This walk offers a medley of shops, covered passages, and salons de thé in a lively (if seedy) neighborhood relatively free of tourists. It also features what may be the most ornate music hall in existence.
1. Beginning at the Place de Clichy Métro station, head eastward down Boulevard de Clichy, soaking in its seaminess. The boulevard is famous for its sex shops; the 9e is perhaps the most "American" of the districts of Paris, although whether the luridness here is the cause or the effect is anyone's guess. The area around the "Place de Cliché" is traditionally known as Pigalle, which during WWII quickly became known as "Pig Alley" to GIs on leave from the front and in search of things probably best left unsaid. If you're inclined, you can visit the Musée de l'Érotisme at No. 72, where seven floors of erotic art await you. SNL's "The Continental" would be so pleased. If you need an antidote, you can stop in at the nearby Église Sainte-Rita, a stalwart church that refuses to be intimidated by its earthly surroundings; fittingly, she is known as the patron saint of the impossible.
Le Chat Noir, the cabaret whose famed advertising poster by Théophile-Alexandre Steinlen has made it known to generations of Americans (mostly cat fans) who will probably never get within 3000 miles of it, is hardly the rowdy joint it once was; in fact, the twenty-year-old establishment was already closed by the time of the 1900 Universal Exhibition, much to the disappointment of many a visitor even then. Today, it has been reincarnated as a more traditional bar and café. (The original wasn't even here anyway; it was down a side street further to the east, across from van Gogh's house. Hey! Loud, illegal ragtime piano music playing all night? Logo painted by a rival? I think I've found the real reason he went nuts and sawed off an ear!)
Although it technically lies across the street in the 18e arrondissement, the Moulin Rouge at No. 82 is equally popular with shifty-eyed tourists.
A much more family-friendly alternative route lies down Rue de Douai, where three model train stores face each other, eager to outdo each other for your patronage. We saw a tiny train-scale Mississippi Highway Patrol car for sale in one. Weird. We bought it, of course.
2. Next turn right onto Rue Fromentin, zigzagging around to Rue Fontaine, where Confiserie à l'Étoile d'Or at No. 30 is an ancient store offering a wide range of gifts.
Further south, turn right on Rue Chaptal to reach the discreet Musée de la Vie Romantique at the end of a cobbled lane, where writer George Sand once lived and which is filled today with her belongings. The real draw is the lovely, leafy courtyard. Roses and wisteria make it feel rural, and you may want to have a drink at the salon de thé on the terrace, just for the pleasure of lingering.
The cutesy nearby café blabla's logo persists even down to the endless repeated stream down there at hip level, extending around the block. I thought it was interesting mainly because, as editor, I once had a similar idea for revising the logo for the UMC student newspaper Murmur.
3. At the end of the block (follow the blablablabla's), take a left and head down Rue Blanche toward the large Église Sainte-Trinité, passing the much more modest Église Allemande along the way; I guess even a German church must be kept under close supervision here. The Casino de Paris is located immediately behind it...weird. At the end of the street, walk around the east side of Sainte-Trinité to Rue Saint-Lazare. Ahead, on the left up Rue de la Rochefoucauld, is the Musée Gustave Moreau, devoted entirely—and abundantly—to the works of an artist who once taught Matisse.
4. Farther along Rue Saint-Lazare on the left, at No. 80 Rue Taitbout, is the charming Square d'Orléans, where George Sand and Frédérick Chopin resided in separate apartments in the 1840s. There's a pretty fountain, and plaques explain who lived where when. It's sort of a gated community now, and yours truly fell right into non-tourist mode, strolling past the guard nonchalantly as if I lived there (camera safely stowed away, of course, at least until I got inside the compound). As I was leaving, they were locking up the pedestrian gate for the night. Good thing I left when I did; it's not like I had the code for the garage entrance.
Further along, Rue Saint-Georges leads up to the perennially popular and cozy Mediterranean restaurant Olympe Casa at No. 48. Still farther along Rue Saint-Lazare is Detaille at No. 8, which has sold its magic skin potions here since 1905.
