Bonjour, mes amis! Welcome to another delightful Paris post! This time we are back as seasoned Paris professionals. We have just returned from our SECOND week-long trip to Paris, so basically we’re locals now. Baguette buyin’, wine drinkin’, pastry eatin’, french speakin’ professionals.
On our first trip to The City of Lights, we were total tourists. We merely scratched the surface of all Paris has to offer. While planning our second trip, we decided that we wanted a more unique experience. Yeah, the Eiffel Tower is an essential stop. Of course we wanted to climb the steps of the Sacré-Cœur (kidding, we took the gondola). Notre Dame never disappoints. However, we had been there and done that. This visit was all about underground Paris. What wild and crazy things could we get into that aren’t on a typical tourist’s to-do list?
We started this adventure off with a peculiar bang: Sunday Dinner with Jim Haynes.
Jim Haynes is a Paris resident who opens the doors of his tiny Parisian apartment to complete strangers every Sunday night. Not only does he invite you over, but he cooks you a fabulous dinner. We’re talkin’ up to SEVENTY perfect strangers.
This experience was truly unforgettable. Okay, well… maybe a little forgettable since Jim supplied enough boxed wine to drown France.
I realize this sounds slightly intimidating and a bit off-the-wall. It kind of IS.
Upon arriving, you will notice the atmosphere feels a bit stiff. You will want to find Jim first thing. He’s hard to miss. He spent most of his evening with us posted up in the kitchen area donning a red apron that reads “JIMMY.”
Jim was born in the United States, so he speaks perfect English (we’re thinking he speaks a lot of perfect languages, actually). He will greet you so warmly that you will instantly feel you’ve known him for years. He will ask you a bit about yourself and then immediately introduce you to the nearest stranger (usually about two inches away). This will certainly be a bit uncomfortable at first, but as the night goes on, everyone really begins to loosen up (maybe it’s the wine?).
On this night, there was a lovely lady helping Jim cook up some scrumptious smelling food. Our meal consisted of a salad, a main course, and a dessert. Oh, and did I mention the endless wine?
Jim remembers your name instantly after your introduction. If he spots you NOT mingling with strangers, he will call you out on it and he WILL find someone for you to chat with. It’s quite comical and it really helped our little group branch out and get social.
We spent the entire evening getting to know Paris locals, college students, regulars, and fellow travelers from all around the globe. There were guests of all ages and all nationalities. The locals spilled some of the best Parisian secrets and told us incredible stories. I don’t know if I’ve ever smiled so much in my life.
Promptly at 11:00 pm, Jim hollers “GOODNIGHT” and that’s your cue to get the hell out. Everyone spills out into the courtyard exchanging numbers, taking a few more pictures, and giving “bises” farewell. We even made plans with a lively group from D.C. to come back the same time next year!
All you have to do is pop over to this friendly fella’s website to check dates and then shoot him an email to let him know you’re coming! If you are only going to do ONE unique Paris experience, let it be dinner with James Haynes and company. You will absolutely leave with 70 close new friends.
One of the best things we took from dinner at Jim’s Haynes’ place was the advice from the locals on what to check out next! A beautiful college student from one of the “vakia” countries named Shay give us insider information on one of Paris’ most hidden bars. Now, we’re going to pass this top secret information along to you. Don’t tell Shay!
Imagine you’re strolling along the bustling streets of the 10th Arrondissement. You approach a burly man standing outside a tiny laundromat talking on his cell phone. Nothing out of the ordinary here, right? Wrong. That burly cell phone man is actually a bouncer and inside that basic laundromat is a secret door that leads to a swanky hidden speakeasy lounge. Does it get any cooler than this!? I mean, come on!
Mr. Classified Bouncer will stop you and ask if you’re there for “pressing.” We just excitedly shouted “DISCOTHEQUE,” but you could simply ask him for access to the bar in a more calm manner. This lounge is small, so only a certain amount of people are allowed inside at a time. On a busy night, the bouncer may ask you to wait outside for a bit. We waited roughly five minutes, which was just enough time to take pictures and act like a bunch of hyper tourist idiots.
Now, it would be cheating if I told you exactly which washer or dryer opens up to this glorious secret place. However, there’s only a handful of them and you’ll have a blast pressing all of the buttons and tugging on all the doors trying to figure it out. Oh, and these are all REAL functioning machines that people actually use, so be sure not to cancel anyone’s laundry mid-cycle!
You will hear a click once you’ve found the magic button and you’ll be able to pull the machine right open *cue squeals and giggles.* A steep set of dark stairs will lead you up to the most hip looking bar you have ever seen. The decor is very modern, the lights are dim, the people are beautiful, and there are SWINGS!
