Bar Review: Rouen and ParisEdit Post
Contributed by on Aug 30, 2019
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A Girl's Guide to Drinking Alone® is a blog created by Sammi Katz.
So Girl’s Guide has been on a brief summer hiatus because my boyfriend invited me on his family’s summer trip to France. We spent 7 days in Normandy and 4 days in Paris. (I know, poor me.) But I don’t pass up any opportunity to drink alone in a new place. So I ventured out alone to one traditional French cafe in Normandy, and one trendy cocktail bar in Paris. Et c’est parti!
The Place: A bar and cafe in some little square (triangle? pentagon?!) right next to Rouen’s Notre Dame.
The Time: Wednesday August 14, 5pm. Each day in Normandy, we’ve been going from cute little town to cute little town (IMO, “cute little town” should be a search option in Google Maps). Today is for wandering Rouen, perhaps the largest of the cute little towns; it feels almost like a mini Paris. After a decadent three-course lunch, which seems to be the go-to lunch move for the French, everyone else wanted to explore the church, but since my version of church happens to be bars, I said “see ya in half an hour, I’ll be drinking alone over here!”
The Vibe: France is pretty much synonymous with cafe culture and from what I’ve noticed, not many people sit AT bars here, nor are there many bars for people to actually sit at. Instead it’s all tables, most of them outside, usually facing outward for unabashed people-watching. Since it’s been kind of chilly and rainy, I choose a table under the awning close to the entrance in case I need to jet inside. I notice immediately that I’m surrounded by French people so at least it’s not touristy, despite its location. There’s construction nearby so it’s not particularly pleasant to be sitting here right now, but I randomly picked the closest bar to Notre Dame, because when you’re crashing someone else’s vacation, you don’t really get much of a say as to where you go. The inside of the bar looks cute, though perhaps a bit too lit and modern, more like an American fast casual place so I’m glad I’m outside even if it’s about to pour. There are several older people, a family with their young son, two guys drinking Leffe, France’s version of Budweiser, lucky bastards. No one else is drinking alone, and I can’t yet get a sense if solo imbibing is common in this country.
The Server: A gruff man in an orange shirt who makes me feel like I’m bothering him by being here. I’m gonna be honest - this is not easy. I really should’ve brushed up on my French before boarding the plane. But I assumed I had a decent grasp just because I took one year of French my freshman year of college. Quel imbécile. Literally no one in this country understands me when I attempt to say something in French, and I can’t help feeling like an imbécile when I try to say an easy sentence, like “je voudrais la salade” or “une personne pour un verre” and the servers or shopkeepers stare at me mouths agape, then respond to me in English. This encapsulates all three times I’m forced to have an interaction with this server and each time is worse than the last.
The Drank: A coup de champagne for 7€. It’s a little flat but I’m drinking real champagne for less than $10 so whatever. It’s a bit smaller than a full glass, basically aperitif-size, which is the absolute perfect amount for me at this moment.
Was I Hit On?: Um, no. Right when I’m about to leave, the wind picks up and it begins to rain. I gather my things and down the rest of my champagne, and almost immediately the empty glass gets knocked over by a gust of wind and shatters. I look up to see Gruff Guy staring at me. He says in a monotone voice, “it’s ok,” meaning it’s not ok and I quickly give up trying to remember the French word and just mumble “I’m sorry,” then bolt as fast as I can into the rain.
Should You Drink Here Alone?: There’s nothing special about La Flèche, though Rouen is a lovely town. I didn’t do any research, so perhaps with a bit more forethought, I might’ve found a spot worth going to. Whether or not I still would’ve made a fool of myself is anyone’s guess.
In my haste to run away after breaking the glass, I completely forget to take a photo, which feels right for the situation.
The Place: An enormous yet hidden eclectic cocktail venue on Canal Saint-Martin in the 10th arrondissement.
The Time: Tuesday August 20, 6:45pm. This is the first time I’m getting to do something fully by myself on this trip. Le Comptoir Général made my list of cool Parisian bars to check out, and is the closest one to the restaurant where we’re going for dinner. I walk the 25 minutes from the hotel, after telling my napping boyfriend I’ll see him later, and I fully miss my destination. I’m like, how could I have possibly walked by this bar, the internet says it’s huge. So I look up the exact address and double back. OH. It’s just a wall with a guy standing in front of it. Thank goddess for these two ladies going in, otherwise I might be too intimidated.
The Vibe: The bouncer is not checking IDs but bags and that depresses the hell out of me. I follow the ladies down a greenery-lined alleyway, through a door, down a long ornate hallway and make a left, and suddenly I’m in a massive room designed to look and feel like a beach with a ship-wrecked boat. There is so much space it’s quite literally jaw-dropping. It’s directionless, like a poorly designed museum exhibition, so I just wander for a while until I realize, yet again, there isn’t an actual bar to sit at so I take a low table where I can look out at stuff. In this case, “stuff” not only includes people but also: bamboo stalks, wicker chairs and tables, lots of trees and plants that I can’t tell if they’re real or fake, a giant map of Africa, stones, a massive fish tank with definitely real fish, couches with mismatched pillows, an entire outdoor space both smoking and non-smoking, vines, big lamps, small lamps, trunks of various sizes, skylights! Groups of young fashionable people are scattered around, both duos and groups. I don’t know anything about this neighborhood but either it’s a cool one or people just come here because this place is cool. There are a few kids here, which I hate, but they are at a table (not the bar), and I bet things are different in France because these kids are not annoying and are probably drinking aperitifs. Unlike at La Flèche, I am very at ease and could spend a good amount of time here.
The Server: A lovely woman who speaks English almost immediately after putting down a menu. She doesn’t even give me a chance to try.
The Drank: I ask what the cocktail du moment is and she tells me it’s a red wine liqueur with tonic, very not for me, so she gives a couple of other recommendations. I settle on the Secousse for 9€, the house specialty, with cucumber, red bissap and maracuja*, two things I’ve never heard of but I decide to go for it, asking for it to be made with rum instead of vodka because I have a vodka bias. It’s great; fruity, refreshing and very crushable. I also get free olives which is exactly what I want to absorb some of this alcohol before having to be a normal person at dinner.
Was I Hit On?: Nope but I do a lot of people-watching and feel very Parisian while doing so.
Should You Drink Here Alone?: Sure! Le Comptoir Général is a relaxing, fun place to hang out. It’s clearly great for groups, but I didn’t feel out of place imbibing as a party of one. As I was leaving it started to fill up and I imagine it can get pretty clubby, so I’d recommend going on the earlier side. Paris in general seems a bit more welcoming to the solo lady drinker than the smaller towns in Normandy, and I still have that long list of bars I’m dying to hit up, so I guess I’ll have to come back. Good thing we’ll always have Paris.
*Red bissap is hibiscus and maracuja is passionfruit. Yaas.