Last night, after a long day and a stressful week, I decided the perfect way to wind down would be to watch Back to the Future II. I'm not sure why that seemed like the right thing to do, but it just did. The next day, I was reminded of a scene from that classic film of my childhood while visiting the newly opened Brasserie Barbès that took over the space left behind by an abandoned building under the Barbès-Rochechouart metro station.
The reason my encounter with this mini-mansion of a "brasserie" (brasserie is the French word for "brewery" which, upon the disappearance of actual breweries in France, came to be used in reference to any place you can get beer and food- the fact that there is now a growing number of real breweries in Paris- not to mention one just down the road from "Brasserie" Barbès makes the name seem like at least an ignorant oversight and a most a slap in the face) reminded me of the previous evenings cinematic séance was because it made me feel much like Marty McFly, who is gobsmacked upon entering an 80's themed restaurant that mimics the era he just flux capacitored out of. Unlike Marty, however, I wasn't seeing a decade of my youth mimed back to me 30 years later, but rather I was seeing a 2015-themed restaurant in 2015.
Brasserie Barbès has everything a young, white, gainfully employed urbanite expects to find in this day and age; white walls, high ceilings, meticulously placed draping green house plants, and an over-priced menu that includes dishes elaborated by adjectives about the ingredients rather than their origins, uninspired organic (not natural) wines and (besides Deck & Donohue) a list of borderline or not at all craft beers. The latter is possibly the most scandalous given that the Brasserie de la Goutte d'Or , brewer of iconic made-in-the-18th-arrondissement beers, is less than a ten minute walk away.
The fact that this establishment straddles the line between priding themselves on transforming a neighborhood that many are wary of by creating a banal space that residents can't afford and profiting off, and poorly replicating, a food movement that is already alive and authentic in that very vicinity is annoying. The fact that it's happening down the road from me is infuriating. Because I love this neighborhood. So much.
I love the combination of cultures and languages and the fact that here people sit on benches in the streets and remember your name in stores. That they'll pick up your wallet and call you to come get it after it fell out of your bag while walking through the Chateau Rouge neighborhood (true story).
I love that the 18th is home to new addresses that respect the neighborhood they call home. Café Lomi has gently introduced craft coffee into French culture and been host to many community events. Le Supercoin, with its exclusively French craft beers and total dedication to showing all PSG matches and holding regular Belote tournements. Brasserie de la Goutte d'Or with each beer lovingly named after a street that makes up this diverse and animated part of Paris.
And that's just to name a few. There's so much to discover and enjoy around Barbès. And maybe I'm just being grumpy, but Brasserie Barbès doesn't make that list.
The anecdote to seeing your adopted 'hood turn into a theme park for tourists and Parisians who wouldn't come here otherwise is crossing the street (preferably from the Tati side of Barbès, because even that horrible store and its Made-in-China stock has a soft spot in my heart- its bright fluorescent sign announcing that you've made it home after a chilly night's bike ride) and going to Marché Barbès.
Marché Barbès is a mash up of sounds and shopping caddies and slaps on the back as neighbors run into each other. It's a mess and it's kind of a stressful shopping experience, but that's Barbès.
Piles of fresh herbs stacked on boards over milk crates are scattered throughout the market. I dare you to get a whiff of fresh mint or cilantro and keep walking. You won't, because the temptation is too strong to stop and pick up a bunch for 30 centimes before going on your way.
The fish at Marché Barbès, for reasons unknown to me, is amazing. Rascasse on ice inspires a Soupe de Poisson or, in summer, a market fresh Bouillabaisse. As the metro crashes overhead like the soundtrack from a line for a rollercoaster, you weave your way through an international crowd, ogling North African pastries, dried figs, fallen-from-the-truck goods, and stands full of produce that s priced for the neighborhood.
There aren't any farmers at Marche Barbès (though some of the vendors sell locally grown produce) but for the price of a pint at Brasserie Barbès you can buy enough to make a homemade meal to share with family, friends, and neighbors and have a totally unco-optable evening.
m° Barbès-Rochechouart (line 2 &4)
Open: Wednesday (8:00 a.m - 1:00 p.m) and Saturday (7:00 a.m - 3:00 p.m)