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Tuesday
Feb102015

Paris – 3rd arrondissement 

Imagine Soho, the East Village, the West Village, the Meatpacking District, and everything else you love about shopping in New York in one overwhelmingly-large, winding, and ever-expanding entity. That's the Marais district in Paris's 3rd arrondissement. While the Champs Élysée and St. Germain have their own impressive selection of super-stores, most of it is couture. That means you won't be buying your wife anything less than a $3000 purse or an $800 pair of shoes should you want to do something nice for her. All the artisan boutiques, kooky designers, affordable accessories, and Parisian hipsters are in the Marais; to the extent that you could spend your entire time in Paris just combing through all the alleyways you might have missed. It took us two days just to scratch the surface. There's so much to do there it almost induces a panic attack.

There are a number of iconic bars in Paris; many of them long established and frequented by famous literary figures of the century or so. That being said, there are also a number of bars moving beyond Parisian tradition and into their own representation of what a French lounge should be, and they're mostly located in the Marais. The Little Red Door is one of these places (NOTE: if you go, don't be an idiot like me and try to actually open the little red door. The entrance is actually the door to the left of it).

Go early, and you can spend some time talking to bar manager Remy Savage. His customer service skills are impeccible, showcasing that oft-overlooked craft that seems to allude many a mixologist these days. I've had such wonderful service in Paris these last few days and that's really forced me to think about stepping up my own game. Any location—be it a bar or a retail outlet—needs to consider the fact that, when you're a serious destination, people are coming from all over the world to see what you're about. No matter how busy you are, or how many irrational customers you've dealt with that day, we all need to remember that we're not simply providing a service; we're ultimately playing ambassador. I only chatted with Remy for about twenty minutes, but it was clear in that short amount of time that he completely understands what it means to run a world-class bar. 

And he knows not only how to make a delicious and intriguing cocktail, he can do it with flare. The guy was mixing liquids from shaker to shaker, pouring between one container high over his head and another about four feet beneath it. Never once did he spill a drop. Go to the Little Red Door if you're in Paris. It's worth searching out.

Not far down the street is Candelaria, the La Esquina of Paris. If you've never been to New York's amazing La Esquina, I'll sum it up quickly for you: it's a world class taco bar that looks like a hole in the wall, until you realize that there's a secret and glamorous nightclub underneath it, the stairs leading down behind what looks like an ordinary door. Candelaria is attempting literally the exact same concept, but in Paris. Ordinary hole in the wall taco bar, but super fancy lounge in the back behind an unassuming white door. If you don't mind waiting a lifetime to get in, you might want to check it out as it's just a few blocks from the Little Red Door. 

-David Driscoll

Sunday
Feb082015

Paris – 2nd arrondissement 

On Sunday in Paris (and in most of Europe) the shops are closed and the day of rest is still closely observed, but that doesn't mean people are staying in. You might take a walk through the 2nd arrondissement and find yourself smack in the middle of an impromptu motorcycle parade. Why not? Have a few glasses of wine with brunch and then hop on your hog.

An endless snake of two-wheelers is somewhat tolerable, but when you combine that threat to moving traffic with a Je Suis Charlie support march on the neighboring street, only one block south from the mile-long motorcade, you're asking for trouble. I thought our cab driver was going to explode. "Traffic should be less on Sunday, not more," he said with a sneer.

We eventually made it through the melee and over to the Centre Pompidou for a look at the Jeff Koons exhibit, before heading back across the river to the rive gauche and the lovely Musée d'Orsay. If you think museums are just about the appreciation of art, then you're thinking too much with your intellectually-oriented brain. You need to think with your stomach every now and again, as well. Museums are quickly becoming some of the coolest and most stylish places to drink and eat around the world. Before closing for a lengthy remodel, the MOMA in San Francisco was a monthly destination for my wife and I; a spot to enjoy Mondrian cake and sip artsy cocktails. The restaurant in the Orsay is also incredible. A vintage French ballroom from the year 1900 juxtaposed with colorful and modern furniture, and a pretty killer wine list on top of that. We had truffle risotto with celery and a bottle of Alsatian pinot noir. Then it was back to check out the rest of the Monet landscapes. 

Drinking while checking out masterpieces of les paysagistes? That's how I like to appreciate art.

-David Driscoll

Sunday
Feb082015

Paris – 7th arrondissement 

As someone who grew up entirely in the United States, I've come to take for granted the idea of New York as "the city that never sleeps". Twenty-four hours a day you'll find action on the streets of the Big Apple, and many other American cities to boot. Don't most cosmopolitan areas work that way? Not in France, apparently. Paris definitely sleeps; and in February, she takes her sweet time getting out of bed. When you're in the midst of jet-lag and you're still waking up at 4 AM each morning, you're ready to rock those streets as soon as the sun even peeks its head above the horizon. But the rest of Paris? They're still dreaming of last night's dinner.

