Stuff I Like In Paris' Trendy South Pigalle
Updated: Feb 20, 2020
“Je n’invente rien, je redécouvre.” (“I invent nothing, I rediscover.”) -- August Rodin
Here's my complete guide to visiting the South Pigalle neighborhood of Paris' 9th arrondissement. South Pigalle used to be a rather naughty neighborhood. But now it's a trendy spot in Paris, affectionally nicknamed SoPi. One day, I ventured off to inspect the hipster district.
My goal? Pop in and out of the cute shops, find a good cup of coffee (which you would think wouldn't be difficult in gastronomically inclined Paris, but can be), have a luscious glass of wine, and make dinner reservations. Oh, and take in some art. For me, art is an essential requirement of a geographical cure, a panacea of sorts.
I was looking forward to the day ahead. I got off the metro at Abbesses and began strolling down the famed Rue des Martyrs.
SoPi has decidedly swiped the hipster mantel from the Marais.
In fin de siècle Paris, SoPi was a scandalous red light district, filled with black sheep brothels, grog shops, and absinthe addled artists. It was a naughty neighborhood with loose morals where the bourgeois didn’t venture. After WWII, it was nicknamed "Pig Alley" for its raunchy neon-lit nightlife options.
Not so much anymore. But it's not completely nice either.
SoPi has smartened up and become a hotbed for Paris' "bobos," or bourgeoise bohemians. I'm never sure if that's a good thing or a bad thing. I like buzzy culture, gourmet snacks, and vintage speakeasies as much as the next person. But it's always nice for a neighborhood to retain some grit and authenticity as well.
In this case, I think SoPi is still sufficiently risqué to pass the sniff test. It will appeal whether you want a kale omelette (which I don't, I hate kale) or a bohemian peep show. And you cannot beat the baked goods.
SoPi reminded me of London's Shoreditch neighborhood, a funky sprawl in London’s East End.
After carefully inspecting the place, and returning on other occasions, I think these are the cool things to do in this underrated neighborhood of Paris.
What To See and Do in South Pigalle
1. Stroll South Pigalle's Main Artery: the Rue des Martyrs
The steep high street Rue des Martyrs is the heart and soul of SoPi, and its main artery. It's a half mile of magic stuffed with over 200 cafes, restaurants, groceries, chocolatiers, fromageries, and bars. There's even a book written about it by NYT journalist and former Paris denison, Elaine Sciolino. I liked it so much I included it on my list of 20 best books about Paris.
On Rue des Marytrs you can buy anything. And there is a speciality shop for everything, from rare cheese to sponge cake to gourmet dried herbs. So numerous are these single product shops that French food critics have dubbed Rue des Martyrs the “La Rue du Monoproduit.”
In the days of massive groceries and malls, Rue de Martyrs is a breath of fresh air.
2. Heart of Art: Quirky Museums in South Pigalle
If you like small intimate museums, there are two swoonful places in SoPi. Unlike the Louvre, they are blissfully uncrowded. They are both stashed in former artist ateliers, one a quaint garden affair and one in a stately Nouvelle Athènes mansion.
The first one is the Musée de la Vie Romantique, the Museum of Romantic Life. It's tucked away down a picturesque cobblestone street behind a wrought iron gate. The museum is dedicated to the Romantic Period of French history. It celebrates the lives and works of George Sand, a writer, libertine, and femme fatale, and Ary Scheffer, a Romantic Period Dutch painter.
With its creaking floors and curios, you can close your eyes and easily imagine yourself in the 19th century. The most notable exhibit is a rather creepy voodoo-like display of a cast of Sand's arm next to the hand of her piano playing lover, Frederic Chopin.
Some people make the pilgrimage to the museum just to see this exhibit. And for its secret rose-filled garden cafe featuring a satellite of the Rue de Martyrs' Rose Bakery.
The other neighborhood museum is the Musée National Gustave Moreau, at 14 Rue de la Rochefoucauld. The museum was the pied-à-terre of Gustave Moreau. Moreau was a prolific 19th century French symbolist painter. He was an art school dropout inspired by Delacroix. Some consider his oeuvre a precursor to Surrealism.
There are over 1,300 paintings, watercolors and sketches. There are 5,000 drawings of mythological, biblical, and literary subjects. There is not much curation. You are largely left to interpret the works yourself. My favorite part was the gorgeous art nouveau spiral staircase.
3. Quirky Galleries
Aside from these two lovely museums, there are a few quirky galleries in SoPi. The Fondation Taylor is a philanthropic organization supporting artists, located at 1 rue La Bruyère in Paris, next to Place Saint-Georges. It holds frequent free exhibitions of their work. The gallery is housed in a grand 19th century townhouse.
Cour 16 is a small gallery featuring the innovative work of international artists from the latter half of the 20th century. It is located in the courtyard of 16 rue de la Grange-Batelière, near the Drouot auction house.
Then there is Galerie Johann Naldi, Galerie La Nouvelle Athènes, and Galerie Chaptal, which all focus on 19th century art.
