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Paris Night Life: The Streets Are Alive in Summer

July 12, 1987|LESLIE GOURSE | Gourse is a New York City free-lance writer.

PARIS — A man on a motorcycle raced into the intersection of five Left Bank streets near Paris' Latin Quarter on a weekend night. His motor roared while his tape deck played: "Hi dee hi dee hi dee ho . . . . "

Cab Calloway sang out clearly enough to amuse the nighttime cafe sitters, terrace diners and strollers in the narrow lanes. "Hi dee hi dee . . . . " And the motorcycle roared away.

Paris was enjoying its traditional summer night life, the season when Parisians and tourists usually move into the streets to fill them with vibrancy: music, lights, songs, laughter, shouts and screeching brakes.

Every neighborhood has its popular cafes, restaurants and clubs. Some close at 1 a.m., but many stay open until dawn on weekends. A few stay open all night, catching the first rays of sunlight. Some have acquired city-wide fame and lure the young, fun-loving and chic in the wee hours.

Most places that glitter in the Paris nights are on the beaten paths, in the narrow streets of the enduringly popular Left Bank, in the newly glamorous Les Halles area, or near the graceful sweep of the Champs-Elysees.

The Left Bank and Les Halles clubs are so close together that you can easily walk between the two areas via the bridge over the Seine in front of Notre Dame Cathedral. You can walk in safety even after the Metros close down at about 12:30 a.m. Earlier in the evening you can wave to passengers on the bateaux mouches (sightseeing boats) that make the Seine sparkle in the dark.

Best Piano Bar in Town

Some people call Les Trois Maillets, 56 Rue Galande on the Left Bank, a block from Notre Dame, the best piano bar in town. At night, tables and chairs are set in a pool of light on the terrace. Inside, a pianist plays pop music on the street level.

This club literally has a nearly bottomless pit. You go down a flight of stone steps to the jazz club in a cave on Level One. Another flight down, you find a disco. (Paris is filled with clubs in caves, which were used as social clubs and jails. Les Trois Maillets is said to have been a social club in the 12th Century.)

Good contemporary jazz groups play every night until about 4 a.m. American Cynthia McPherson sometimes shows up to sing. A tall, stylishly dressed woman, she sings with a big voice and infectious swing. Afterwards she often goes out on the town herself.

"Paris nightlife is fun: it's improvisational," she says, summing up the scene she chose to live and work in three years ago, when she came to France for a vacation. Quickly she started working in some of the same cave-clubs where American jazz musicians captivated French audiences in the 1940s, '50s and '60s. (The movie "Round Midnight" shows replicas of these clubs.)

When McPherson isn't working at the Trois Maillets she sometimes goes there for entertainment. Or she goes to Le Montana, 28 Rue Benoit, across the street from the Drugstore at St. Germain de Pres.

Le Montana features a big selection of champagnes. It's a convivial, informal jazz club, where small groups play streamlined be-bop on a raised bandstand. Crowds-in-the-know arrive at 10:30 for the music, which continues until the wee hours.

The Friendly French

At Le Montana the French let their hair down, joke with each other and strike up conversations with strangers. Even the woman who sells flowers got kissed on the cheeks, French-style, by the regulars. Drinks cost about $10, the usual price in Paris nightclubs that don't charge admission fees. In such clubs the second drink usually costs less than the first.

Across the street at 3 Rue Benoit, Bilboquet, the tri-level club, features larger groups, often starring the polished American singer Martial Battlefield, well-known in Paris. Bilboquet charges high prices for all drinks instead of a cover charge in its sunken living room, actually a cave, just below the bandstand. You can also dine on the street-level terrace, in the inside dining room or on the balcony.

In fine weather, with its doors and windows open, Bilboquet becomes an airy, romantic bistro, so well-upholstered that you would never guess it was originally a simple cave.

From Rue Benoit it's a short walk up Boulevard St. Germain to Rue de Buci. Turn left into this narrow canyon always filled with tourists and diners on summer nights. Keep walking to Rue d'Ancienne Comedie and turn right. In the middle of the block you'll find Pub St. Germain, once a popular jazz club where "Paris Blues," starring Paul Newman with Duke Ellington's music, was filmed. Now the club features taped rock music, countless varieties of beer, and food until the wee hours. Reasonable prices attract hordes of young people.

Or you can keep walking straight up Rue de Buci to the Place St. Andre des Arts; turn left and cross the Seine by the bridge in front of Notre Dame until you reach Les Halles, the trendy warren of malls with boutiques, bistros and clubs that was once a vegetable market.

Down to Another Cave

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