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Grand Train entrance © Paul McQueen
Grand Train entrance © Paul McQueen
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Grand Train: All Aboard Paris’ Trendiest Summer Venue

Picture of Paul McQueen
Updated: 30 November 2016
Another summer has arrived in Paris and with it another collaboration between the Ground Control collective and the SNCF, this year under the name Grand Train. The former La Chapelle train depot, which went out of service in 2013, has been repurposed as a 6,000-square-meter venue for eating, drinking, learning, and, above all, chilling out.

The space is divided into six interior and exterior spaces, each with its own feel and a share of the ten restaurants and six bars. The Grand Central houses eight of the 20 or so vintage trains loaned by the Cité du Train in Mulhouse. This vaguely eerie gallery opens out onto the Jardin Cheminot, a place for lounging in deckchairs under parasols and looking out over the crisscrossing rails and power lines. The vegetable patch isn’t exactly the envy of the local organic food association, but the hen house is fairly amazing. Its feathery tenants have more loi Carrez square meters than most of the under-30s in the city, a fully fitted kitchen and a telly.

Grand Central exterior © Paul McQueen
Grand Central exterior | © Paul McQueen

Around the corner, there’s more of a festival vibe at Le Parvis. Smoke from the Argentinian barbecue wafts in the direction of the portable toilets, and a giant lean-to offers protection from any unseasonable weather. It’s like one of the more civilized festivals, mind you, the kind where everyone goes home at the end of the day, showers and comes back the next in another specially chosen and professionally laundered outfit.

At the Cours des Pas Perdus, the theme is ‘Brick Lane neighborhood party.’ On the menu are carefully selected French wines, beers brewed within feet of the bar, and artisan breads and cheeses, all to be enjoyed from the comfort of assorted garden furniture and under the glow of strings of fairy lights.

Cours des Pas Perdus © Paul McQueen
Cours des Pas Perdus | © Paul McQueen

The Halle des Palans has a dedicated play area – for children, let’s be clear – and a pizzeria, whose bearded chefs can be admired tossing the dough in the open kitchen. Further into this, the largest of the sections, is a deconstructed train car in which you can relax with a snack or beverage and watch the French countryside whizzing by on a ginormous projector screen.

The final stop on this journey through hipster paradise is, wouldn’t you know it, Rue de l’Arrivée. Tinny music plays out from loudspeakers over the saw-tooth roof, posters peel from the walls (artistically, maybe) and, through a set of plastic strip curtains, an all-day disco boogies away.

Grand Train map © Paul McQueen
Grand Train map | © Paul McQueen

The Grand Train is unlike anywhere else you – or the 200,000 other visitors expected before doors close on October 16th – are likely to find in Paris this summer. If you’re a hipster, you’ll love it; if you’re not, you’ll love it in spite of the hipsters.

The best thing about it – and this may never have been said before about a train terminus or a bar – is the smell. It smells like leather and metal and polish and oil, like the transport museums you went to on wet weekends as a child. It smells like invention, mass use, decline, abandonment and rediscovery. Wonderful.

Grand Train, 26 ter rue Ordener, 75018, Paris, France