In Woody Allen’s Midnight In Paris, he captures the spirit and soul of Paris by sharing some of its best venues, from the steps at Sacré-Cœur at midnight, to Pont Alexandre III in still night rain. Owen Wilson, playing Gil, an aspiring writer, asks whether Paris is most enchanting at night or during the day, but later only answers his question (correctly), by concluding “Paris is most beautiful in the rain.”
Last summer, as we were having breakfast with our yellow Labrador, Cosmo, at the famed Café de Flore on Boulevard Saint-Germain-des-Prés, we saw Woody Allen walk by with his film crew, as they were scoping the area for his film. Close by, Allen filmed scenes in the 5th and 6th Arrondissement, including
Place Odeon (where there is a Starbucks), and behind the famed Pantheon, where France’s most illustrious writers, poets and philosophers are buried, including Rousseau, Victor Hugo and Voltaire.
On the same street adjacent to the Pantheon, a narrow cobblestone street winds its way with charming restaurants and another church, Eglise Saint Etienne-Du-Mont. At Place de Abbe Basset and 53 Rue de la Montagne Saint- Genevieve, on front of the steps of Eglise Saint Etienne-Du-Mont, a scene is repeated throughout the movie where, as the church clock strikes midnight, Wilson is transported back in time to the magical age of Picasso, Gertrude Stein, Hemingway, and F. Scott Fitzgerald.
Whether intended or not, Allen shares with his audience the magic of Paris, as all these venues transport visitors and Parisians alike back in time. Indeed, the magic of Paris is that it is a time capsule. In Midnight In Paris, Wilson’s character, Gil, may have dreamed going back to the “Golden Age,” but you can experience that too – visiting the same places where Hemingway and others drank café or scotch, even in the same chair or booth. Only the waiters have changed, though you might not know it given some waiters look like they have been waiting tables since at least the 50s.
The not-to-miss venues featured in Midnight In Paris include:
Le Grand Véfour. Few places match the grandeur of Le Grand Véfour, a Michelin two star restaurant in Palais Royale, the boyhood home of King Louis XIV. Its illustrious patrons include Napoleon and Josephine, Victor Hugo, and too many stars, poets, barons, diplomats, artists and scoundrels to count.
Julia Child went here, and correctly noted it was a privilege to dine there. It still is.
Sacré-Cœur. With the best views of Paris, from the steps of a grand but surprisingly new church (it was consecrated only in 1919), Sacré-Cœur in Montmartre is filled with a plaza of artists (and con artists), charming cafes, and narrow cobblestone streets, some so narrow passers by mistakenly think no cars are permitted, yet cars drive right through these little alley ways. Especially beautiful at night and, if you are lucky, the snow in winter, any time is good to visit Sacré-Cœur, but if you can make it during a Sunday mass it makes it all the more special.
Marché Aux Puces. The famous Parisian flea market is no longer a secret, but you can still find unusual items, from objets d’art, old records, Louis XXVI period furniture and, of course, silver and Baccarat glassware.
Pont Alexandre III. Considered the most beautiful bridge in Paris, Pont Alexandre III connects the Left Bank from Les Invalides to the Right Bank and Le Grand Palais.
Pont Bir-Hakeim. Near the Eiffel Tower, this bridge connects to the stylish 16th Arrondissement and Rue de Passy, and is striking for its walkway under the ornate steel archway with a sweeping view of the Seine and Eiffel Tower. It also connects to a small isthmus that connects to the next bridge westward, which offers one of the more beautiful walks for lovers any time of year, but especially in the fall.
Place Dauphine. This plaza off of the Pont de Neuf and next to the French Supreme Court is without a doubt one of the hidden treasures that remains a hideaway for Parisians. In Île de la Cité, King Henry IV built this majestic and still well preserved haven in 1604, naming it after the “dauphin” – the heir
to the throne – King Louis XIII, the father of the grand Sun King Louis XIV.
Place Vendôme. Napoleon I erected the original Vendôme Column at the center of the square to commemorate the battle of Austerlitz. Fittingly, royalty (including illegitmate children of King Heny XIV) lived in Place Vendôme, which now houses the Ritz Hotel and other top jewelry, finance, fashion and couture shops, including Chanel, Charvet (a men’s clothier shop that has been there since 1877), and JP Morgan. It is no surprise Woody Allen chose scenes here, as he loves the Ritz Hotel (we have seen him there while dining during Christmas lunch).
