While Paris is by no means short of watering holes, with cafés, bars and brasseries on every corner, there is something inherently exciting about a place that the locals don’t want you to find. Disguised as apartment blocks, pizzerias, warehouses, these hidden gems reward any intrepid (and thirsty) traveler.
Sometimes the first thing to do when seeking out a secret bar is to familiarize yourself with the immediate surroundings. In this case, access to the cocktail bar is through a door at the back of a bustling Mexican taquería. Resist the temptation to stop to sample the tacos and tostadas among the mainly expat clientele before heading through the door to a favorite hangout of Parisian hipsters. The cocktails are inventive and creative with a hint of luxury, try their Saintonge Spritz finished off with Drappier champagne.
Not so much hidden as just off the beaten track, Le Comptoir Général can be found by sneaking up an alleyway just by the Canal Saint Martin. The vast barn houses a light and airy venue with several unusually and eclectically furnished rooms and gardens. The décor, drinks and food change regularly, according to the theme of the temporary exhibition. You may be surrounded by all things Franco-African, or plunged back into your teenage years with Brat Pack films and old-school video games – but the laid-back and unpretentious vibe is a permanent feature.
Another bar hiding through the back door of a restaurant, Moonshiner is slightly different. Pop into a tiny, but heaving, pizzeria,which, by the way, merits its own visit for its delicious Neapolitan-style pizzas, and, ignoring the sensation that you’re about to find yourself in the restaurant’s walk-in freezer, pull on the enormous metal door opposite the entrance. Having arrived in what looks remarkably like a store cupboard, pull on the next handle and step into this Prohibition-themed speakeasy. Think 1920s, art deco and Great Gatsby for the décor and ambiance, with equally stylish cocktails to match.
The epitome of a secret bar, only a nondescript brown door on a narrow street in the heart of the Marais betrays the existence of this tiny place. After negotiating with the firm but fair doorman, you may be lucky enough to be shown inside then through a red door into the cozy, dimly-lit interior. The cocktail menu is short but perfectly formed, the spirits are top-quality and the stools, armchairs and sofas are amazingly comfortable. There aren’t many of them though, so do arrive early if you want a seat.
Posing as the ground floor apartment just down the hill from the Moulin Rouge, Orphée Privé is a haven of cool and glamour, amid other somewhat shady establishments in the immediate vicinity. Made up of just a narrow bar area, think classy galley kitchen, one room and a fumoir, space is limited, and on weekends it is soon packed from wall to velvet-lined wall. During the week, though, its regulars fit in comfortably on the plush sofas to catch open mic events, hip piano recitals and sometimes even impromptu tap dance improvisations.