As you enter through the front door of the oh-so-new-and-trendy Les Jalles, it may seem like your typical, fabulous French restaurant. But if you know to ask, the impeccably attentive waitstaff will lead you upstairs to the Prohibition-style cocktail lounge called L’Etage, the newest retro bar in Paris. Walking up the stairs, it seems as though you enter a time different from your own. A time that feels simpler and far more romantic.
This intimate bar is cozy; emptiness is never a problem, yet the space is large enough that you are not a part of your neighbor’s conversation. Dimly lit, it’s adorned with low-to-the-ground lounge chairs made from aged leather, each with its own story to tell. After taking a seat, the professional mixologists will swiftly bring you a unique cocktail, or even a small bite to eat if you just happened to miss dinner. While the drinks are on the pricier side—16 euros for a cocktail—they were delicious and well thought out.
While each of these aspects makes for a cool night out, what sets the bar of Les Jalles apart is not just its crisp beverages or smoky atmosphere; but rather it’s the entertainment. Every Sunday, Monday and Tuesday, cabaret singer Caroline Nin performs old-fashioned French chanson. In all honesty, the only chansons I had been familiar with were the most famous ones of Edith Piaf. Other than that, I was a novice. But this tender style of cabaret crooning is making a comeback, and Ms. Caroline Nin definitely has the voice to jump-start the genre back into popularity.
As I sat in my plush leather throne on a Monday night, a woman exuding classic French glamour glided into the bar. Immediately you could tell that this had to be Caroline Nin, our performer for the evening. I instantly noticed her top, the most spectacular corset I had ever laid eyes on. It was a piece that would have worn most other women, but instead she wore it with elegance. Later in the evening, I learned that it was one of a kind, handmade by her seamstress out of curtain fabric. Trendy, talented and unique: some women just have it all. After a few moments of prep, she stood coolly next to the antique piano and its talented pianist, introduced herself in a soft and sultry voice, then began to sing.
Even as a newcomer to the genre, I can safely say that this was what chansons should sound like. Of course her voice was delicate and soothing, never faltering for even a moment. She could belt those high notes and croon the soft ones. But what was so spectacular was how her performance so perfectly complemented the venue. I felt as though I was thrust back into the 1940s, with all its romance and uncertainty, with nothing but a strong cocktail and the sounds of a modern-day Piaf to distract from the war looming just outside. The atmosphere in its entirety made you feel hopelessly in love, as if simply being in Paris didn’t already do just that.
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