August – hot, quiet, and weirdly chilled – is a good time to check out a new bar or two, particularly hipster-type establishments that are less busy because all the locals are on holiday.
Le Perchoir is not in the 20th but bills itself as being in Ménilmontant, so for my purposes it counts as local. Arriving before my friend gave me a chance to linger outside the door – nondescript and unmarked but nevertheless unmistakeable due to the velvet rope and doorman glued to his mobile phone – and watch fashionably clad young people and rusted-on residents meander up and down the street. The air was so still it barely moved the lonely lavender in a window box high above the pavement, and even the pigeons couldn’t be bothered to fly. Fragments of sport on the radio, Middle Eastern music and cigarette smoke wafted by. I gather there’s usually a long line for this place, due to its frequent presence on “best rooftop bars in Paris” lists, but at five on a public holiday Sunday night, I was alone. My friend texted to tell me that she was already seated and halfway through her first beer, so with a cool “bonsoir” to the bouncer, I headed in and up to the seventh floor.
Paris was a relative latecomer to the whole rooftop terrace idea, which is odd given how picturesque the roofs are here, and such places are still a novelty. The rooftop at Le Perchoir is kind of beach shack meets warehouse, with raw wood furniture, palm trees and people wearing hats, and could probably be anywhere from Melbourne to Brooklyn. But then it has Paris, including views to the Sacré Coeur, spread out all around.
Now, I’m not usually a beer drinker, but the sun was shining, and it seemed like a good time to start exploring French brewing. At the kabana-style bar, I ordered a couple of Jenlain pale ales (a steep but unsurprising 6€ for a half-pint). My learned companion, J, described our choice as full-bodied. “Like a mid-career Catherine Deneuve?” I asked. I found it tasty and rather moreish and began to look forward to discovering a whole new alcohol category.
To a soundtrack of 1940s swing and beard scratching, we discussed French cinema and the virus of mid-century modern that has afflicted interior designers and home magazines since the late nineties. J pointed out that beyond the window on the other side of our blonde-wood bench was the loo and that a person sitting on it could see us through the one-way glass. I pretended to take a photo. Then we decided that, lovely as it was basking in the sun comparing tans, we needed to find somewhere with cheaper drinks.
We descended via the galvanized-iron spiral staircase to check out the very fetching bare light bulbs suspended from the top floor. I hate heights.
The street was still quiet. We turned right, up the hill, over Boulevard de Ménilmontant into the 20th proper and up to a groovy corner that contains gems such as rock bar La Féline, the studio-apartment-sized restaurant Chatomat and our next destination, Les Trois 8, specialists in artisan beer and organic wine.
Behind the bar, the blackboard listed all the beers on tap, and lacking any other customers to serve, the barman happily explained each one. We chose a bière de garde made by Thiriez brasserie in northern France using only French ingredients, and learnt that this type of brew is designed to age, like wine, developing different characters with time. A bit like people when they drink beer. Compared to our last demi, this one was hoppier, heavier, darker and more bitter. “I’m thinking Isabelle Huppert,” said J.
We settled onto our barstools, flicked through the jar of badges for sale, read all the business cards and postcards on the rack and tried to identify the bar’s trademark symbol – a flame, an artichoke? “Ah, it’s hops,” I said finally. The bar itself has the dimensions of a cupboard, and the lived-in vibe of a student house. We felt very at home.
Next on our ad-hoc dégustation, the barman suggested a double IPA called Nice to Meet You from French-American duo Les Brasseurs de Grand Paris, which clocked in at an impressive 8.5% alcohol. “That’s the thing with craft beer,” said J, diving in enthusiastically. Despite its pronounced floral flavours, this one was as bitter as Nicolas Sarkozy in 2012 with all the attendant complexity.
The last light of the day, and our good sense, was slipping from our grasp, so we scanned the list to select one for the road. Nos Illustres Rituels came served in a stemmed glass shaped like an opium poppy. Its chocolate notes went very well with the squares of rich cake the barman had laid down in front of us. I tapped my foot to the ska on the sound system. Our barman by now had other patrons to take care of, but still found time to tell us that the imperial stout came from the Ouroboros brasserie in the Auvergne region and was, at 9.9% alcohol, dangerously easy to drink. “Smooth and sweet and perfect late at night,” said J. “Almost like a cocktail.”
It was one of those evenings that seem to portend the beginning of something: a new hangout, a new beer buddy, new ease with shooting the breeze in French, new horizons in this fabulous city. And still with two weeks of August to go.