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Like A Local in the 11th District

The 11th arrondissement stretches between Place de la Republique to the west, Place de la Nation to the east and Bastille to the south. I live pretty much smack-bang in the middle just off Rue de la Roquette (Pere la Chaise end) on Rue de la Croix Faubin. Across the road on Rue de la Roquette is a park on which the Grand Roquette Prison once stood. It was here that gruesome public executions by guillotine could be seen right up until 1939.

Further down the road you will find the Petite Roquette, a prison for women and children where the writer Gene Genet was incarcerated in 1925, and then there’s Père Lachaise (but we will come to that later). Like most areas in Paris a lot of history has happened in the space of just a few streets. On the whole, the 11th is perhaps one of the most historically important arrondissements in Paris. Most notably, it was the stage on which the workers revolt during the 19th Century was violently played out.

Until recently it’s an area that has been mostly working class. Now it plays host to a new generation of Parisians, such as young students and bobos – Parisian shorthand for bourgeois bohemians or hipsters. Apart from the Bastille and Pere Lachaise cemetery, the 11th is an area that has been mostly overlooked by tourists. It’s for this reason the 11th has an authentic ambiance where you will witness local life at its best.

The typical life of a local in SOCA (South Of Canal St Martin)

The most important thing on every Parisian’s list is: what’s on the menu? Food is core to the French man’s daily philosophy, and is key to understanding his/her joie de vivre. In the morning the port of call for any Parisian worth his salt is certainly the local boulangerie or bakery. After having tried a few of the boulangeries in the vicinity, the prize for the best baguette goes to Landemaine on 136 rue de la Roquette. Their boulangerie is so legendary that they have established a branch in Tokyo, which goes to explain why there are often Japanese girls working behind the counter. Usually I buy a big loaf of bread called a pain roquette, or else a baguette à la tradition. Just ask for “une tradi” (short for tradition) and they will know what you mean.

On the downside, the one thing missing is a warning sign on the door: “beware of manager”. I say this because, like most people who work in Parisian boulangeries, she can be a bit rude. My flat-mate got into an argument with her once and proceeded to tell her she needed to smile a bit more. Not surprisingly she took it quite badly and shouted at him. I asked him would he go back again? He replied in that quintessentially nonplussed French manner: “of course I will go back, they make the best bread”. So there you have it, the proof is in the pudding − nothing comes between a Frenchman and his baguette.

After lingering over a French breakfast, of croissants and a strong espresso, at my local jazz themed café Art et Thé on 168 Rue de la Roquette, it’s time to take a leisurely stroll around the 11th. A good place to start, even for the locals, is Père Lachaise. It’s pure romance at its best, and if you are searching for a bit of peace and quiet it can provide a refuge from the city.

Sit on a bench beneath the leafy trees and catch up on some reading − you’ll rarely be disturbed in this oasis of peace. And if you have time to walk around you will discover that some of the literature’s greats are buried in this huge cemetery − such luminaries as Marcel Proust and Oscar Wilde reside on this hill of grand monuments. After you have finished communicating with the dead, you can walk from the main gate of Père Lachaise all the way to Bastille by taking Rue de la Roquette. As you approach Bastille you will probably notice how the crowd becomes younger and trendier. At night this area attracts a young crowd of revelers and it can get a bit rowdy, so be warned! But if that’s what you’re looking for you’ve come to the right place.

A good café to while away the evening over a Côtes-du-Rhône, or a refreshing Chablis is Café de l’Industrie, 16 rue Sabin. It’s stylishly decorated, but not overly pretentious, and attracts the usual suspects: trendy looking Parisians or Bobos. Another bar that’s really popular is Motel, 8 passage Josset. This is a bar that has more in common with bars in London or New York, and for this reason the crowd is more international and up for a good time. Expect some music and dancing.

After a walk around Bastille head up Rue du Faubourg Saint Antoine, take a left onto Rue de Charonne and check out the shops along this winding street. Stop off at no. 41 for lunch on the terrace at Pause Café and if it’s Sunday this is the perfect day to enjoy brunch. This is perhaps the best spot from which to people watch. If it’s your first time in the area and you’re looking for something a little bit more traditional there is a beautiful art-nouveau designed restaurant, Le bistro du Peintre, just across the street on 116 avenue Ledru Rollin. This restaurant dates from 1902 and hasn’t changed since then, it’s by far the area’s most beautiful bistro and it’s oldest.

Discover Oberkampf

On Mondays take a walk to the hip Oberkampf area to the west near Metro Parmentier. This is the favorite neighborhood of our favorite photographer Amélie. At Le Chat Noir, 76 rue Jean-Pierre Timbaud there is a Spoken Word poetry night from 9pm onwards for anglophones that takes place in the basement. It attracts a big crowd of poets and writers who read their work in a convivial atmosphere. Expect to meet some real characters.

For dinner, stop off at the retro bar Aux Deux Amis, 45 rue Oberkampf, and order some delicious tapas. This place is popular and can get very crowded, but it’s probably the best place to really see the locals in action. Another option is the highly rated and really exceptional Al Taglio pizza restaurant at 2 bis Rue Neuve Popincourt. Al Taglio means by the slice in Italian, and it’s by this method that you choose your toppings at the counter from the large rectangles of pizza. Slices are cut according to how hungry you are, heated, and then brought to your table. The potato and truffle oil topping gets my personal thumbs-up.

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