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Neighborhood Watch: Paris’ SoPi

Pigalle—home to Moulin Rouge, cafés once frequented by Toulouse Lautrec and André Breton, and, yes, the city’s highest concentration of sex shops and topless bars—has a history of hedonism. Recently, however, Paris‘s red-light district has emerged as a more sophisticated kind of pleasure-center. With Brooklyn-style coffee shops, trendy boutiques, stylish cocktail bars and luxury hotels opening up in rapid succession, South Pigalle—or SoPi as it has been dubbed—currently caters to a new breed of bon vivant: hipsters with a passion for organic wines, farm-to-table cuisine and swanky cocktail lounges. Here, we round up the best spots to eat, drink and be merry in SoPi.

Related: Paris Destination Report

Where to Eat & Drink

There’s no single “destination restaurant” in SoPi, but the large concentration of delectable see-and-be-seen cafés, bistros, bars and lounges within a five-block radius could keep you well-fed for days.

Mornings tend to be quiet in this neighborhood, which is best known for its nightlife, so breakfast can be a leisurely affair at your hotel. Maison Souquet, whose décor is heavy on velvets, brocades and gilded columns, serves a full petit dej in a tucked-away boudoir-esque winter garden. In stark contrast, Le Grand Pigalle boasts floor-to-ceiling windows that open onto rue Victor Massé, which make the chic lobby/restaurant/bar an airy setting for people watching and a sumptuous breakfast buffet.

For a classic bistro lunch in SoPi, Le Pantruche is tasty and atmospheric thanks to its large oak bar, tarnished mirrors, and plush banquettes. Those in the mood for something a little more exotic (at least by Paris-dining standards) should head to the stylish taqueria-cum-wine bar Luz Verde or to Ito Izakaya, where Japanese small plates may be be served at bistro tables, but are best washed down with traditional saki or Japanese whiskey.

Related: Family-Friendly Paris Itinerary

In the evening, when things really get cooking in Pigalle, SoPi offers a cornucopia of drinking and dining options. Just a few doors up from Luz Verde, Buvette is a favorite among locals and tourists alike who crowd in front of the vest pocket no-reservation restaurant to eat tartinettes and croque monsieurs under pressed-tin ceilings. Reserve ahead at Professore and L’Entrée des Artistes where it is easy to slide from dinner to drinks, or vice versa. The former, an upscale trattoria, has a speak-easy style backroom bar with leather armchairs, a fireplace and killer cocktails. Similarly clandestine (don’t be deterred by the unmarked door,) L’Entrée des Artistes is a festive and spacious hot spot for small plates, mixed drinks and natural wines. The impressive loft-like interior remains cozy thanks to candle lighting, exposed brick walls and intimate circular booths. For sustenance and great people-watching at any time of day, the restaurant inside the hotel Le Pigalle is the neighborhood’s unofficial canteen, where locals mingle with hotel guests over carafes of natural wine and bar snacks day and night.

For Paris’s late-night crowd, SoPi’s bar scene cannot be beat. Glass, which started the hipster migration up towards Montmartre back in 2012, still lures a young crowd to rue Fochot with Brooklyn lager and American-style bar food. But across the street, newcomer Lulu White has a glitzy Belle Époque ambiance and boasts the perfect backdrop for its powerful absinthe-based cocktails. Artisan Bar is a bit more casual with a convivial wraparound bar, a cozy back room and a soundtrack of jazz standards. Finally, for those with energy left, Le Dirty Dick, has become a late night institution. Located in a former hostess bar on the rue Fochot (from whence the current establishment takes its salacious name) this tiki-themed lounge serving cocktails in conch shells is where So-Pi revelers get loose.

Related: Melissa’s Top 10 Paris Finds

Where to Shop

While some big-name brands (Aesop, APC and Maison Kitsuné) have recently settled on rue Condorcet, the rest of the neighborhood remains a haven for independent boutiques, many of which feature products made by locals. Myrtille Beck sells delicate and flirty rings, necklaces and bracelets of her own design. Lab Boutique, founded by a former Chloé and APC designer, takes custom orders the kitchen, bedroom and bathroom textiles. Design objects and home goods from all over the world can be found at the concept stores Le Rocketship and Mr. Fish. And don’t go home without some Pigalle branded streetwear by Stephane Ashpool. His pret-a-porter line emblazoned with the neighborhood’s name can be procured at Pigalle Paris.

Oenophiles won’t want to miss L’Atelier des Sommeliers, the inviting wine shop and tasting room run by a pair of sommeliers who cut their teeth at the Bristol Hotel. Local foodie treats include the galettes and tarts at the neighborhood’s star bakery, the gorgeous Patisserie des Martyrs by Sebastien Gaudard. (Gaudard is an alumnus of Fauchon and Le Bon Marché.) More decadent sweets can be had at Natier, a chocolate shop that sells (almost) too-pretty-to-eat truffles and pâté de fruit by France’s best artisanal chocolatiers.

Related: Shopping with a Teen in Paris

What to See & Do

To learn about the creative souls who flocked to Pigalle in another era, head to the Musée de la Vie Romantique. Housed in a 19th-century mansion that was once the home of Dutch artist Ary Scheffer, the museum was renovated in 2013. Its permanent collection focuses on work by Scheffer and other artists of the Romantic era including Delacroix and Ingres with particular attention given to the novelist George Sand. The leafy courtyard garden is a nice spot for a coffee break.

Another small museum, the former home and studio of symbolist painter Gustave Moreau, is also worth a visit. Musée Gustave Moreau showcases over 1,000 paintings, drawings and sculptures by Moreau and other artists of his time, including Degas. For a contemporary art fix, head up Avenue de Clichy to Le Bal, an exhibition space dedicated to photography and video. Housed in a 1930’s dance hall, the gallery has an in-house restaurant, Le Bal Café, run by a two former Rose Bakery chefs. The British-style brunch is as much of a draw as the edgy art.

Related: Upon Arrival Paris

– Mara Hoberman on September 12, 2016

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