Spotted on a Paris travel board:
“[Pigalle:] Dodgy looking people, gangs bothering tourists and locals in full view of the police, a pedestrian road lined with the most sketchy looking bunch of people. I had to walk it on my own to buy some macaroons to take home with me from the best macaroons in Paris, but I walked quickly and frankly felt safer anywhere in London. Miss. Avoid. Dont bother.“
Ah, tourists… So determined they will brave the French capital’s nefarious Red Light district, around la Place Pigalle, just to get their hands on the pretty round cookies with a name they can’t either pronounce or spell. Ah, the scary tales they will share post-trip with friends and colleagues: “I survived my visit to one of Paris’s worst no-go zones, you know!“
What, exactly, does one expect when visiting Pigalle? A peek at the famous Moulin Rouge cabaret? Cheap thrills when peering inside the ubiquitous sex shops, adult movie theaters, hostess or “American” bars, patronized by G.I.s after the Liberation of Paris?
Apparently, one expects to find macarons.
In Pigalle, like in many other Parisian neighborhoods, it pays to be adventurous and to explore. What may appear like a “no-go zone,” is, in fact, a fast evolving neighborhood. Many sex shops and hostess bars have closed down in recent years. Hipsters have found their way into the old, seedy streets, and claimed them as their own. According to this alarming New York Times article, they are in the process of turning Paris into Brooklyn!
Like many, I have mostly gone through Pigalle, and its Metro stations, Anvers, or Place Blanche, on my way to Montmartre. Last summer, I made the neighborhood my destination and walked around to try and see if the rumors were true.
In the 9th arrondissement, the area south of boulevard de Clichy, with the lively rue des Martyrs as its dorsal spine, has been nicknamed “SoPi” (South Pigalle.) Pigalle, c’est très Brooklyn !
I visited on a lovely July afternoon. There was no sign of activity at trending local bars. Hipsters, it would appear, are not early risers (or they may have been working.) I followed the steep rue des Martyrs all the way down to the charming Notre Dame des Lorettes church. La rue des Martyrs is a lively street, similar to many streets in Paris, with the addition, that’s true, of award-winning boulangeries and pâtisseries.
Emblematic of the French way of life, specialty shops abound, signs of a thriving neighborhood.
I ventured into small side streets, rue de Condorcet, rue de Navarin, rue Clauzel, rue Henri Monnier, and was rewarded with more delightful sights.
My favorite spot: The peaceful square at the corner of rue Navarin and rue Monnier. Three coffee shops, a newstand, a few benches… Paris is a
no-go zone village.
From the church of Notre-Dame des Lorettes, I walked my way back up the hill along the church’s eponymous street. I arrived quickly at the scenic Place St Georges, with its impressive real estate and quaint Metro station. I spotted several cafés and restaurants along the way, some trendy, some traditional.
My goal was rue Chaptal, where le Musée de la Vie Romantique, one of Paris’ smallest museums, is located, tucked at the end of a dreamy courtyard, next to an elementary school. As I sat in the garden, sampling an éclair au café purchased earlier rue des Martyrs, all I heard was the chatter of my two Parisian neighbors, the laughter of children in the school’s playground, and birds chirping.
From there, it was an easy walk to la Gare St Lazare, the train station where I caught the RER back to my parents’ place in the suburbs.
Brooklyn or not, Paris, as it changes, retains amazing diversity, with so many neighborhoods with distinct crowds, sights, and flavors. Most of all, Paris still surprises and charms those who take the time to explore with a curious and open mind.
Further reading about SoPi (South Pigalle:)
The Guardian, 3/2014
Hip Paris, 9/2013