Monday, 21 December 2009

A hyped restaurant (that doesn't exist yet)
and its new boutique

2009 saw a massive, massive buzz on one particular restaurant, the tiny 'Spring' founded by American Daniel Rose in a tiny space up near Montmartre. Part of its runaway success was due to the fact that you had to book months and months and months ahead to get in there. And then they closed it last August.

Daniel had decided to get somewhere a little bigger, and was supposed to open a new place soon afterwards in rue Bailleul in Les Halles, not far from the apartment. However, work got more and more behind schedule, and in the meantime Mr. Rose made a chance encounter that spurred him into opening... his own boutique! We went down to rue de l'Arbre Sec and visited the place for you...

American chefs are probably as chic in Paris as French chefs are in America, but that's not the phenomenon that brought Chicago-born Daniel Rose to Paris back in 1998. In the city to study philosophy, he soon fell in love with the cuisine, and after finishing university enrolled at the prestigious Institut Paul Bocuse in Lyon. After a quick stint in restaurants all over the world, and a few months as Paris' ultra-posh Meurice, he decided to open his own place in the 9th arrondissement in 2006 - with just 16 seats in it! Spring was born and success was almost immediate. Before long, Daniel realised that he would need more space (especially in the kitchen) and found an old skateboard shop in the centre of town that looked perfect. We were pretty happy because it's just a short walk from the Great Apartment!

Unfortunately, building worked was considerably impeded by the Paris council dragging their feet with the building permits and the opening date was pushed back, and back again. After a visit of the new place on the Spring blog in February 2009 and the promise of a 20)seat restaurant with its own wine bar in the 16th century cellar... nothing. Or almost...

Daniel seemed to have some unexpected free time on his hands, so he turned the old Spring into 'Table 28', a rotisserie that aims to "test new ideas and products..." such as the Rennes cuckoo (which turns out to be a posh type of chicken!).

Then a chance meeting with wine expert Josh Adler from San Francisco, and the freeing up of a space just 30 seconds from the new (future) restaurant, encouraged Daniel to found his own boutique. You'll find lots of wine there - obviously - but also selected, unusual products including those he uses in his dishes, sandwiches to eat out, ham sliced upon request...

If Spring (the restaurant) is in hibernation, Spring (the boutique) is firing on all cylinders!

After a launch party on Beaujolais Nouveau night and a few wine and champagne tastings, the boutique has got off to rather a good start. We went down to take a look.

In a deliberately simple setting you'll find some interesting produce: succulent wines, forgotten varieties of vegetables, perfumed cooking oils... and a few quirky touches like the vintage pitchers from the 30s - 50s. And even if the colours of the shop are muted, the welcome is extremely warm and enthusiastic (not always the case in Paris!)...

photos : JasonW

If you're walking in Les Halles (and frankly, the apartment's just ten minutes away) Spring Boutique is at 52 Rue de l'Arbre Sec, 75001 Paris (here and on our map of all things cool near the apartment). Open Tuesday - Saturday, 10.30am - 9pm.

The new Spring restaurant, 6 rue Bailleul, 75001 Paris (here) should be open early 2010, or perhaps later than that, who can say? ;-) (read Daniel Rose's blog to be kept up to date with his news).

Sunday, 6 December 2009

Chance meetings, happy accidents and pleasant surprises

James B. Franklin - A Night's Reprieve II, 2009

One thing I wasn't sure about when we started renting the apartment was the meeting and greeting. After having worked in a (285-room) hotel years and years ago, it wasn't something I was particularly looking forward to.

But sometimes life surprises you. The people who have stayed with us have almost all been super super nice, and I've really taken a liking to welcoming them to our place, and our city. Meeting and greeting has become part of the fun of running an apartment, and although the same questions inevitable come back each time (where have you come in from? have you been to Paris before? etc.) it's genuinely great to get people settled in and ready to discover this wonderful city.

Sometimes you even meet people who seem really cool and on your wavelength. For instance,  a recent guest to our other apartment had an interesting name, James B. Franklin, that I Googled. Turns out that he was in Paris for the first time ever to attend the opening of a show that his paintings were being shown in. I looked at his site, really liked his work and got invited to the opening. It was in a gallery that I didn't know about, just one road down from the Great Apartment: the Zürcher Gallery on rue Chapon (here). It's the perfect example of the hidden Paris that's such fun to discover. From the street you can't even see that the gallery exists (apart from a small sign). You have to enter the courtyard to reach it...

