After you experience a lot of nightlife in Paris, the glitzy barhopping starts to feel stale, leaving behind only a craving for an experience with less fuss and more edge. That’s why I decided to swap the usual debonair bar jam-packed with natty sophisticates for a laid-back evening at la Folie en Tête.
I nosed out this bar during a recent promenade through the remote Butte aux Cailles neighborhood, situated just below the Place d’Italie. Once a stage of the legendary Commune de Paris, this quaint neighborhood with cobblestoned streets exudes a carefree village vibe, providing the perfect (not to mention convenient) escape from the stuffiness of the city. How it has remained one of Paris’s best-kept secrets still puzzles me. Far from the usual branchitude (trendiness) of nightlife in Paris, la Folie en Tête echoes the neighborhood’s mantra: it ain’t hip and it ain’t tryin’ to be. Yet this is precisely what makes it so very funky.
As I opened the door, a smiling patron leaning against the bar’s wooden facade (an artifact of the commune’s days) greeted me. What the dive-y interior lacked in class, it made up for largely in personality. A kaleidoscope of comic strips, paintings and wooden instruments—even a traffic light—consumed the walls. Handfuls of casual but jazzy Parisians peppered the interior, making a cordial impression. The sound of world music combined with a sharp, fruity scent: happy hour lingered in the air.
It took me a bit to reel in the bartender, who was wrapped up in lively conversation with a group of habitués crowded around the bar. Pleasant and chatty, he suggested a fresh raspberry caipirinha, which he served with speed and care—even cutting the added sugar in half upon request. Other great happy hour options include house caipirinhas (or any cocktail, really, at 5 euros) and pints of three local microbrews (rousse, blonde and blanche) for the price of un demi (3–3.50 euros). A chalkboard advertised a selection of terrines to accompany the elaborate drink menu.
As I paid for my cocktail (5 euros), a bubbly woman, yet another regular, reached across the bar to greet the bartender with une bise. That’s when I realized that I felt quite at home in this oddball, bohemian atmosphere. Later, a few sips into my delicious drink, I even found myself talking French politics with my neighbors—an almost extinct scenario in a city full of strangers like Paris. By the time my friends arrived, I was already having a blast.
All in all, I was extremely pleased with la Folie en Tête’s back-to-the-basics approach to nightlife in Paris. For anyone looking to kick back with a round (or more) of inexpensive but well-prepared drinks in a sociable setting minus the fuss, the experience is absolutely worth a hike to the Butte aux Cailles.
La Folie en Tête
33, rue de la Butte aux Cailles, in the 13th Arrondissement.
01 45 80 65 99. Open Mon–Sat, 5 p.m.–2 a.m.; Sun, 6 p.m.–midnight.
Happy hour daily, 5 p.m.–8 p.m.
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