Star Travel Grand Tour hits a jazzy note in Paris, Musee d'Orsay, Le Bristol Hotel
PARIS – It wasn’t what I expected. And I couldn’t have been happier.
When someone from the French tourism office in Canada suggested I take in a jazz brunch on Sunday, I had pictures of a bunch of guys Woody Allen’s age bopping on the clarinet in front of a well-heeled group of visitors at a semi-swanky hotel room. Or something like that.
Instead, when I arrived at a place near the Marais district called Le Reservoir, I was mildly surprised – in the best possible way – to find a funky room with stone walls, wooden columns painted with white and red roses, red and gold chairs and a well-used, wooden floor. They had a large buffet with everything from eggs and sausages and croissants (natch) to tasty couscous, pasta, chicken, parma ham and various salads.
There was a jazz trio on the stage, fronted by a dimunitive woman with jet-black hair and a slinky outfit, belting out everything from “My Funny Valentine” to a souped-down, jazzy version of “Light My Fire,” an excellent number and a perfect one given that the writer of the song, Jim Morrison of the Doors, is buried in these parts.
The drummer was good and the organ player, who bore a striking resemblance to Raptors’ coach Jay Triano I thought, was exceptional. There were a lot of young people in the audience, most of them French-speaking, so it definitely felt like an “out of the way,” authentic Paris experience versus something with all the tourists from Ohio clambering off the bus. Not that I have anything against Ohio, so please don't start the letters....
It’s called Jazz Brunch – www.reservoirclub.com is the website – and it’s highly recommended. It costs $25 euros, about $30-$35, and that’s pretty good considering all the food and the entertainment, plus a barrel of red wine that’s there for the taking.
They operate on Saturdays and Sundays, late morning, from September to June, on a small street called Rue de la Forge Royale. Even my cab driver, possibly the nicest man you’ll ever meet, didn’t know. But he pulled out an old-fashioned map (no GPS, thank you) and figured it out, clucking his tongue and puffing out air in that funny way French people like to do when they don’t quite know what to say or want to fill in a gap in their thoughts.
(I don’t know about you, but I can’t quite figure out the way Parisians hail a cab. Rather, I can’t figure out when one is free. They all seem to have little lights on the top of the roof, but I can’t tell whether the light means they’re free or they’re not free. They all seem to have the little light on, but some have folks in them and roll past and others are vacant. Beats me. Either way, there are plenty of them and it’s only about $15 bucks to take a 10-15 minute ride across a generous section of town. They start at only a couple Euros on the meter, compared to, what, $4.25 in Toronto these days?)
The afternoon was spent dodging the odd bit of rain – it was pretty thin and it sure beat the freezing rain and snow on Saturday – and checking out the small streets and shops in The Marais. It’s a part of town I hadn’t seen before, but it might be my favourite; nice shops but not overly twee, and not terribly expensive as Paris goes.
I had a dynamite hot chocolate at a place called Café de Philosophers, with a thick gooey patch of pure chocolate in the bottom of my cup, topped with as much steamed milk as I wanted to add and just a single sugar cube. Divine on a cold winter’s day.
I also spent some time at the Musee d’Orsay, one of the great treats of this incredible city. It’s a former train station, as most folks know, that now houses some of Frances’ most treasured art works, including a lot of Impressionist works. They’re doing some renovation, so 53 of Claude Monet’s works are, sadly, on display elsewhere. But there were still several Monet paintings on display, as well as a lot of Van Gogh, Sisley, Degas, Renoir, Manet and others.
Seeing the paintings alone is a huge treat, but to see them in a glorious, high-ceilinged, restored train station with all the natural light in the world and a fabulous mixture of textures and building materials is simply marvelous. And, at least on this Sunday, it was free.
Thanks to the folks at Le Bristol Hotel in Paris for an absolutely phenomenal room and a wonderful couple of days. I’ll have more to write about the hotel (with pics, of course) in the new year as part of our “Great Hotels of the World” package. The rooms are exquisite and the garden is lovely, even in winter. And it's a great part of town, just a couple blocks from the Champs Elysees but much quieter. The food at 114 Restaurant is very good, and the lobby bar is a great place for a coffee or a drink, including the Matignon: lemon juice, fresh pineapple cointreau and tequila. Yikes.
More to come on Paris on Dec. 18 when we present our final Grand Tour destination in the pages of Star Travel. And look for another Paris blog entry Tuesday....