Paris is probably the least likely place in the world to need an introduction. It’s one of the most visited cities on Earth, and for many it represents world class art and fashion, a culture of eating and drinking that set the standard for what many think of as “fine dining”, and is home to some of the most chic and extravagant hotels in the world. For us, Paris is also tied to some of our first experiences traveling together outside of the country where we were born. In 2018, we visited for the first time and stayed for eight days in the cheapest room we could find: an attic apartment in the 11th arrondissement with a communal bathroom in the hallway, and a huge window that opened out over the city. Memories from that trip have become stories that we reach for together, over a bottle of wine we’ll carry out to the porch after dinner at home. It was in Paris that we really tasted wine for the first time, or experienced the lively energy of a wine bar like the place called Chambre Noire, where you’d elbow your way to the bar through a crowd of young and fashionable Parisians while servers swooped through with small plates of mouthwatering snacks and magnum-sized bottles of juicy, fresh wines crowd-surfed through the air and were shared with everyone. On that first trip, everything felt new and exciting, and we’d try out our freshly-learned French words at the street markets the next day while shopping for cheeses and pâtés and fruit to take on a picnic to the beautiful park at Place des Vosges.
It took a few years to make a return to the city, with a pandemic canceling a world full of travelers’ plans, but last year we were determined to make up for lost time, and stayed in Paris for the whole month of August. We were lucky to spend a chunk of that time with some friends, Chris and Lizzy Rollins of Bar Rollins, a lovely new wine bar in Charleston that had yet to be fully imagined. A significant share of our time together was spent on “research”, which equated to tasting as many bottles as we could at some of Paris’s iconic and newer restaurants and caves (a french word that translates literally to wine cellar, but is used more often to denote a wine shop or bar). Here are a few of our favorites:
L’Etiquette: a fully unpretentious wine shop on L’Isle Saint-Louis. The owner, Hervé takes some serious effort to win over, and I’m not ever sure that we did – but his recommendations on wines were always enjoyable, as were his rants on the kinds of mass-produced “poison” wines, made with the kinds of additives and fixatives that he would never bring into his shop. We sat in camp chairs on the ancient cobblestone street out front and watched the world go as the sun set. The location, right on the river, makes it the perfect place to pick up a bottle to take down to the Seine with all of the other young lovers (of any age).
La Cave du Septime: Septime and its sister restaurant Clamato are some of Paris’s most well-loved and well-reviewed restaurants of the past handful of years. Just around the corner, Septime Cave is the perfect place for a pre-dinner glass of wine and a snack (though we’ve spent at least a few nights here all evening long). It’s tiny and cramped and everyone is always having a great time. My first “wow” experience when tasting a wine happened here, and I still remember the label: it was SP68, a Sicilian wine from winemaker Arianna Occhipinti that looked and tasted like sunshine in a glass.
Aux Deux Amis: this place was, for us, the perfect French bistro. Sitting right on the busy Rue Oberkampf, a main thoroughfare of Paris’s 11th arrondissement, Aux Deux Amis felt like the kind of neighborhood restaurant experience that you stumble into and never forget. The tattered red awning is easy to miss during the day, but in the evenings the tables spill out onto the sidewalk and the yellow glow from inside welcomes you in (if you were smart enough to walk in earlier in the day to reserve a spot for dinner – we weren’t, the first time). Like all perfect French bistros, there are one or two people working there that somehow manage to take every order with a cool, confident sense of ease, a feat that is much more difficult than it seems.
There are far fancier places to imbibe in the City of Light than the ones listed here, but these were places we returned to again and again over our time there. The culture around wine is multi-dimensional and can feel complex, but the casual nature of our experiences drinking wine in Paris made it all feel accessible, and delicious. Remembering those moments makes me thirsty.