If you're looking for quiet introspection and a peaceful, taciturn look at the various architectural delights, you can get it in Paris; despite the fact that there are millions and millions of people crammed into this sprawling metropolis. The city streets are yours alone if you wander out before breakfast.

-David Driscoll

Saturday
Feb072015

Paris – 6th arrondissement 

It's an understatement to say that Parisians are well-dressed. The city is, without a doubt, full of the most stylish, impeccably-put-together citizens I've ever come across. Everyone looks good at all times of the day, and that chic couture is perhaps best on display in the St. Germain area of the 6th arrondissement. For the last six years, I've thought of that name in association with the ubiquitous elderflower liqueur, rather than a trendy Parisian neighborhood. After my morning snack at Café de Flore, however, I will forever link St. Germain to the spectacle I witnessed over breakfast. One of the oldest coffeehouses in the city, it is still widely-known for its famous and prestigious clientele. While I didn't recognize anyone in the room, it was clear we were dealing with a serious group of characters. I saw seventy year old women dressed to the nines, strutting their stuff through the entrance way, sipping their warm drinks, and slowly reading the morning paper as if nothing were out of the ordinary. Their casual, leisurely pace was no accident. They were there to be seen as much as we were there to see them, and they were taking their sweet time (as were we). Think of Betsy Johnson or Iris Apfel and then imagine a room full of them, eating pastries, and playing coy with the adoring wait staff. Café de Flore definitely lived up to the hype. 

Not only are the city's elderly bringing their A-game, so are the youngest Parisians along le boulevard Saint-Germain. Each and every little girl was wearing nothing less than a skirt, with tights, cute little boots, and a stylish jacket. Adorable. 

In San Mateo we have our share of line-out-the-door eateries. Most of them are heralded ramen shops where eating a meal requires a determined and dedicated wait. St. Germain has one of these places as well: Le Relais de l'Entrecôte, the steak frites institution that makes one thing and one thing only. You sit down, they ask you how you want it cooked (á point for me, bien cuit for my wife) and they serve you porterhouse-cut beef, carved into strips, and covered in savory secret sauce with french fries and a salad to begin. We got there right as they opened, so the wait was minimal. After twenty minutes or so, however, the place was jamming.

Again, as with Café de Flore, the experience more than lived up to the hype. My wife, who isn't really even a meat eater, was completely thrilled with the flavor. And once again, another American fable of moody waitresses and a snarky Parisian attitude was nowhere to be seen. I've heard stories from tourists about the ladies who deliver these famous steaks, but none of them were true on this day. We experienced nothing but absolute politeness and courtesy from beginning to end of this fantastic meal. Seeing that it's a madhouse, however, if you're expecting Comment allez-vous? and a bit of chit-chat, you're in the wrong spot. You need to eat and then get the F out so that the people waiting behind you get their chance.

Another friendly Parisian pulled up at the table next door, thrilled to talk with two Americans and share his stories of San Francisco. He spent more time talking to us than he did his date (which wasn't going over well with her, I don't think). 

-David Driscoll

Friday
Feb062015

Paris – 1st arrondissement 

There's a small park near my house in San Mateo where people walk their dogs. It's pleasant and fine, but it's nothing like the area around the Louvre. I can't imagine being able to walk your dog here each morning.

The inside of the world famous museum is unfortunately nowhere near as peaceful these days. I like my iPhone a lot. It's a wonderful, helpful tool in many ways (even last night I was able to use the flashlight to read while my wife slept quietly next to me), but I enjoy taking a vacation from it now and again. No one in Paris seems to be overtaken by technology the way folks in the Bay Area have been. I've only once seen someone next to me in a restaurant texting while having their meal. Everyone stares straight ahead as they walk, no one is looking down while they drive, and the cafes are full of teenagers holding cigarettes instead. The Louvre, however, is the absolute worst place in the world to visit if you're looking to get away from smart phones. In fact, in 2015 it's basically a live-version infomercial about the potential perils of the tablet and it's terrible, dreadful effect on the civility of the human race. 

Seeing the Mona Lisa in person is already an underwhelming experience, but watching the throngs of tourists jockey and posture to take a picture in front of it while flashing a peace sign is unreal. It's comical at first, but after a few minutes you have to leave the room. There's a guard sitting in a chair next to the painting, facing the crowd, forced to watch the sordid soirée go down. Those workers must be so jaded in their view of humanity at this point. Almost as funny as getting to see the iconic image is watching the people who also are going solely to see the Mona Lisa slow down and act like they care about the rest of the artwork; as if to separate themselves from the other soulless pack. The whole experience is a serious show if you're a people watcher like me. While my wife and I were silently looking at the collection of jewelery in the Galerie d'Apollon, a woman armed with her smart phone burst into the room, cut directly in front of me, snapped two quick picks of the bling, and then left as quickly as she came in. I whispered to my wife, "If you don't even want to look at it, then why take a picture?" It's crazy. C'est la vie?

-David Driscoll