Paris wine bars have been a neighborhood tradition since the 18th century when coach stops provided food and drink to exhausted riders while caring for their horses. That countryside was enveloped by the city centuries ago, and gas stations have replaced stables, but the tradition remains, and the city is full of this great alternative to restaurants in Paris—cozy old wine bars where one can stop for a drink or a meal, and a relaxed, friendly welcome.
Le Rubis, in the überchic Faubourg Saint-Honoré quartier, is so old school that it is one of the few establishments left in Paris with a Turkish toilet, which may be one of the reasons it has managed to keep itself off the radar of the fashion crowd that sashays by in search of the latest “it” bag or cocktail dress, completely blind to this neon-lit, Formica-adorned wine bar. Here, bankers from the Opéra area mingle with sales staff from the nearby couture boutiques over a simple, simply delicious lunch, or while enjoying a very affordable glass of wine, and maybe a cheese plate in the evenings.
As the vendors from the Marché d’Aligre start shouting out end-of-the-day prices before closing their food stalls, le Baron Rouge begins to fill up with market personnel, neighbors and food-loving tripists in the know. Casks of wine line the walls of this spartan room, with raw wood floors and little else to inhibit the crowd that floods the counter, spilling out on the street as they balance trays of market-fresh oysters on the hood of the nearest car while laughing, sipping and savoring the delicacy of the moment.
Hidden in plain sight, the generous terrasse of Au Sauvignon is in the perfect spot to catch the afternoon sun, beckoning locals looking for a healthy dose of vitamin D and weary shoppers from the Bon Marché, on the other side of the boulevard Raspail. In addition to a very select offering of wines, there is a short menu featuring gourmet specialties that include perfectly aged cheeses from Barthélémy, deli meat sandwiches on Poilâne bread or herb-marinated salmon with Poilâne toasts. The glass facade makes this a bright place to sit and watch the world go by or admire the comic illustrations on the hand-painted envelopes that line the wall.
Directly across the street from 29, avenue Rapp, and one of the most famous art nouveau buildings in Paris, le Sancerre welcomes a mostly local crowd despite its proximity to the Eiffel Tower. The front bar faces a long open bar where the owner stands, welcoming guests and pointing them to the nearest table. As at all wine bars, the menu is short, but here it is particularly tempting with daily specials that may include a warm, house-made quiche or a girolle mushroom omelet.
At the other end of the city, bureaucrats and laborers, movie stars and nurses squeeze in, sitting elbow to elbow amid the melon-toned, 1950s décor, to lunch on the generously portioned, house-prepared dishes that rush from the kitchen at Au Bon Coin, a remarkably large, bustling wine bar. Jokes fly across the room, the host treating even firstcomers like long lost friends, as the efficient servers race around the room with piping hot plates of stuffed cabbage, tongue or large steaks with green beans and potatoes—rib-sticking meals that keep diners going long after they’ve headed back to the office.
10, rue Marché Saint-Honoré, in the 1st Arrondissement. 01 42 61 03 34.
Le Baron Rouge
1, rue Théophile Roussel, in the 12th Arrondissement. 01 43 43 14 32.
80, rue des Saints-Pères, in the 7th Arrondissement. 01 45 48 49 02.
22, avenue Rapp, in the 7th Arrondissement. 01 45 51 75 91.
Au Bon Coin
49, rue des Cloÿs, in the 18th Arrondissement. 01.46.06.91.36.