Travel: Gay Paree comes out on the streets - To mark international Gay Pride day, Simon Calder checks out the scene in Paris

Click to follow
The Independent Travel
Need a gay plumber? Call Patrick on 46 04 81 26, advises one of the city's gay magazines. The publication also provides a map of gay men's Paris, with colour- coded symbols for bars, gyms, locations for cruising (drague), and the address of Patrick-the-plumber's premises on the Left Bank. You may not care too much about the sexual orientation of your handymen, but the magazine demonstrates the intensity of the gay scene in the French capital.

Bohemian hearts beat most strongly in the Marais, the ancient 4th arrondissement. From the tables spilling out beneath the handsome facade of the Majestic bar (34 rue Vielle du Temple), you can peer along rue Ste-Croix-de- la-Bretonnerie. This narrow street is the axis around which the gay scene revolves.

Start at Number 6, a gay bookshop called Les Mots a La Bouche. Here you will find the leading magazine for gay women, the monthly Lesbia, and Rebel and Illico for gay men. You could also buy a copy of Paris Scene, an English-language handbook to gay Paris. It contains useful phrases which you are unlikely to find elsewhere, such as 'Size doesn't matter' and 'Call me Master'.

A cafe crawl along rue Ste- Croix-de-la-Bretonnerie could last all day. Most places are welcoming whether you are gay or straight, or indeed marche a la voile et a la vapeur - literally wind- and steam- powered (in other words, bisexual). Three of the best are

the Coffee Shop Central at Number 3, L'Aviatic at 25 (a roomy, relaxed cafe) and Le Divin at 41. Women will feel comfortable in these places but Subway, at 35, is exclusively for male poseurs.

The parallel streets contain mixed gay/straight venues, such as the Chaps' Cafe at 12 rue de Platre (motto: le moins cher, le plus sympa) and Piano Zinc, a lively cabaret club at 49 rue des Blancs-Manteaux. Around the corner, Quetzal (10 rue de la Verrerie) is the trendiest, noisiest and most crowded gay bar in the city. The most prominent lesbian restaurant is Nini Peau d'Chien at 24 rue des Taillandiers, a supremely smoky place close to Bastille.

For gay men, the leading leather bars are outside the Marais: the Manhattan (8 rue des Anglais, 5th arrondissement), Le Transfert (3 rue de la Sourdiere, 1st) and the Keller (14 rue Keller, 11th).

Gay people dominate the club scene. Le Queen, at 102 Champs Elysees, is the gay club par excellence. Sunday afternoons at the Palace (8 rue du Faubourg-Montmartre), when gay men invade for the tea-dance, are a scream.

There are several predominantly gay hotels on the fringes of the Marais. The Hotel Boucherat at 110 rue de Turenne (42 72 86 83) gives free breakfasts to guests who can produce a copy of a gay magazine. The Hotel St- Merry at 78 rue (42 78 14 15) is also popular. It resembles a baronial hall, in striking contrast to the Georges Pompidou Centre a few yards away. An hour beyond the capital, a gay gite has opened on the edge of the Champagne region in the Marne valley - at 4 rue des Pecheurs, 77138 Luzancy (60 23 50 17).

Contact the Paris Gay Centre on 42 77 72 77. All telephone numbers are preceded by 010 331 when calling from the UK.

A useful Mapguide to Paris is published this week by Penguin, at pounds 4.99. It contains up-to-date maps of the central area.

(Photograph omitted)