The fact that I am positively charmed by secret locations and hidden hot spots is, well, no secret. So imagine how curious I was to learn about Le Comptoir Général, a Parisian gallery-meets-bar-meets bookshop/museum in the City of Light's bohemian 10th arrondissement and off the Canal Saint Martin. After all, who said you can't take your dose of knowledge with a shot of gin?
Taking a page out of Brooklyn's mastery of reclaimed spaces and exhibiting the aesthetic of an abandoned African hotel, with overgrown jungle plants emerging through the cracks and French-African bric-a-brac strewn over the weathered black-and-white tile — from witch doctor talismans, dog-eared maps and overstuffed velvet lounge sofas, to old radio transmitters and, yes, dusty taxidermy — the mise-en-scène is straight out of a 1960s Ousmane Sembène film — or a Solange Knowles music video. It even houses an African hair salon, so talk about full-service!
The atmosphere on a weeknight — because the hip bobos of Paris save the weekends for the touristic crowd, bien sûr — is decidedly mellow, textured by a soundtrack of Ethiopian funk. In an ingenious twist on artisanal hospitality, the venue supports sustainable practices — you can shop for curated vintage cast-offs and, in lieu of a formal service staff, imported African beers and snacks like curried chicken are casually ordered at the walk-up counter. During the daytime, soak up the vibe by rounding up a group of amis for a home-cooked brunch of pancakes, fresh-squeezed juice and an amazing cup of Chai (a rarity in Paris).
We're used to the French being laidback — this is the land of three-hour afternoon lunches, after all. But Le Comptoir Général makes relaxing an all-day — and all-night — affair.