The show we saw is a group effort called Wild Feature 2 (I've written an article about it on the Paris Newsblog here) featuring young artists from Brooklyn, and runs until 30th December 2009. Many of the artists have never been shown in France before.

I was especially pleased to discover a new venue that I didn't know about and wouldn't otherwise have found...

I was also particularly chuffed (as ridiculous as that might sound) that James sold one of his paintings at the opening!

Perhaps this is a space that you could check out when staying with us? Check the Zürcher Gallery site if you want to see what's currently on there. It's literally 30 seconds from the apartment. And if you want to see more of James B. Franklin's work, go to his site here.

With a bit of luck, James will be doing a special piece for the barmy, wrecked wall at the Canal Apartment that's a sort of vaguely blue-themed work-in-progress. Should be good! The chance meeting with him turned out to be a very pleasant surprise, leading to the discovery of a new place that was right under our noses (!), and hopefully there will be many more happy accidents like that to come.

Saturday, 21 November 2009

The Canal Apartment gets some Unplggd love

Yep, our other apartment is getting noticed even after just one month. First gushing praise comes from tech site Unplggd, dedicated to "smarter home with fewer wires", which is slightly strange because we have a whole rat's nest of them behind the TV (that we'll be hiding very shortly).

You can check out the article here. There are details of where we found our inspiration and sourced the design choices as well as the obligatory silly comments from myself. For instance, the reply to their question about how we would describe the style of the place: French 'brocante' meets John Waters at the Willy Wonka factory. Kinda liked that one :-)

Thanks Unplggd! (click the photo to read the article on their site)

There's no escaping Xmas...

...anywhere in the world - more or less - but especially in Paris, chic shopping capital of the world. Our local supermarket had the Xmas chocolates out on display on 24th September, but we've waited a respectful couple of months after that before putting our decorations in place.

I have to admit, I'm not wild about Xmas, and was lacking inspiration for the decorations (and motivation to shell out a fortune for them). In the end, a cheap option was discovered (Ikea!) and I just sort of chucked it all together. No tree this year (remember last year's?), but plenty of red shiny things.

Oh, and whilst shopping for something else entirely, I came across the final touch, and couldn't resist. These little critters will be there to greet you every morning of the holiday season with their sweet, loveable, made-in-China-ness. Cute, or cheesy? Frankly, I don't care. I think they're cool.

Happy holidays to you all!

Sunday, 15 November 2009

L'Éclaireur, rue de Sévigny - poshness, cardboard and attitude in abundance

I don't think I'll ever have enough money to buy anything at l'Éclaireur, and certainly not the desire. This haughty, exclusive emporium has just opened a new branch not far from the Great Apartment on rue de Sevigny, and peacock proud of it they are too. Selling v-e-r-y expensive clothes and - yawn - smelly candles, it's a microcosm of almost everything we detest about Paris posing.

Admittedly, we hadn't planned on going, but came across the store by accident on the way to somewhere way cooler that we'll be telling you about soon.

After being greeted with the quickest-falling smile I've seen in Paris for a while, the hostess was busy showing off the new Microsoft Surface touchscreen. She thought it made her look like something out of Minority Report. We though it made her look like a dick. Another surly/emaciated shop girl very quickly barked at us that photos weren't allowed. So we took them anyway.

It's an interesting space to be sure, but the décor reminded me of the sets from Buck Rogers, or things we made at school with painted egg boxes. The official website boasts that there are 147 screens and two tons of wood contributing to this kinetic, organic, er, eyesore designed by Studio Arne Quinze. We think it looks more like the interior of an oversized treehouse or the chillout room at some crusty rave. And there's more than a faint whiff of indecency coming from a shop that sells overpriced black clothes against a faux-favela backdrop.

The only thing that caught our eye in a good way was the lighting presented in the front window, designed by Hani Rashid and made by Zumtobel. Good to keep in mind for when I win the lottery and buy that minimalist designer château...

Our visit lasted slightly less than a minute, I think. If you have lots of money, like being fawned at and need clothes in safe earth tones, l'Éclaireur is at 40 rue Sévigné, not very far from the Great Apartment. Tell them we say hi! (and make sure they realise it's ironic).

Sunday, 8 November 2009

Uniqlo, Paris. Or how hype can sometimes hide a pleasant surprise.

The area around Opéra has always been a shopping hub because of the Galeries Lafayette and Printemps stores, plus the fact that one of the major RER lines stops there, bringing in hoards of eager shoppers form the suburbs. In recent years though it has been the focus of even more retail expansion. After the Printemps de l'Homme reboot, the huge Citadium fashion/sports megaplex, and Paris' second Apple Store due to open in the area next year, there's a new big player in town: Uniqlo has just opened a huge flagship store there.

