Apparently Hipsters have ruined Paris.
Our ‘luxury rum bars’ are eradicating the humbled brothel from the streets of Pigalle, as our quest for kale and the perfect flat white removes sex, dirt and charm from the air of the neighbourhood.
“Three NYU graduates” – the entrepreneurs behind Candelaria, Glass and Le Mary Celeste – are wiping out a vivid and storied layer of authentic Paris, by building popular businesses in unoccupied buildings and serving house made tonic in their G&T’s.
That is if we are to believe a particularly well-written article by Thomas Chatterton Williams. A former Brooklyn resident who moved to Pigalle in 2011, yet yearns for the Paris of Alexandre Dumas, Victor Hugo, Gustave Moreau and Pierre-Auguste Renoir.
For the author, the ideal Paris is depicted in Bar at the Folies-Bergère. “A Bohemia of near-mythical proportions, in which every tier of society… collided in the district’s cafes, theaters and cabarets.” This last major work by Édouard Manet was unveiled in 1882.
Clearly, if anything is ruining Paris for Chatterton Williams, it is inevitable change. For a city consistently compared to London or New York, France’s capital has remained decidedly behind the curve when it comes to innovation in the coffee or cocktail scene.
Henry J Kaiser once said that “you can’t sit on the lid of progress, if you do you will be blown to pieces.” In Paris however, transformation is occurring at best, at a glacial pace.
Bistros serving freezer-to-microwave food far outnumber any restaurants serving farm-to-table cuisine. The situation has become so dire that the French government is attempting to implement an appellation system for French restaurants that do not reheat pre-packaged meals.
The number of institutions serving a flat white – standard to every street corner in most metropolitan cities – are countable on little more than two hands. Sunday brunch – in the way an American or Australian world understand it – takes a back seat to overpriced diabetes inducing buffets or closed French restaurants.
The amount of bars that think a Martini is made solely with Martini Bianco, as opposed to those who can whip up a something with a twist, are equally as scarce. Instead the €5 mojito abounds, served alongside olives strained from industrial tins or charcuterie purchased at Monoprix.
Yet this is the culture Chatterton Williams defends.
The only thing hipsters in Paris are trying to do is forge a new path through archaic hospitality practices and answer global demand.
There is a reason that Dirty Dick and Glass were able to open in Pigalle, and that was because they found two empty buildings. Three NYU graduates did not force the Madame out of her digs with an organic hot dog. For whatever reason – and I am guessing evolution – the bar à hôtesses ceased to exist.
There is equally a reason that you will find both bars at capacity on any given weekend, because there is demand. Not every expatriate – or Parisian for that matter – wants to while away their days paying premium prices for vin-de-table in cafés that have become victims of their own cliché.
And not everyone that wants to drink a decent cocktail in Paris has the 30-odd-euros required to purchase a signature Bellini at the (currently under renovation) Hemingway Bar. Nor do they necessarily want to spend their Saturday night with high-class escorts and businessmen.
The same goes for cuisine, hence the success of neo-bistros like Le Chateaubriand, Aux Deux Amis or Au Passage. When the set menu at Bones can be just as exciting as the degustation at l’Arpege, at a fifth of the price, with the type of service and soundtrack ‘hipsters’ understand, why should they be forced to support a system on the basis of nostalgia?
It is hardly attractive, nor simple, to be an entrepreneur in France. Let alone in a business as demanding or competitive as hospitality, with a labyrinth of licensing laws, social charges and ever-increasing taxes.
Yet there is a generation of optimistic souls braving bureaucracy to forge a new path between sedate Michelin starred dining rooms and jammed tourist brasseries, between overly gilded hotel salons and inauthentic student bars.
I, for one, have no issue with being able to source a café latte or indulge in a well-made Manhattan. Or to know that the meat, fish or kale that I am eating was sourced directly from an independent farmer, fisherman or grower.
I would also prefer to give my heftily-taxed euros to a young chef, barista or bartender, whom is passionate about the produce they are delivering to my table, than spend an equal amount in a non-descript ‘Parisian’ establishment, delivering mince-meat steak tartare with frozen frites.
Gentrification, whether one likes it or not, is as inevitable as change, particularly in a city as finite as Paris. This iconic metropolis has long rested on its archaic laurels and to remain interesting and competitive as a tourist – and resident – destination, it must innovate.
And more to the point, the modern day Bar at the Folies-Bergère does exist, but you will no longer find such things in a single-digit arrondissement.
One must only venture to the terrace of Aux Folies in Belleville, or Le Saint Sauveur in Ménilmontant to know that the great and the good from all walks of life coexist around €5 pints. It just depends how far out of your gilded French doors you wish to look.