Travel: The hippest bar hop Paris can offer

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The Independent Online
The coolest parts of Paris are, of course, where the hippest locals congregate.

Kate Mikhail offers a guide with street cred.

A weekend in Paris can easily turn into a long, extended bar and cafe crawl, with the odd gallery thrown in. Nothing wrong with that - but the problem is where to go to avoid other tourists, pay reasonable prices for your demis and mingle with the local in-crowd.

Bastille is no longer a la mode and a suggested night out there will probably earn you a scathing sneer from Parisian trendies. They, meanwhile, prefer to head further north and east. And it's in Menilmontant, armed with a nonchalant attitude and a confident pout, that you can join the French in their favourite pastime of posing with style in movie-set surroundings.

If you're planning a night of serious drinking, it may be a good idea to line your stomach in nearby Belleville, one of the most colourful and interesting quartiers; it is home to a large north-African population and Paris's second Chinatown - though a large number of the restaurants are, in fact, Vietnamese. The Dong Huong and Tin Tin Vietnamese restaurants are particularly good, and if your French is a little rusty the Tin Tin has a photo display in the window showing the dishes on offer.

Relaxed and well fed, you proceed to the bars. Menilmontant is about a 10-minute walk away from Belleville; just enough time to work up a thirst.

Head south and take a left along rue St Maur, which will lead you all the way to rue Oberkampf, the new-found centre of Paris's night-life.

The walk will take you through a busy residential area, which is rarely quiet. The local bars - as ubiquitous as the dog excrement that covers the pavements of Paris - are just that, extremely local. I can never resist peering in, and am never disappointed. The last time I took this walk I saw two elderly women, both 80 if they were a day, with white hair piled high and lipstick perfectly applied, sitting at a bar, deep in conversation with the barman, ready, it seemed, for a long night ahead.

As you approach rue Oberkampf, one bar on the right-hand side of the road stands out, or rather, its warm, colourful interior draws you in. Les Couleurs is a wannabe squat bar, with posters and flyers Sellotaped to walls that are genuinely distressed. Coloured fairy lights wander over the ceiling, and candles drip from walls and tables. It is a relaxed bar, and the dress is about as casual as things get for Paris: the huge hole in the underarm of the owner's T-shirt is a proud display of down- dressing. Banquettes and chairs are grouped around small tables and if you want to start the evening slowly, you can settle down to a mint tea and game of backgammon.

A short walk on from here, further down rue St Maur and left on to rue Oberkampf, you will find the Cafe Charbon, one of the first bars to make its mark as Menilmontant established itself as the place to be. The Charbon dates back to 1886 when it was a cafe theatre. A few years ago, it was just a large, dark and dusty bar with a couple of billiard tables and a handful of regular customers. Now, after careful restoration, it is generally crammed in the evenings - and it's a lively place to pass a Sunday afternoon. A young, well-heeled group, with an alarmingly high proportion of small goatee beards, crowd along the bar which is overhung by old-fashioned gas lamps, and staffed by hyper and not over-friendly staff. At the weekend, there's a DJ who plays acid jazz and flirts with passing customers.

The food, served until 11pm, is considered very good, and at 30F for starters and 50F for main courses it is not overpriced. The Charbon also does a good line in cocktails for 38F-40F, which is cheap by Paris standards. Across the road, La Mercerie is a lighter, brighter bar, with orange, rough-sponged walls, and Latin jazz on the turntable.

Paris bars shut down at 2am and last orders are called a good 10 minutes before that - but don't despair, you can always head off to the sleaze of Pigalle or one of the large, all-night cafe bars such as that in Place de la Republique, where you can stay all night and enjoy a final nightcap as Parisians wander in for a coffee and chaser for breakfast.

Dong Huong and Tin Tin restaurants, rue Louis Bonnet, 11th arrondissement - Metro stop Belleville (booking not necessary, but last orders 10pm- 10.30pm).

Les Couleurs (00 33 1 43 57 95 61), 117 Rue Saint Maur, 11th arrondissement - Metro stop Menilmontant.

Cafe Charbon (00 33 1 43 57 55 13), 109 rue Oberkampf, 11th arrondissement - Metro stop Menilmontant.

La Mercerie (00 33 1 43 38 81 30), 98 rue Oberkampf, 11th arrondissement - Metro stop Menilmontant.

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