We met some of our Jim Haynes friends for a few drinks and laughed and laughed while tucked away in our bizarre Parisian hideaway. We looked around and thought “this is exactly what we came here for.”
Wash. Rinse. Repeat.
Le Refuge Des Fondus
This experience was, by far, the most outlandish of the whole trip. Refuge Des Fondus is not necessarily a Parisian “secret,” but it definitely requires a little bit of good humor to appreciate.
Refuse Des Fondus is a teeny-tiny fondue restaurant located in Montmarte. Think “Melting Pot,” except a thousand times weirder and with zero safety guidelines (we’ve come to the conclusion that the French are firm believers in “natural selection”).
You are treated like family the moment you walk in the door. Finding an English speaker can be hit or miss, but you’ll make it work. There isn’t really any language etiquette in a place that makes you literally climb on your table in order to get to your seat.
Be sure to check your coat and your inhibitions at the door.
The first course is some sweet & sticky Sangria-type beverage. Don’t ask questions.
Then comes your plate of Antipasti-type hors d’oeuvres. Your server will then ask you whether your prefer red or white. Don’t get fancy with it. Just rouge ou blanc.
This is where the good humor part comes in. Your wine is then served in oh-so-classy glass baby bottles. Don’t ask for it in a regular glass unless you’re a total party pooper.
Your wine is included in the meal. This is the case even if you’re a twelve-year-old. Coca Cola is extra.
You are then presented with ooey-gooey melted French cheese and flaming hot oil boiling over a rickety flame that could spill into your lap with the slightest movement of the tiny table. It’s quite thrilling, actually!
Dessert is a big ass gooey marshmallow smothered in yummy cream sauce. My companions may or may not have dared me to shove the entire thing into my mouth and I may or may not have totally done it.
I have no doubt that this silly little place will have you giggling all night like a school girl.
Finally, don’t forget to leave your mark.
Maybe leave your inhibitions behind completely and have a dance in the streets after departing. You deserve it after working so hard to suck your booze out of a baby bottle.
Marché Ordener & La Grande Epicerie
There was one thing that we had done on our first trip to Paris that we knew we wanted to repeat. Paris can most certainly take a LOT out of you, especially when you’re galavanting around the town from sun up to sun down for an entire week. Days of rest are much appreciated among our crew. However, a day of rest does not mean a day without excitement and adventure.
Days “off” in Paris typically consist of hat hair, no makeup, and comfy clothes. The goal is to hit all of the neighborhood markets and patisseries to gather the freshest ingredients. We then take all these goodies and produce a massive French feast back at our apartment. (Number one tip for doing Paris “like a local” is to rent an apartment instead of stay in a hotel. We rent ours from Frenchy Rentals.)
Our very favorite street market is called Rue Marché Ordener. This market spans about a mile of Rue Ordener in Montmartre on Sunday and Wednesday afternoons. You will find the most delectable and fresh fare among the baskets and shelves of this fun little marketplace. It’s rare to find an English-speaker, but all you really need to do is point and grunt.
Go in with a tentative plan of what you want to make for your feast, but keep an open mind. Some of the vendors are happy to let you sample, so don’t be afraid to get weird with it! We are big fans of the cheeses found at this market. There is one hard white cheese in particular called Comté Fruite that is to. die. for. It’s the perfect mix of sweet, salty, and smelly. It pairs beautifully with a baguette and a bottle of wine.
If you’re looking for a more “Whole Foods on Crack” experience, Paris is home to one of the most glorious grocery stores I’ve EVER seen called La Grande Epicerie.
Your jaw will hit the floor the instant you step into this department store fit for the gods. Feast your eyes on ALL the natural meats, cheeses, seafood, breads, and organic fruits & veggies. This particular location on Rue de Sèvres has several floors and offers everything from fancy bottled water to kitchen appliances.
You guys, it’s like Target and Whole Foods made a baby and fed it steroids.
This is also where we found most of our souvenirs. There are endless organic goodies and treats wrapped in pretty little packages.
If you haven’t already, make sure you grab about seventeen bottles of French wine from La Grande Epicerie’s massive selection. If you skip this step then DO YOU EVEN PARIS!?
On your way home, you mustn’t forget to stop at the corner Patisserie for a few fresh baguettes and maybe some sweet treats for dessert.
The trick to truly enjoying your dinner at home in Paris is to eat so much cheese and bread while you’re cooking that you’re stuffed by the time your meal is done. Then you have lots of leftovers for when you return from your late night Eiffel Tower drunken picnic.
No matter how you do it, your visit to Paris will be second to none. Whether you’re riding around in the big red touristy buses or hiding away in a secret Parisian watering hole, you’re going to leave this city with stars in your eyes.
Until next time, mon amis. A bientôt!