10 Days in Paris’s 20th Arrondissement
This autumn I found myself ‘stuck’ in Paris for more than a week and what can I say, there are worse things in the world than finding yourself ambling around this captivating haven of chic. As you know, I’ve always been infatuated by this city and country and even though this is about my 7th visit, I would consider this latest stint as the most authentic slice of the pie, even more so than my experience last summer in Montparnasse which I discussed of here. Owing to a wonderful friend’s kindness, I was able to base myself at Gambetta and spend my days cafe hopping and admiring the new, the old, the exotic and the everyday.
I found the best blog description of this neighbourhood in these words ‘this area is swarming with what the French call “les bobos”– young, issue-conscious professionals straddling a line between bourgeois and bohemian’ which I would say also captures a large essence of both my contemporaries and me (minus the ‘young’ part). Les Bobos – a fusion of bourgeois and bohemian – middle class convention aching for the alternative.
Ultimately I had work commitments and while I longed to roam through district after district, watching and photographing every corner as I ‘catch up’ on Voltaire and Proust in Le Deux Magots (a joke obviously, the last book I read was in 2014) the reality of my days were more or less structured around finding a local cafe which could tolerate my presence for more than 4 hours as I worked on my laptop and ordered lunch. I pretty much rotated my days around these cafes in Gambetta:-
Bistrot Du Metro
10 Place Gambetta, 75020 Paris
What I loved most about this place is how comfortable it is inside if you need to work. Red leather snug chairs huddled at the corners, some lined up against the glass walls which lets you gaze out for some people watching break in between emails. Service was perfunctory and efficient. I got my usual salmon related dish (this was their salmon tartare and French fries), one cappuccino and one Coke Zero and stayed for more than 3 hours without being disturbed. It opens up for breakfast and is also located right in front of the Gambetta Metro so a convenient place to meet up with friends. The average price for a salad, a Coke Zero and a cappuccino is approximately 25 Euros. WiFi is strong.
8 Place Gambetta, 75020 Paris
Named after the neighbourhood and sits right next to Bistro du Metro. Here I have the Norwegian salad (salmon sashimi, avocado and prawns), 1 Cappuccino and 1 Coke Zero, also approximately comes up to 25 Euros. It has a lot of indoor space compared to Bistro du Metro and seems to want to evoke a rather French cinema vibe with walls of black and white photographs of famous local actresses and I snuggled next to this huge poster of Edith Piaf (Gambetta is also her birthplace and where her much discussed memorial lies). I could work very well here because the wi-fi was strong, there was ample space inside which meant I didn’t have to worry about somehow invading someone else’s space. The only slightly annoying element here was the waiters who sort of lived up to their national reputation too well. Indifferent and maybe even surprised at your attempt to get their attention…
2 Place Martin Nadaud, 75020 Paris
Food was the most delicious here (smoked salmon salad came with this delicious thin bread soaked in taramasalata) Service was also the best, the waitress was super friendly and giggled indulgently at my attempt to speak and order in French (though quickly responded in English as she probably didn’t have the time or energy to risk the whole miscommunication rigamarole). The only slight cons was the indoor space was on the smaller side (not a problem if you come in the right time and get yourself a more comfortable table closest to the bar) and the wifi connection was not too hot. I pretty much needed to use my own data roaming on my phone as their WiFi just wasn’t picking up in speed and connection, but my laptop could handle it. Price is no different to the other cafes reviewed.
30 Rue Villiers de l’Isle Adam, 75020 Paris
I didn’t eat here but just had some cappuccinos as I worked (1 cappuccino is 4 Euros which is standard in Paris). I was curious to try it out as it seemed a bit more rustic and beaten down in character, and less functional and mainstream as the above three. Set near a cute little street called Cite des Ecoles (City of School?) it was more bohemian than bourgeois with weary chairs, vintage wall prints and great floor tiles. I didn’t find this the best place to work in as the ambiance for me was too leisurely and the chairs and tables were bit too small. I would probably come here more for the local flavour and ambiance. Service was pleasant enough.
20 Rue Orfila
Similar to Le Comptoir, it had more of that authentic, local, cozy individuality with classic Cafe type deco and framed paintings, interspersed with huge framed collages of global influencers and chalkboard menus. I came for cappuccino and better internet (because Cafe Martin’s internet connection was killing me!) and got what I needed here. It’s also less hectic than the other cafes and on a Thursday afternoon, the patrons are internet-and work-space-searchers who needed to park themselves in an inconspicuous corner. Cappuccino a standard 4 Euros.
Voila. I love the Gambetta neighbourhood – it’s the kind of place which made me feel like I was part of the local life, and not just crammed amongst a throng of transient tourists in Guidebook spots. Do give one of these cafes a try if you are in the area for people watching, catching up with friends or even, like me, a place you may need some quiet work-and-coffee hours for a day.