John Brunton, The Guardian, March 31, 2014
Although tourists alighting at the Pigalle metro station tend to walk up towards Montmartre and the Sacré-Coeur, hipster Parisians – the self-styled BoBo (bourgeois bohemians) – head in the opposite direction, to South Pigalle, the latest trendsetting neighbourhood in the City of Light. Once one of the quieter corners of the city, known as La Nouvelle-Athènes for its monumental architecture, South Pigalle has picked up a new anglicised name, SoPi, with new places opening up every week. At night, now that the sleazy old haunts have all but disappeared, it's all stylish cocktail bars and dance clubs.
None of SoPi's fashionable new boutiques open before 10, so before starting serious shopping, drop into KB Cafeshop (53 avenue Trudaine) which sets the tone for the neighbourhood in a salon packed with fashion types, businessmen and tourists. Contrary to popular belief, most cafes in Paris sell lousy coffee, but the barista revolution is arriving, and Nicolas Piegay opened the KB after discovering specialist coffee bars in Australia. The flat white and mocaccino are perfectly made, but go for the full-cafeine experience with an AeroPress, accompanied by a pear and almond muffin hot from the oven.
The life and soul of the quartier is rue des Martyrs, a bustling street lined with shops and a paradise for foodies, whether you're looking for rustic figatellu sausage, speciality cheeses and charcuterie at Terra Corsa, a Corsican delicatessen at no 42, or mouth-watering champagne and passion fruit macarons from master boulanger-pâtissier, Arnaud Delmontel at no 39.
Walking down from Delmontel, turn right into rue Clauzel, SoPi's fashion street. The bestseller at the eclectic L'Oeuf at no 9 is its own South Pigalle range – branded sweatshirts, caps, kids' toys and bags – perfect souvenirs to let everyone know you have discovered SoPi. Across the road, they have just opened L'Oeuf Chaussures. For secondhand designer outfits, from the likes of Isabel Marant, YSL and Repetto, check out Troc en Stock at no 6.
Take a break at the stylish new Buvette (28 rue Henry Monnier, ilovebuvette.com), a self-proclaimed gastrothèque, whose Franco-American owners have also recently opened a branch in New York. Buvette has been packed since day one, everyone wanting a table beneath a graphic map of France that covers one wall, doubling as the wine list. There's a big choice of organic wines, but it's quite pricey.
Another new spot, Victor (11 rue Victor Massé), offers a good deal for lunch, with a tasty €12 plat du jour that includes dishes such as tender veal sautéed with baby leeks and hazelnuts, and crisp rocket salad and roasted new potatoes. The owner, Yann Raguénès, used to run the popular Café Burq on the other side of Pigalle, and admits to being surprised at how SoPi is booming, with his restaurant fully-booked at night even though he doesn't even have a website yet.
Time for some culture. It's not surprising, given South Pigalle's romantic squares and grand mansions, that hidden down a cobbled lane is Le Musée de la Vie Romantique (16 rue Chaptal), a discrete townhouse that was once a literary rendezvous for the likes of George Sand and Frédéric Chopin. The permanent collection of period paintings and furniture is small, but afterwards, most visitors can't resist afternoon tea in the cafe housed in a greenhouse amid its shady garden.
Five minutes' walk away, there is a more impressive collection at the Musée Gustave Moreau (14 rue de La Rochefoucauld). Moreau was a master of symbolist painting, who lived and worked in this grandiose house, which the artist himself had designed in the 19th century and today exhibits a quite incredible 1,300 of his striking works.
The pioneers of Pigalle's after-dark scene were grungy but brilliant Glass (7 rue Frochot) and the cheap, edgy Pigalle Country Club (59 rue Jean-Baptiste, pigallecountry club.com), but the one place not to miss is Dirty Dick (10 rue Frochot), an outrageous Polynesian Tiki bar that has kept the sleazy original name of the once notorious girlie bar. Kitsch beachcomber paintings adorn the walls; bartenders in Hawaiian shirts serve cocktails in conch shells.
Seek respite from the bright lights with a quiet dinner at the elegant Les Rillettes (33 rue de Navarin, lesrillettes.fr), whose friendly owners, Benoist and Marie, ply guests with hearty helpings of cuisine de grand-mère', such as a cassoulet of confit duck and sausage topped off with grilled Cantal cheese.
If you've still got the energy, head for live music and DJ sets at Le Carmen (34 rue Duperré). This decadent club, housed in baroque, chandelier-lit salons where composer Georges Bizet once lived, is open from midnight to 6am.
Where to stay
There are plenty of reasonably-priced hotels in the neighbourhood, but Hotel Amour (8 rue Navarin, +33 1 48783180, hotelamourparis.fr, doubles from €170, pictured below) is the hip heart of SoPi. The ground floor is taken up by a pulsating restaurant, packed out at night, with a beautiful glass-covered garden. Rickety stairs lead up into black bordello-inspired corridors, while the romantic rooms are individually decorated with flea market furniture, swirling frescoes and erotic photos.
This article originally appeared on guardian.co.uk