13, rue de Charonne (11)
Ask the hotel concierge for an authentic old Paris bistro. There are some, including a few on this list (see Chez Denise 1st, Allard 6th, Auberge Pyrenees Cevennes 11th). Little chance he sends you to Chez Paul, “Le Bistrot Traditions”. First of all, it is in the 11th, likely far from the hotel in the safe, but non-descript 11th, a reasonable walk from the Place Bastille except at night, when reasonable means a gauntlet of narrow streets lined with bars and nightclubs on both sides. At the end is the more tranquil Rue de Charonne and a genuinely ancient building supported inside by large wooden beams holding up large wooden beams. Nothing retro here. The Alain Ducasse organization passed this one by in its campaign to breathe new life and finesse into once distinguished bistros (see Aux Lyonnais 2nd, Benoit 4th, Allard 6th). The result is a combination of charm, shabby chic and physical ruin, given life by a large, traditional bistro menu. Two rooms of tables dominated by French couples and families, dependable cooking and low prices. This, presumably, is what a bistro was, versus L’Ami Louis (see 3rd) or Benoit, at 100€+ per person.
Watercress salad with fish-stuffed vegetables and vegetable soup heavy with lentils, followed by grilled filet mignon with béarnaise and roasted potatoes, and grilled entrecote with roquefort sauce, sautéed potatoes with shallots, marrow bone and sel gris. A pitcher of wine and tarte tatin with crème fraiche. Delicious. Generous. Decidedly “non- gourmet” and seemingly proud of it.
Practical. Deliberate. Some would say slow, but that is what they do. No effort to turn the tables.
Quite low prices. With wine, water and coffee, 91€ for two. Also a 20€ formula with five or six choices of three courses.