If you think the Bohemian Belle Epoque Paris that created the Moulin Rogue is a thing of the past, look no further than Pigalle, which lies on the foot on Montmartre at the northern edge of the 9th arrondissement. Near the Place Pigalle, lodged between—and nudging out—the sex shops and dive bars, you'll find chic cocktail lounges, barista cafés, gastro-bistros, and trend-setting hotels that make a visit to the neighborhood feel like a discovery.
The neighborhood’s naughty appeal dates back to the 1880s, when everyone from down-and-out artists to British royalty flocked to a slew of watering holes, including Moulin Rouge, for a night of champagne, dirty dancing, and the kinds of illicit pleasures that Belle-Époque Paris did best. As the city's seedy red light district throughout the 20th century, Pigalle earned a bad rap, but in the last few years, the quartier—now called SoPi, for South Pigalle—has been steadily gaining its hipster cred. Reclaimed by a group of trendy cosmopolites who've traded in absinthe for craft cocktails and microbrew, Pigalle now counts as one of Paris's most fashionable final frontiers.
WHAT TO SEE
Nouvelle-Athènes, the neighborhood's southern half, was named as much for its neoclassical architecture as the philosophers, writers, and artists who lived and worked there throughout the 19th century. This hidden section of Paris features the quiet streets (Rue Ballu, Rue Blanche, Rue Henner, Rue La Bruyère, Rue de la Tour-des-Dames) and graceful buildings that once housed the likes of Victor Hugo, Alexandre Dumas, Chopin, Berlioz, George Sand, Jean Cocteau, and Guillaume Apollinaire.
At the superb Musée Gustave Moreau, the painter's home and studio are kept exactly as if he'd just laid down his brush, with 7,000 paintings and watercolors, many housed in an intricate wooden cabinet on the top floor that you're free to explore. The Musée de la Vie Romantique, once the home of artist Ary Scheffer, now displays the personal mementos of writer George Sand among other artwork from the time. In warm weather, the museum's shady garden café is one of the most charming spots in Paris.
Pigalle's central spine, a trip down the Rue des Martyrs, an old neighborhood market street, is an absolute must. This colorful mish-mash of chic boutiques, cafés, pâtisseries (don’t miss Sébastian Gaudard at no. 22), and gourmet shops is as Parisian as it gets.
WHERE TO EAT
With all the marks of an old-style Parisian bistro (a long banquette, mirrors, sconces, an oak bar), Le Pantruche serves contemporary takes on the classics. Or you can head to Caillebotte, its newer, sleeker, and more gently priced sister.
One of the hood's most popular bar-restaurants, Ito, serves yummy—and well-priced—French-inflected Japanese tapas. Meanwhile, a cozy atmosphere—oriental rugs, flowers, murals, and candlelight—and an ever-changing menu of seasonal gastronomic dishes have kept Pétrelle one of Paris's best-kept secrets for 20 years.
Tucked away in a tiny alleyway, Le Bal Café is a Pigalle institution. One of Paris's first barista cafés, it serves meticulously sourced brews along with excellent food. You can't go wrong for lunch, dinner, or an afternoon pick-me-up on the outdoor terrace.
Join the rest of the neighborhood for a snack, sandwich, scone, fresh juice, top-notch coffee drink, or chocolat chaud, along with other Aussie-inspired favorites, at the KB Café Shop.
WHERE TO DRINK
Taking its name from its former life as a sex club, Dirty Dick is a tiki-inspired cocktail lounge that offers 20 Tahitian-inspired classics, including a Scorpion Bowl (for two) served in a flaming volcano.
Glass is probably the only place in Paris where you can imbibe “house-made” hotdogs, swill delicious cocktails from a frozen drinks machine, down a microbrew, and rock to a DJ until dawn, all in one location.
Sink into a velvet sofa, tuck into a Champagne cocktail, and catch some live music or an improv performance at Orphée, a tiny, ultra-glamorous (and jam-packed) lounge.
Dark polished wood, dim lighting, and a long list of absinthes and New Orleans-style cocktails make the elegant speakeasy Lulu White a good choice on a street chock full of enticing nightspots.
WHERE TO STAY
Founded by the threesome behind Paris's cocktail renaissance, each of the chic Grand Pigalle Hotel’s rooms is done up in vintage furniture with fireplaces, tiled bathrooms and, of course, mini-bars stocked with all the mixings for one last nightcap. The hotel's top-notch restaurant-wine bar is a big draw on its own.
Done up in opulent silks, velvets, and period antiques, Maison Souquet is a sumptuous former Belle-Époque brothel near the Moulin Rouge that spares no indulgence in its drop-dead gorgeous rooms, fabulous cocktail bar, and spa.