Written by Laurence Phillips
Wazemmes may be the daytime weekend capital, but another marketplace, the former Les Halles wholesale district straddling the rues Solférino and Masséna, is the centre of nightlife. Part student hangout, part city of singles and part party-animal safari park, the restaurants, bars and pavements are an electrifying life-force on Friday and Saturday nights. The old covered market itself houses a run-down supermarket that still manages to catch some of the party buzz and cheery chaos as people stock up on last-minute supplies for rendezvous with friends in a student bedsit before hitting the bars. Like any city’s party zone, a number of bars and restaurants open and close with the frequency of a revolving door, but fi rm favourites survive each new influx of undergraduate revellers.
Those who care about looking cool may or may not still hang out at the Café La Plage where pavement tables are made from old surf boards. Sporty types (read ‘rugby club’) make noisy alpha-male sounds and pull their own pints at Au Fût et à Mesure. There’s something for everyone: choose your taste by the music blaring out and suss out whether the place is full of ’80s retro-heads enjoying the sounds and tipples of the decade that taste may have bypassed, but which hair-care products annexed for all time, or home to more modest Brit-retro such as during the happy hour at The Fridge. Current taste is for décor that is faux-British-pub style, such as Atomic. But the open doors at Le Solférino bar spilling out on the corner of rue Masséna are a bright place to start the evening and meet up with friends. Students on a tight budget bring their own atmosphere to the cheap and cheerful mood Chez Gino, where a beer is not much more than €2, while those willing to pay for imported Cuban ambience enjoy tequila slammers at Le Latina Café. La Boucherie, an institution in the quarter since the social dark ages, is a veritable meat-rack – lively dance floor, cruisy cocktail bar and the benchmark of the social scene – the first point of contact for making new friends.
Restaurants, on the other hand, are strictly for old acquaintances. The season’s newest crop of dining rooms will provide a perfect hideaway for couples. Do not dismiss the area as merely the haunt of the green and trendy. There are more than a few bars, cafés and restaurants well worth a detour, both around the square and along the rues Gambetta and Puebla. This is one quarter where you should never rely on the printed word for a guarantee of fashion. Trends change fast here, so it really does pay to walk slow and watch where the locals go. Oh, and don’t pronounce the full word when referring to Solférino. That is the mark of a stranger or wrinkly. It is Solfé!