Happy Hour in Paris: Where to Practice the Art of Apéro

Customers have a drink outside the bar "Le Sully" on October 4, 2012 on Rue Du Faubourg Saint-Denis in Paris. Photo: Mehdi Fedouach/AFP/Getty Images

There is a word you quickly learn when you move to Paris that has no exact Anglo equivalent: L’apéro. Apéro refers to the drinks and nibbles most French people take before dinner proper, and it’s also a sacred moment in the Parisian daily social calendar, right up there with the morning coffee and cigarette, the midday lunch, the mid-afternoon coffee and cigarette, or children’s after-school goûter (snack).

Apéro — which occurs in a bar, café, picnic-style alongside the Seine or the canals, or in people’s homes — can be as simple as one drink and a small bowl of peanuts (or, weirdly, Pringles, which are quite fashionable in Paris) or as elaborate as several drinks and a wide spread of cheese, charcuterie, olives, and bread — a maxi-apéro event called apéro dinatoire, which basically means, “don’t expect dinner after this.” Here’s a look at where fashionable young Parisians are taking their apéro this season.

By the Water

In summer, when it stays light out until nearly 10 p.m., Parisians gather on blankets alongside the Seine or, more hipsterishly, alongside the scruffy-trendy Canal St. Martin in the 10th Arrondissement, or the Canal de l’Ourcq just north of that in the 19th. They drink white wine, smoke their brains out, and have a makeshift dinner of hummus, baba ghannouj, and other things someone picked up after work at the Franprix (kind of like a D’Agostino or Gristedes), with a few baguettes someone bought at a bobo-approved boulangerie like the beautiful Du Pain et des Idées, which was opened by former fashion people. Take the metro to Jacques Bonsergent and then have someone direct you to the canal.

La Perle, 78 Rue Vieille du Temple

This rather-average Marais watering hole for Paris’s young and stylish fashion and media set became internationally famous after designer John Galliano had his career-derailing anti-Semitic meltdown here a few years ago; there's a lot of expats and tourists now, but it’s still a hopping apéro spot well into the night, with good-looking crowds spilling out of the café chairs and over the sidewalks. La Perle's website is more adorable than its food is special (it’s not — it’s mediocre and overpriced), but nobody comes here for the food. You can order a mojito, but here’s a secret: Most Parisians after work take a pint of Stella Artois, or a half-pint called un demi, just like their London counterparts.

La Cave du Septime, 3 Rue Basfroi

In Paris’s quietly trendy 11th Arrondissement, this rustic and woody wine and charcuterie bar is a stone’s throw from its daddy, Septime, a neo-bistro that’s one of the darlings of Le Fooding, the bobo-foodie bible. Here, you can select from the shelves a Meursault de Fanny Sabre or a Bordeaux L’Homme Cheval and pair them up with, to pull directly from Le Fooding, “kalamata olives, anchovies from Cantabrique and magnificent ricotta, foie gras and smoked eel, unbelievably tender pancetta from Colonnata, Cinta Senese saucisson with fennel, 24-month aged comté.” The bread is also amazing, and you can take your unfinished wine bottle over to Septime — if, that is, you can ever score a reservation.

La Jaja, 56 Rue d’Argout

Not far from the charming foodie strip Rue Montorgeuil in the very central 2nd Arrondissement, this small and lovely room, slathered in mirrors and baroque molding, attracts, like La Perle, a crowd of chic creatives who spill out onto the streets in good weather, creating an after-work party atmosphere fueled by a DJ. It’s also known for its smiling, friendly servers — a Paris rarity — and for its brother-sister proprietors, Charléli and Léslie. Watch the video on its webpage for a taste of the fuzz-faced, muss-haired trendies you’ll end up boogieing with here.

Chez Jeannette, 47 Rue du Faubourg Saint-Denis, and Le Sully, 13 Rue du Faubourg Saint-Denis   

Rue du Faubourg St-Denis, with a mini–Arc de Triomphe–like structure at its lower end, is like the Lower East Side circa 2001 — a once seriously skeezy area, replete with hookers and pimps, that has recently become skeezy-chic, full of new restos and bars full of cool kids. These two classic brasseries have been here forever and attract a less fashiony, but some might say cooler and more truly artistic, crowd than La Perle and La Jaja. If you want to morph your apéro into a decent dinner, head to Jeannette; Le Sully, meanwhile, is famous for its dirt-cheap €4 half-pints of beer.