Despite the fact that the Canal Saint-Martin is a good 40-minute metro ride from where I live, it’s without a doubt the neighborhood I spend the most of my time in in Paris (and not just because I like riding the metro for 40 minutes – it gives me time to read).
The area around the Canal is vibrant and exciting, with new shops and restaurants opening seemingly every minute. It’s home to a ton of amazing coffee, a handful of great wine bars and restaurants, and more than enough space to lounge about soaking up the sun (when it decides to peek out its nose, anyway.)
To start your exploration of this area, take the metro to République or Jacques-Bonsergent – you’re just a few steps away from some of the city’s most delicious bites.
Not only is there a great Anglo Epicerie near République (they sell real oatmeal), but some of the best artisans in the city have decided to set up shop in this area.
- La Crèmerie is one of my favorite cheese shops in Paris. A full review is forthcoming, but in the meantime, I’ll just say three words: tomme aux fleurs. (You’re welcome.)
- Liberté is a great option for bread, viennoiseries, and an assortment of modern pastries (as well as for their open kitchen, where you’ll sometimes catch a glimpse of the bakers at work). It’s also one of my top spots thanks to its handful of seats, so you can enjoy your pastries on-site – a rarity in Paris.
- A review of Du Pain et Des Idées is forthcoming too (though I have delved into the two most important elements of this bakery – their bread and their viennoiseries). There’s no indoor seating here, but there is a table outside for when the weather is nice.
- Yann Couvreur is yet another option for those with a sweet tooth (and oddly enough, another spot where you can sit on-site – I’m sensing a local trend). Couvreur is famous for the millefeuille he created while he was working at the Prince de Galles, and while he still serves it at his eponymous shop, he only makes 50 a day, so you’ll need to get there early to have a taste.
- The Marché Saint-Martin is a covered market a few blocks from the Canal. There are a few great vendors here, including a fishmonger and a produce stand (the one at the back!) with some of the best tomatoes I’ve ever found in Paris.
If I’m in this neighborhood as often as I am, it’s undoubtedly because it’s one of the areas with the highest concentration of great coffee shops. Here are just a few of my faves:
- Craft, depicted above (review forthcoming) is the perfect blend of coffeeshop and what the French call le coworking. You have two options: either sit in the front of the shop and enjoy a cup of coffee, a juice, or a tasty baked good, or sit in the back, where you can plug in, work, and take advantage of the free WiFi. Opting for the latter means a 4 euro/hour charge, but you can spend those 4 euro on whatever you like (and if there’s money left on the clock by the time you leave, you can take your treats to go.)
- Le Poutch is one of my favorite cafés – both for their amazing filter coffee and for the lovely ladies who work there. (Also, the pillows. So many pillows.)
- You can’t talk about coffee near the Canal without a shoutout to Ten Belles, one of the pioneers of craft coffee in Paris. Their loft seating above the itsy-bitsy shop is in my top five fave places to sit and people-watch.
- Peonies is a pretty unique spot that manages to combine the arts of peddling coffee and flowers effortlessly.
- I adore 5 Pailles for its homey feel – it’s got tons of little nooks and crannies where you can hole up for an afternoon and enjoy a cup of coffee and a scone.
While this is definitely my favorite neighborhood for coffee, restaurants I love here are a bit sparser. That said, there are a few I can recommend heartily:
- Le Philou is one of my favorites for market-driven cuisine that doesn’t fall into the trendy “small plates” category. A good wine list and a seasonal menu make this a great, honest choice.
- Brunch has only just become a thing in Paris, which means that there’s usually a line, and I am a 65-year-old crotchety man when it comes to lines. That said, if I’m going to brunch anywhere, it’s going to be Holybelly, where the filter coffee is delicious, the pancakes are served with both housemade Bourbon butter and maple syrup, and the bacon is smoked by the folks at the Beast.
- Iñaki Aizpitarte’s tasting menu at le Chateaubriand is pretty much my dream Paris experience. I’ve never been able to get in there (not even when I worked in food media – but to be fair, I was always trying to get a last-minute reservation), but someday I will go, and it will be glorious. (If you go, please Snap me pictures.)
- Le Verre Volé was one of the original natural wine bars in Paris. In recent years, I’ve heard the service has gone downhill a bit, but if you opt for the second seating you’ll be a bit more tranquil.
- Sur Mer used to be part of the Verre Volé family, but after a bit of a rough start (Meg Zimbeck, whose opinion I trust as much as – if not more than – my own, lambasted it on Paris by Mouth), the management soldiered out on its own in October, and since then, the reviews are much improved. I have yet to visit this small plates seafood restaurant, but you can color me intrigued.
- Oddly enough, I go out for burgers pretty much as often as I go out for French food. If you’re in the mood, the ones at Bedford, an American-style diner, are so good that the tough-to-please Country Boy told the waiter they were his favorites in Paris.
I must preface this by saying that my idea of a good night is to drink wine in someone’s apartment, preferably without shoes on. (Exhibit A: my “nightlife” picture is of the daytime.) That said, I’ve had a few opportunities to be out and about at the Canal at nighttime, and while if forced outside my house after dark, my favorite thing to do is picnic on the quais, these are a few nightlife spots here that don’t make me cringe.
- La Vache dans Les Vignes is the ideal “nightlife” spot for me in that it closes around 10pm. This wine and cheese shop also offers wine and cheese pairings concocted by the expert staff: pick a glass or bottle, and they’ll choose a selection of cheeses to go with it.
- Le Comptoir Général is pretty much the perfect bar for people who are socially awkward. Divided into several different rooms, at any given time, the space may play host to a rummage sale, an art installation, or a concert. There’s a smoking patio, several bars, dancing, and more than enough space to lose your friends for a few minutes if you need a break. (I’m all about normalizing social anxiety, yo.)
- Fluctuat Nec Mergitur opened on Place de la République in May 2016, its name the slogan of the city that had become viral after the terrorist attacks in this neighborhood. Today, it’s a laid-back café/bar where you can people-watch on the square (which tends to attract lots of skateboarders) and enjoy a glass of wine or a cocktail until 1am.
- Chez Prune is the Canal standby café; its patio directly overlooks the water. I like it here, though it does tend to get crowded, but if you want the picnic ambiance without actually having to sit on the ground, this is your best option.
- Favela Chic is a bar of Brazilian inspiration that turns into the ideal place to dance late at night. The one and only time I’ve ever taken the Noctilien night bus was after a night dancing on the tables here… about ten years ago.