Hotel Plaza Athene and smacked in between stores like Dior, Chanel, Ferragamo, Celine and the headquarters of Givenchy, this is the spot to have lunch in between fashion shows. The tables on the sidewalk are the most sought after and certain ‘fashionistas’ have been known to spend north of four hours there sipping champagne and nibbling on strawberries. For a quick and very traditional French lunch, I adore Le Castiglione, also one of Grace Coddington’s favorites. The overall environment of Le Castiglione is lovely and the food cooked to perfection. Only a few steps away from Place Vendome, the jewelry central of Europe, where one of the most infamous jewelry heists took place a few years ago, thus turning this location into one of the most well guarded on the planet. Also located at this square is the famed Hotel Ritz -- where the gliteratti gather and serves as temporary home to everyone from Anna Wintour to Beyonce.
Not all, however, needs to shine to be incredible. The fabulous burger joint, Ferdi, prepares what to me is one of the best burgers in the world. This cozy restaurant is a locally, well-known institution where patrons are hosted (or turned away) by the colorfully temperamental owner, which to me is the entire charm of the place. The Olsen twins, as well as the Delevigne sisters, have been spotted at Ferdi on several occasions and given their stamp of approval. After finishing the burger, it’s always a good idea to make a quick stop at Colette to pick up some of their exciting limited edition items. The store is design-heaven; just the right size and packed with all that matters in the fashion world - here, you can't go wrong. If your appetite in turn, is for something a little more mainstream do not skip the classic Printemps, Le Bon Marche or Galleries Lafayette, which are the most famous and large scale French department stores. In the afternoon, a visit to the Hotel de Crillon for coffee proves to be a wise and regal choice. If that’s not appealing, head to the Madeleine square and pick up some delicious tea at the iconic teahouse, Mariage Freres - my personal favorite is the Marco Polo blend.
Shopping may not be your focus (if you're anything like me), and, in that case, my top suggestion is the museum of the Orangeries at the edge of the Tuilleries Garden. More intimate than some of its counterparts, this museum holds masterpieces like Monet’s Waterlilies among many other impressionists and post-impressionists masters like Cezanne, Matisse, Modigliani, Sisley and Renoir. In case there's time (and patience) for the mainstream, do not skip the Dorsay and the Pompidou. A very important addition to Paris' cultural portfolio is the incredible Louis Vuitton Foundation. Designed by Frank Gehry, this new icon of modern architecture and the arts sits in the Bois de Boulogne, known for its mansions and leafy streets. It’s in this very neighborhood that the musician Lenny Kravitz lives and is known to host the occasional intimate party in which the pantheon of the fashion, music and film industry gather.
While in the subject of parties, the Paris nightlife is not to be missed, some of the most exciting times I’ve had at night were there. It was at the club L’Arc that for several years the designer Riccardo Tisci hosted names like Liv Tyler, Gisele Bundchen and Mariacarla Boscono at parties for Givenchy. The most recent and exciting club to open its doors was David Lynch’s Club Silencio. Hidden deep underground, Club Silencio has a variety of rooms and hallways, while also playing host to the an exciting group of characters in the most extreme outfits seen anywhere.
While in Paris, a wild night is not always a requirement for a good time, as can be experienced at the ever-classic Hotel Costes, where a toast to a glass of champagne is mandatory. For a cooler, and more relaxed environment, my all time favorite evening appointment is at the restaurant Derriere, which is fashioned as a house. You may sit for dinner at a bedroom or in a living room, you may even end up in the dining room! If all else fails, you can hang out at the bar or in the patio and play some ping-pong with the iconic and irreverent fashion editor Carlyne Cerf de Dudzeele, a fan of this spot who is always up for a good time and some laughter.
Of the more traditional touristic spots, I try to never skip visits to the Notre Dame cathedral during mass hours; the smell of incense and the echoing of the words in french are ever inspiring. The Luxembourg Garden always takes my breath away and just before I head back to the hotel to change for the evening, a quick drink or a cup of coffee at Cafe de Flore is essential. Before you leave Paris, whether you go to their cafe at Champs Elysees or to a kiosk at the airport, don’t forget to pick up a box of macaroons from Laduree to gift to some of your favorite people back home. These colorful delicacies are a French institution.
Allow yourself to be immersed in the local culture, stroll through the bridges and the streets observing every detail and every sign. Look for the markings on buildings that might show you the former homes of luminaries like Proust, Balzac or Victor Hugo. Take all of its essence and history in and maybe then you will fall in love just as much as I did. In the classic words of Cole Porter; "I love Paris, every moment of the year".
Column featured in ONNE MAGAZINE - May 2015