PARIS SCENE

Byline: Heidi Lender and William Middleton

PARIS: The New Downtown
Everyone knows Paris for its luxe--splendid, formal restaurants, $26 cocktails, ritzy boutiques and those indispensable little tweed tailleurs. But even a place that reeks of so much chic should know a thing or two about cool. And when uptown Karl Lagerfeld sends out a collection filled with neon skindresses and clear plastic pumps, you know something's up: Downtown Paris is coming alive. It's brewing in pockets around town--Le Marais, La Bastille, Belleville and Pigalle, where bourgeois boredom gives way to an underground energy and street-style rules.
But la mode de la rue is more glamour than grit, because the French can't help but be refined. There's still an edge, even if the bohemian bonhomie is studied and cleaned-up. Downtown Paris is less a place than a state of mind--you don't go downtown, you just are. Clear-cut boundaries like New York's 14th Street don't exist, so downtown Paris can pop up in the most unlikely places.
Maria Luisa, the most happening specialty store in town, for example, sits just steps away from Chanel on rue Cambon, and the branche boite Queen is smack in the middle of the Champs Elysee. Even the elegant quais near the Eiffel Tower and the basement of the Lanvin boutique now have a certain downtown flair, thanks to restaurateurs Jonathan Goldstein and Patrick Lurier, who have brought their trendy fans uptown to La Plage and Espace Bleu.
But it's in those out-of-way quartiers that the scene is really sizzling. One corner of the somewhat seedy Bastille has been staked out by John Galliano, Jean Paul Gaultier and Philippe Starck--a world-class concentration of cutting-edge designers. And even the younger generation is riding the neighborhood's buzz, opening shop-front ateliers in and around the area. It includes the likes of Dolita, with her world-music dance wear; the German designer Hannoh, who does a quirky take on minimalism, and Agathe Gonnet, who favors a military-inspired mode.
At night, La Bastille shifts into overdrive. With a burst of neon signs and a string of bars with customers spilling out onto the street, the freshly cobblestoned rue de Lappe is hopping in a way it hasn't in years.
Megalo Bar, at one end, feels as if it blew in from New York's East Village, while Chez Paul, the shabby-but-chic bistro at the other end of the street, packs in a mix of fashion folk and locals. Not far away is Cafe de l'Industrie, another authentic French cafe, rocking with a black-clad crowd. What's Up, a smoky, acid-jazz-filled bar with a selective door policy, has just opened next door to Le Leche Vin, a bar filled with religious kitsch and frequented by the Galliano gang.
But rue Keller--where offbeat art thrives in small galleries--is the latest hive of activity. The street is now home to Cafe Moderne, once a tired old neighborhood hangout and now the new younger sister of couscous king Chez Omar. Just across the way, former Casbah couple Philippe Derouard and Narie-France Klosseck are set to open a restaurant/bar/club, with a name that has yet to be nailed down, but a concept that sounds intriguing: futuristic Venice. "It's going to be a big surprise," Klosseck claims.
The biggest news on the club circuit is the Bataclan, a legendary Parisian theater given new life by Kien, Franck Maillot, and David and Cathy Guetta, a team formerly from Les Bains Douches, Queen and Folies Pigalle. A multi-cultural cabaret-cum-club, the Bataclan is open Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights. "We want to bring branche Paris to this place with a soul--to do a place with a mix of people, like Paris had 10 years ago," Guetta says. For die-hard downtowners, there's always Belleville, the hillside neighborhood home to Chinatown, Jim Morrison's grave in Pere Lachaise, and down-and-dirty bars like Les Folie's Belleville. For a happening dinner, there's A La Courtille, a Thirties' bistro with a view that takes in all of Paris. Look for neighborhood fixtures like designer Jean Colonna or Michele Montaigne, the press representative for many a European avant-garde designer, cruising by on their motorcycles.
A must stop, for those who like their downtown a bit more refined, is Le Marais. There are the old standby ethnic eateries Chez Omar and Anahi for fashion insiders, and now Le Tresor, a continental cafe jammed with pretty young downtowners late into the night. The owners, who also dabble in film, recently opened Cafe le Tresor next door to the already-hip restaurant. It's got one of the best terraces in town, and will offer live music this winter.
Up the street, in the neighborhood of Les Bains, is Crystal Palace, a wild split-level bar where crazy club kids go to warm up the night for places like Au Pied de Chameau, just around the corner. This Moroccan restaurant with a new basement club has Thursday-night parties with Andre, the coolest DJ in town.
And you don't even have to leave the neighborhood to get ready for a night in Les Halles. The rue St. Denis has the greatest shops in town for les fripes--used Levis, motorcycle boots and bomber jackets. But the latest fashion fads have burst right out of the clubs and onto the streets--fake fur, camouflage pants, thigh-high boots and enough acid-toned logo T-shirts to fuel the fiercest of raves.
There's no better place for the new streetwear than Hagen Ratz, a new boutique built around a DJ spinning the latest hip-hop sounds. With Patricia Field, Mondorama, Puma and old French army fatigues, it's one-stop shopping for Parisian club kids.
For a sweeter brand of bubble-gum chic, check out Magic Circle, just up the street at the start of the newly trendy rue Montorgueil. The old cobblestone market has been spruced up, and shops and bars are popping up everywhere around the pedestrian-only street.
Patrick Cox's first boutique outside of London is here, with all his funky footwear and a quirky selection of Forties furniture and objets. Next door, the new Le Cafe is a hot spot for neighborhood regulars or those taking a break from shopping at nearby Absinthe--for fashion from the most eccentric designers in town. Le Cafe Noir, up the street, is an old bar with a rough-around-the-edges quality that appeals to its fiercely loyal clientele. Not far away is the just-opened atelier-cum-boutique of GR 816 by designers Gilles Rosier and Claude Sabbah (see story on page 12). They don't just design downtown, they live it.
"Paris should be even funkier," Sabbah says, "But soon it's really going to be happening." It may not have the numbers of New York or the boldness of London, but downtown Paris is putting itself on the map.

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