Le Meurice. Le Meurice is one of the five “palace hotels” in Paris, which has risen in the ranks with rising star Yannick Alleno –is one of the top young Michelin three stars in Paris. Chef Alleno is not only a master of gastronomic cuisine, he is a true gentleman, giving me a tour of his kitchen after having lunch with one of his friends. The dining room at Le Meurice is one of the most beautiful not just in Paris, but in the world, and the staff are gracious yet unpretentious. Lunch in particular is fabulous, but please be sure to have a drink in the bar before or after, as it is one of the most beautiful English style bars in all of Paris.
Steps on Boulevard Delessert. Woody Allen captured one of the more stunning views of the Eiffel Tower, with a pan view of the steps at 11 Boulevard Delessert, leading to Avenue de Comoens. I would walk by or down these stairs when taking my boys to school. I also captured a photo from the stairs during the snow storm in the winter of 2009, with two lovers gazing at the Eiffel Tower sparkling at the stroke of midnight. This is one of the more quiet romantic places in Paris, and within walking distance of Trocadero.
Les Bouquanistes. The famous Bouquanistes of Paris are booksellers of used and antiquarian books who sell their wares contained in metal green boxes along the Seine: on the right bank from the Pont Marie to the Quai du Louvre, and on the left bank from the Quai de la Tournelle to Quai Voltaire. The Seine is thus described as “the only river in the world that runs between 2 bookshelves.” The tradition of bookselling along the Seine on the Pont Neuf began in 1649, with the current green box stalls officially forming in their current places in 1859. Installed along more than three kilometres of the Seine and declared a UNESCO World Heritage site, the 240 bouqanistes make use of 900 “green boxes” to house some 300,000 old books, journals, stamps, posters, antique maps, various souvenirs and trading cards. Indeed, it is a great place for souvenir shopping of something that is a quintessential Parisian keepsake. Famed French chef, Guy Savoy, even has a restaurant named after them (“Les Bouqanistes”), along the Quai near the pedestrian bridge Pont des Arts.
Deyrolle. Deyrolle is one of the great mysterious shops in Paris on the uber chic rue du Bac. A “taxidermy” shop, with stuff rams, bears, birds, tigers, ostriches, rare insects and other exotic animals house on its second floor, it looks more like a museum than an actual store to buy things. Indeed, on the first floor it looks more like a garden store, with various gardening tools and books, but upstairs is a whole different story, with nothing but taxidermy wares for sale. It is perhaps the single most interesting shop in all of Paris, totally unique, and for the most part unknown. Originally founded by Jean-Baptiste Deyrolle in 1831, Émile Deyrolle established the store at its current address at 46 rue du Bac in 1881.
Shakespeare & Company. This little American bookstore, across from Notre Dame and next to a little charming park (sometimes frequented by harmless winos), is an institution among English literati, including aspiring, famous and failed writers alike, with notables such as Ernest Hemingway, James Joyce, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein and Ezra Pound frequenting the place (and, not surprisingly, several of them are featured characters in Midnight In Paris).
Le Bristol. Le Bristol, another one of the five palace hotels in Paris situated just across from the Élysée Palace – the residence of the French president — is featured prominently in the movie. Josephine Baker celebrated her 50th birthday here, and other dignitaries and princes still stay here. Chef Eric Frechon recently was awarded a coveted Michelin three star. Situated on the famous Rue du Faubourg-Saint-Honoré, world-class art dealers are nearby, including Sotheby’s, Christie’s, Galerie Enrico Navarra, Galerie Pierre Levy, Galerie Matignon (on Avenue Matignon).
Café du Trocadéro. Situated at the Place du Trocadéro, with spanking views of the Eiffel Tower, this chic café, across from Palais de Chaillot, this is
one of my favorite cafes to get lunch, a snack, beer, or just an espresso. Especially on sunny days, any season, you can sit outside and enjoy people watching, having conversation with a friend, business colleague, or meet someone new. No surprise then that Woody Allen took a snapshot of this little treasure. The food is surprisingly good, and while tourists are inevitable at this location Parisians are the primary patrons at one of the top cafes in Paris.