PARIS — The more I’m in this town the more advantages I see it has over Rome. Sorry, babe, but Paris is becoming my mistress. Rome is always there. It’s nearly 3,000 years old and hasn’t changed much, like an old nurturing grandmother set in her ways.
But Paris is the young, vibrant hottie who’s always up for going out and having a good time. You can do that in Paris. Well, you can do that in Rome but it’ll cost you. It’ll cost your reputation more than your wallet. The biggest social faux pas you can commit in Rome is public drunkenness. I have middle-aged male friends who have never been drunk. Ever. And these are normal guys, guys who like their women, their football, their wine. They’re guys’ guys. Yet one told me, “Why would I want to wake up feeling awful?”
The Italian language has no word for “hangover.”
In French, it’s “guele de bois.”
The French can party. One night, I partied with them. I went to the Bastille neighborhood. It’s where they built a fortress to protect the city in the 14th century then turned it into a prison that symbolized the overhanded French government in the 18th century. They demolished the prison after a mob stormed it and freed 17 prisoners.
Today it has one of Paris’ most bustling night scenes. The roads here are narrower, more cozy, more like Rome’s Centro Storico. The difference is each road is lined with not just cafes and restaurants but bars. Bars’ bars, bars where I walked by at 7 p.m. and saw French of all ages hoisting steins of beer or hovering over bottles of wine or musing over cool cocktails. They were laughing, flirting, yelling and, dare I say, a little drunk. It was 7:30 p.m.
I had just finished a fantastic meal of lamb in Roquefort sauce at Chez Paul, an old-fashioned Parisian restaurant with red and white checked napkins, wicker baskets on the wall and a cramped dining room. The aged and sweating but very accommodating waitress made it feel like you’re eating in your French grandmother’s kitchen in rural Brittany. Later, around the corner at a sidewalk table I had something called an amaretto sour, a delicious, sweet after-dinner cocktail that tastes like an alcoholic Almond Joy. Or maybe it was the atmosphere: a 68-degree night with the lights of the street bouncing off the sidewalks lined with tables filled with people, old, young, mostly beautiful.
It was a Wednesday.
I went down the street and turned the corner onto the narrow pedestrian street of Rue de Lappe. I walked down it to reach Chez Paul and it was lined with nothing but bars. Taverns. Enotecas. Cocktail lounges. Every one was filled with revelers, mostly standing on the sidewalk or sitting at cozy outdoor tables.
It was 11 p.m. and I was wired. At 11 p.m. in Rome, people are still eating. They’re finishing their only bottle of wine and maybe nibbling on biscotti. They’re not nibbling on corks. They’re strolling piazzas with gelatos in one hand and lovers in the other. They’re not doing what I was doing: walking into a dive bar with Rolling Stones references all over the musty walls.
I won’t say the Some Girls bar is off the beaten path, but it doesn’t even have a sign. I had to ask the bartender, Bob, in a black Harley T-shirt, what the name of it was. He pointed to a small hand-written sign behind the bar. Some Girls has a continuous loop of Rolling Stones hits interspersed with “The Boys Are Back in Town,” The Doors and “Johnny Be Good.” Caricatures of Mick Jagger’s famous lips adorned the walls as does a 1970 poster of the Stones’ visit to Paris.
Some Girls carries one beer. That’s it. I ordered the cheap house white for 3.50 euros which Bob poured out of a bottle that looked like it could’ve held gasoline. Some Girls is owned by Eric, a short, fit, curly-haired man in his 50s who said he has seen the Stones 43 times, about 20 in Paris. Alas, he could only persuade a subordinate to the band’s manager to ever visit his bar. Too bad. Some Girls rocks with atmosphere. Tough-looking Parisians in muscle shirts leaned on the bar pounding beer. This place had no bouncers. Fights in Paris bars are rare. They’re like the Irish. They get happier when they drink.
A middle-aged, conservative-looking guy with a balding head and vest came in to jam with his electric guitar. Eric had been plying me with free Japanese whisky but not nearly enough to get me to dance in a public bar. For me to pull off that public humiliation, I’d need a dozen martinis and a couple peyote buttons. But there I was, gyrating with others as we sloppily sidestepped around the tiny bar.
This is the soft underbelly of Paris. It’s the hidden cracks of a city’s public veneer that I love to explore. It’s where you see Paris’ true people, the ones the public rarely sees. I didn’t feel like one of them but with a belly full of Japanese whisky, French wine and country lamb, I felt like I wanted to join.