I must admit to not knowing much about Uniqlo apart from the fact that it has been called "the Japanese H&M", and frankly that didn't really make me want to learn more. The opening of the store on 1st October 2009 was a roadblock, with between 200 and 300 people queueing up daily over the first seven days to get in (how mad is that?), drawn by the lure of special opening offer and a suave advertising campaign feature French hipsters such as Mathieu Kassovitz (hasn't made a good film since La Haine in 1995), Sébastien Tellier (isn't half as cool as he thinks he is), Emmanuelle Seignier (possibly not loving being married to Roman Polanksi at the moment) and Hafsia Herzi (excellent 23 year-old actress you should look out for).

A month after opening, this have calmed down at Uniqlo. Slightly. Saturday afternoons there must be 'brisk' to say the least. It is, after all their only big store in the whole of mainland Europe. Usually we'd run a mile from this sort of place, but for once we braved the crowds and found the store to be bright, the staff cheery, and the clothes surprisingly good 'n' cheap!

There's a huge jeans section that's a lot less expensive than Levi's and has plenty of choice...

..and even the menswear wasn't half bad (makes a nice change)...

Plus, the store itself - it has to be said - is rather swish...

I managed to find myself a lovely hat to keep me warm this winter. The following photo is a testament to my joy (brace yourselves):

The store may not be right next to the Great Apartment, but it's not that far either. If you're nearby to see the big department stores, perhaps you should pop in and have a look?

Uniqlo is at 17 rue Scribe, just behind Opéra (here) and open every day except Sundays from 10am - 8pm (9pm Thursdays).

Feeling bored?
Let Uniqlo entertain your desktop with some cool silliness here! Or with some cool tilt-shift weather-related usefulness (as seen below) here!

STILL bored? Here's a little film of the latest art installation in the Uniqlo windows by Mona Kim. Similar installations are in place in the London and New York flagship stores until 15th November (via Le Journal des Vitrines).

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

a different sort of Parisian department store

Hype seems to be a very Parisian concept sometimes. Being a sleepier city than - say - London, Parisians like to jump on any sort of 'event', be it real or manufactured, and hype it to the max. The recent hysteria around the new Uniqlo store at Opera is a recent example.

We haven't mentioned Merci before because, well, everyone else seems to have. Created about a year ago by the two founders of Bonpoint (that they have now sold on), the store gives all its profits to charity (hence the name) but is run like a commercial concern and not a charity shop. They also ask top-end fashion brands to create a special item that is only sold at the Merci store, giving the place instant cult status in the city.

But is that enough to make a store special? For me, the most surprising thing about Merci is simply the size and style of it. The main entrance is through a corridor with the store's flower shop on the left and café on the right, giving onto a small interior courtyard that only hints at the space inside...

The front part of the shop wraps round this courtyard (which has a cute red car permanently parked in it), and together with the glass roof make it a very bright and airy space. Space is a rare commodity in compact Paris (the 17m² Great Apartment is the proof!), giving Merci an immediate feeling of luxury.

Of course, with almost all 'luxury' in Paris goes posing and snobbishness (the Great Apartment excepted, of course). The shoppers are very full of themselves indeed, enough to almost put us off visiting the place. The prices are also pretty steep.

However, Merci still has a lot going for itself. There are things here that you will not find in other shops, and few places have a cavernous layout like theirs. For example, if you walk through the first room, you'll enter a very large area with clothing, and more floors above and below with furniture, decorative objects, another café, lighting, crockery and more glass roof to let the light in...

They even have what looks like a herb garden (although you're not allowed to go out there).

They also sell, fabrics, wool, baby clothes, perfume... You want it, they got it.

Merci has a great setting and an interesting concept, but there is a slight scent of something dodgy hanging over the place. The profits go to a charity that the founders have set up themselves (there are no details given about it, except that it helps poor children in Madagascar), and the sight of rich Parisians thinking that they are saving the world by buying overpriced goods is faintly nauseating. Go there during Fashion Week and you'll be mobbed by glum-looking posers. For people-watching it's a bewildering spectacle, but whether it's doing any real good is yet to be seen.

Merci is at 11 boulevard Beaumcharchais, within walking distance of the Great Apartment. They're open every day except Sunday from 10am - 7pm.

P.S. The food at the café is rather good. Can't believe I said that.

Bigger map here