A cafe in Paris. Now that's really cool

It's cheaper and less pretentious than London, says Lucy Reid

PARIS IS not hip. It is not trendy. Worst of all, it is not cool. Unlike London which, of course, is all of the above, Parisian chic is notoriously out-dated. Recent Eurostar ads appearing in newspapers and magazines trumpet "Londres - c'est hot"; it is said that the coolest place for a young Parisian to be on a Friday night is at the Gare du Nord, catching the train to London.

So is having a good time in the French capital out of the question? Not according to my friend Paul, who moved to Paris from London a year ago. "Paris is less expensive and less hectic; it's much nicer to look at than London and you get more for your money. Bars in London are extremely pretentious; you have to have the latest thing on your back to sit in the latest bar. You are constantly scrutinised and under pressure to be cool. Paris is far more relaxed - you wear what you like. The quality of life is so much better."

While it may be true that the French lack individuality in their fashion sense, there are a dazzling array of bars and cafes. What's more, you never have to travel far to get to one: central Paris is small compared to the sprawl of London. You can cross the city on the Metro within half an hour.

The next drink is never far away. A perfect Sunday could start with a late lunch Chez Marianne, in the Rue des Hospitaliers St-Gervais, tucked away in the narrow medieval streets of the Marais. Popular with Parisians and tourists alike, this is a Jewish/Eastern European restaurant with sky-scraper wine-racks, a sawdust-strewn black and white chequered floor and alarming choice of desserts. You can choose from a list of elements including pastrami, stuffed vine leaves, hummus, felafel, unfeasibly large blocks of creamy feta, and whole cooked red peppers basking in olive oil - not to mention the aubergine caviar and the enormous bagels.

Then how about a post-prandial glass of wine in La Belle Hortense, just over the road from Chez Marianne? It describes itself as a unique Bar Litteraire - a tiny, beamed wine bar and bookshop rolled into one which boasts a very well-read barman who will serve you a good Bordeaux and suggest a book to complement it.

Catch the latest film at one of the many cinemas that litter Paris and then head for a night out at one of the recently christened "BAMs" - Bar a Ambience Musicale - which provide the clubs with serious competition. The concept is simple - a very reasonably priced bar and restaurant presided over by a DJ. The convivial pub-style atmosphere attracts a heterogenous clientele; you can talk, socialise, eat and dance - activities which are mutually exclusive in a club. The Sans Sanz in the Rue Faubourg St Antoine, in the Bastille area of the 11th arrondissement, which opened four years ago, is perhaps the best known. It also defies Parisian neat chic. The interior smacks of decaying decadence with swathes of red velvet, tiger skin-covered baroque chairs, flaking gilt picture frames and dubious Formica tables. An improbable mix of people sit at tables, chat at the bar or dance - from groups of elderly American tourists to students and elegant Parisiennes complete with Chanel sunglasses and chignons.

Elsewhere, the Latin Quarter on the Left Bank is passe, deserted long- ago by the drifting trendsetters. Even the Bastille area is becoming out- moded as the nearby Oberkampf district becomes the place to be. And when you have had enough bar-hopping, you'll find that the taxi ride home, while being a great way to see some more (now floodlit) magnificent monuments, will also be very cheap in comparison to London. So forget the insufferable Cool Britannia. Do it in style, in Paris, in the spring.

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