4. Sweet Treats in South Pigalle
SoPi and the Rue de Martyrs are chock full of dreamsicle bakeries. If you have a sweet tooth, this is the place to be. The best spots are Boulangerie Mamiche, Sébastien Gaudard, Pain Pain, Rose Bakery, Le Pétrin Médiéval, and Privé de Dessert. At the quirky Privé de Dessert, entrées and main dishes are re-imagined as classic French pastries.
I settled on some chouquettes from Sébastien Gaudard on 22 Rue des Martyrs. Couquettes are tiny little pastries covered with rock sugar, both airy and crunchy. They were delicious!
5. Caffeine Injection
Surprisingly, Paris is not exactly known for its coffee. Much of it is unremarkable. But I had a nice pit stop at KB Cafe Shop where I had a delicious, perfect coffee. The cafe is tiny, but there is a large communal table and it's laptop friendly. The cafe even has a view of the Sacré Cœur.
La Compagnie du Café at 19 rue Notre Dame de Lorette is also adorable. And it was love at the first sip. This cafe also has breakfast and lunch options.
6. Drink To That: Cocktails in South Pigalle
SoPi is overflowing with trendy watering holes. It's a great place to go for cocktails in Paris. Most of the bars are located on Rue Frochot.
Glass specializes in craft beers and bourbon. Dirty Dick, which happily kept the bawdy name of the previous adult enterprise, has a Polynesian tiki theme and serves tutti frutti cocktails and craft beers. Lulu White serves absinthe cocktails in art nouveau decor to the sound of jazz.
After a busy day, I finally sat down at Artisan at 14 Rue Bochart de Saron for my requisite happy hour glass of wine. The name's a bit pretentious, I grant you, but Artisan is a "j'aime" in Paris. Heading in, you find yourself in a spacious well-lit room with large stone pillars, vintage mirrors, and an elegant U-shaped bar.
7. Foodie Heaven: Restaurants in South Pigalle
No spot typifies SoPi's en vogue status more than Buvette, a charming tiny restaurant with tin ceilings and loads of character. Buvette is a Big Apple import with the same relaxed vibe as its sister restaurant in New York’s West Village. It's not too expensive and it's always packed. They don't take reservations. I couldn't wait there for lunch. I was too busy investigating.
If you want to actually book a place, try one of these gastro-bistros: Patruche, Riche, Les Rilettes, Belle Maison, or Caillebotte. I made dinner reservations at Caillebotte at 8 Rue Hippolyte Lebas. The restaurant is named for the Impressionist painter Gustave Caillebotte.
I must admit that there were so many appealing SoPi eateries, I was a bit overwhelmed. So I simply picked Caillebotte for its artsy name and good reviews.
And it didn't disappoint. Caillebotte's a bit loud, not the place for a romantic dinner. But it had well composed dishes, inventive without overdoing it, and pitch-perfect execution.
8. Shop Till You Drop
I don't really shop, per se, unless online shopping counts. But I know most people do, so I'm trying to be helpful here. Plus, if you're going to shop, this is definitely the place to do it. SoPi is a paradise for the snobby shopper, with tiny designer boutiques and concept stores to pop in and out of. I enjoyed my window shopping.
Fans of fashion, designer objects, and interior decoration will be in seventh heaven. If you must pick one street, make it Rue Henry Monnier. Or perhaps Rue Caluzel.
Try these shops and concept stores:
Mr. Fisch, 9 Rue Clauzel (colorful design objects, furnishing and clothing)
Vanessa Deutsch, 19 Rue Clauzel (hats and headbands)
Celia Darling, 5 Rue Henry Monnier (vintage clothing)
Jamini, 10 Rue Notre Dame de Lorette (pillows and textiles)
Myrtille Beck, 30 Rue Henry Monnier (fine jewelry)
Petites Cheries, 17 Rue Henry Monnier (Instagram clothing)
La Rocketship, 13 bis rue Henry Monnier (unique housewares)
Juju S'Amuse, 3 Rue Henry Monnier (women's clopthing)
Vanina Escoubet, 1 Rue Henry Monnier (chic women's clothing)
Sept Cinq, 54 rue Notre-Dame de Lorette (artisanal pieces)
Pigalle, 7 Rue Henry Monnier (men's high end fashion)
Gals Rock, 17 Rue Henry Monnier (young designer clothing for the young)
L'Oeuf, 9 rue Clauzel (women's fashion and streetwear)
9. Boutique Hotels in South Pigalle
You have several good options. The hip Grand Pigalle features a "bed and beverage" theme. The rooms are small but about vastly cheaper than the Champs-Élysées or the Marais. The decor was inspired by the movie The Grand Budapest Hotel. There is even martini themed carpet. Grand Pigalle also has a lively brasserie and bar on the main floor that's a perfect place for happy hour or a nightcap.
Maison Souquet is a more romantic and luxurious hotel. It is housed in a former brothel and its rooms are named after famous courtesans. An eccentric touch, and fitting for the quirky neighborhood. The ambience is dark and intriguing, with richly colored sumptuous furniture. It's a perfect choice if you're feeling naughty but want a touch of indulgent luxury.
10. Causses Market
Causses is a grocery store unlike anything in France. It's where the cool kids shop for food.