5. At Notre-Dame-de-Lorette, turn left along Rue Bourdaloue, where at No. 7, Bertrand, a gem of a salon de thé with striped walls, velvet curtains, and a sparkling interior, is an ideal stop for a thick hot chocolate and a pastry on a cold day. Also nearby at No. 52 Rue Lafitte to the south is Au Général La Fayette, a café dating back to 1886.
From the front of Notre-Dame-de-Lorette, take Rue de Châteaudun east to Rue du Faubourg-Montmartre and À la Mère de Familie at No. 35, an old-fashioned gourmet food shop founded in 1761; admire the old sign on its façade. (Do it. Do it, I order you.) Even older is the French Freemasons, which you can learn about at the nearby Musée de la Franc-Maçonnerie. A quick detour left down Rue Richer will find you in front of another ancient mainstay of can-can, the Folies Bergère. Then return to Rue du Faubourg-Montmartre and turn in to the plain but elegant covered Passage Verdeau, where you’ll find the Verdeau-Drouot salon de thé at No. 23.
6. Cross into the Passage Jouffroy. Cinédoc, at No. 45, has a tremendous selection of movie posters, and Le Comptoir de Familie, at No. 35, sells traditional housewares. You’ll pass near the Musée Grevin, Paris's own wax museum, at No. 10 Boulevard Montmartre; along this wide street, you'll also find a number of American restaurants if you have a craving for the oh-so-American, from fast food to the Hard Rock. Perhaps craving a little not-so-healthy food, the 9e arrondissement's mayor's office is also nearby.
7. Head west, first on Boulevard Montmartre, then on Boulevard Italiens and Boulevard des Capucines. Note the contrast between the twisty, tiny streets we've seen in many of our walking tours to date and the wide avenues we're traveling down now. Many of these "Grands Boulevards" were built in the 17th century to convert the fortifications at what had once been the city limits into new, stylish commercial promenades (boulevard deriving from "bulwark" or rampart), and although many of the ancient cafés have since moved on, today's modern department stores still attract large crowds...perhaps for reasons that will soon be obvious. Also nearby, at No. 9 Rue Drouot, is the Hôtel des Ventes, also known as Drouot-Richelieu or "the Nouveau Drouot," Paris's main auction house (named for the Comte de Drouot, one of the chief aides of Napoléon III, in whose time it came into existence). Although long since overshadowed by Christie's and Sotheby's, it is still a popular auction site. It also has two other branches: the Drouot-Montaigne in the 8e arrondissement (for higher-end auctions), and the Drouot-Nord in the 18e (for lower-priced items).
8. There's little need to point out the final stop on the tour; you couldn't help but notice the grand opera house of Charles Garnier. Built for Napoléon III, and sometimes compared to a giant wedding cake, this sumptuous building's unique appearance is due to a mixture of materials and styles, with an elaborate multitude of columns, friezes, and sculptures on the exterior.
The interior is at least as impressive as the outside, and is perhaps the best of the lesser-visited sights in Paris.
You can savor the astonishingly grand exterior while relaxing at one of several nearby cafés: the luxurious 1863 Restaurant Opéra in the Grand Hôtel Inter-Continental at No. 5 Place de l'Opéra, 1872's much more egalitarian Café de la Paix at No. 12 Boulevard des Capucines, or Le Grand Café Capucines on the other side at No. 4, which saw the premiere of Lumière's first film.
The silver-screen tradition is a proud one for the French, from Lumière to the European New Wave through the present day. Kiddies and adults alike can learn about the long history of the city at Paristoric, a film center back behind the Opéra. (In this part of town, you should probably be thankful for anything kid-friendly.) Also nearby, the Musée Fragonard de la Parfumerie is, not surprisingly, exclusively dedicated to the exquisite Parisian art of perfume. Before you scoff at the idea of such a museum, bear in mind that the museum is one of the few free air-conditioned stops in Paris. If it's another typically scorching summer day in Paris, it's probably worth a trip.
Enjoy any of the nearby cafés, or shop till you drop at the huge department stores nearby; Galéries Lafayette is right behind the Opéra, while Au Printemps is just next door. The mademoiselles in the huge posters were a frequent sight all over the city that summer, part of massive rival ad campaigns. Yes, a tad more unabashed than us, the French are. Once you're done ogling (the prices, I mean; the low, low prices), you can head home via the Opéra Métro station.
The Other Paris