The New Left Bank

The scene has moved—across the Seine—to a collection of fringe neighborhoods that are redefining what it means to be young, hip, and hungry in 21st-century Paris.
paris left bank

When my friend Catherine moved from the Marais to the 10th arrondissement 11 years ago, I needed a map to get to her house-warming party. Even though I’d lived in Paris for decades, the only reason I’d ever been in the 10th was to catch a train. Back then, most Parisians would have told you the same. But as I emerged from the métro on that crisp Indian-summer night, I found myself bowled over by a charming new city.

High wrought-iron footbridges arched over the gray waters of the stone-lined Canal Saint-Martin, dotted here and there with vivid spots of color from a few fallen leaves. The whole area was peaceful and pretty and suggested a poignancy I’d not before experienced in this city. Catherine’s apartment turned out to be terrific, too. After selling her small place in the Marais, she’d landed a sunny loft with oak floors and casement windows. Best of all, she no longer had a mortgage. This real-estate grand slam was the talk of the party, but even though I envied my friend, I couldn’t imagine giving up my place in Saint-Germain- des-Près. Besides, there was no place to shop or eat in the 10th.

A couple of weeks later, I found myself back in the 10th, at a new restaurant called Chez Michel. Chef Thierry Breton’s food was brilliant, but my dining companion and I agreed that the poor guy had made a big mistake with the location. Needless to say, Chez Michel is now packed nightly, and these days Catherine has an admirable choice of restaurants practically at her doorstep. If those first change-of-address cards announcing new homes in unfamiliar arrondissements were an occasional curiosity back then, these days I’m surprised when I notice a move that hasn’t landed someone in the 10th, 11th, 12th, 19th, or 20th arrondissement. The 9th, a central neighborhood once known as La Nouvelle Athènes because of its neoclassical architecture, is on the upswing, too, for those priced out of prime areas like Saint-Germain.

Affordable real estate partly explains the accelerating migration into these formerly down-at-the-heels neighborhoods, but many also choose them for their old-fashioned ambience, at once relaxed and convivial. “It was such a relief to escape the bourgeois prissiness of the seventh,” another friend told me after finding an apartment overlooking the Parc des Buttes-Chaumont, in the 19th, a still-gritty area but one brimming with wonderfully quirky shops (and entirely free of the international brands and chain stores back in Saint-Germain).

I’ll always love the Left Bank (it’s still where you’ll find the best hotels), but like almost all of my Parisian friends, I head deep into the double-digit arrondissements so often now that I no longer need a map. If you do the same, you’ll be rewarded not just with good food but also with a fascinating glimpse of the quartiers the French consider the Paris of the 21st century.

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