Hotspot: La Belle Hortense and Au Petit Fer à Cheval

These twin cafes offer refreshment, enlightenment and prime people-watching in Paris’ Marais.

Combine two of life’s greatest pleasures—books and booze—at La Belle Hortense a stylishly stodgy literary cafe in arguably the hippest neighborhood in Paris: the Marais. In the front, it’s a welcoming wine bar (with a good selection of Cognac, Armagnac and Calvados on hand for a stiffer sip) and bookstore stocked with French classics and art, culture and history reads; in the back is a small art gallery and lounge for more private ruminations.

Like its sister cafe across the street, Au Petit Fer à Cheval (see below), La Belle attracts an appealing clientele at its curved, zinc-covered bar—everyone from the local philosophizing eccentric to bookish fashionista to semi-famous French actor gathers in the intimate space with glasses of affordable regional vins (Rhone, Languedoc, Chablis and the Loire the focus) in hand. Patrons spill out onto the street too—all the better for spying on the Marais’ pretty people while imbibing a glass of crisp Sancerre. For serious study, readings and literary gatherings are held every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday at 8 pm—but it’s in French, so you’ll want to brush up on your language skills or perfect the convincing “I totally get what you’re saying and feel your creative power” head nod.
La Belle Hortense, 31 rue Vieille-du-Temple,75004 Paris

Across the street, Au Petit Fer à Cheval offers basic but delicious French bistro fare in a traditional setting. Its horseshoe bar—one of the only of its kind in Paris—is an ideal place to pull up and sample an eclectic list of French wines. Out front on the terasse, neighborhood locals kick back on the cobblestone of Vieille-du-Temple and watch the parade—because if you want to be seen in the Marais, chances are you’ll hit this block—and enjoy affordable cocktails and wine. Retreat to the dining room behind the bar for the cafe’s specialities: lamb, soup and a crème brûlée from heaven. Service is prompt and friendly—the waiters have a sense of humor, are happy to discuss the wine list with you and don’t rush diners—giving you extra time to soak in the scenery and savor your sip.
Au Petit Fer à Cheval, 30 rue Vieille-du-Temple, 75004 Paris

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