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la perle

A threat to Parisian nights: Would the last call move from 2am to 1am because of terrasses?

As the ban on cigarettes pushed people out in the street to smoke, the noise of their conversation might make the bars close earlier in the City of Lights.

Paris, almost 1am. As I gave an -outstanding- tour of some of the jewels of the Parisian night scene to an American couple in August, that Parisian doldrums, I have been sweating all night long, afraid that the places I was taking them to would not be as alive and partying as usual… But from the poshest venues to the historical pubs, everything was perfect. Not that there was the usual crowd, they probably were in Saint-Tropez or Biarritz, but at least enough to make the place fun.

As we were walking towards our last destination, I was sure that the game was over and I had won. This last bar I was taking them to is a Marais joint that attracts the designers and models of the Fashion Industry, giving it a very interesting twist, where the people are in fact more interesting than the place itself. With a few historical facts, cheap beers and its forgotten 70s decor, I was totally sure of my little effect. Not to mention the usual huge crowd packing on the sidewalk, talking about style and gossips with hispter haircuts and cutting-edge couture. Oh oui, everything was there, the people, the ambiance, the pleasure. It was a success.

Then we walked in, went to the bar, and the bartender in neo 80s outfit and thick bright pink glasses said: Sorry we don’t serve drinks after 12:45am.

Merde.

Had I been Japanese, I would have had to commit seppukku on the spot, leaving my clients puzzled and covered with my blood. Fortunately I had forgotten my katana and I know better about satisfying visitors than sending them to a Police station for their last night in Paris.

Yet it was definitely a very unpleasant moment, and even before I  started thinking, I broadcasted a deseperate « Pourquoi?? ».

She simply answered: Because of the noise and the neighbors.

As there was nothing left to do or drink, we went away, and we tried to forgot this with a pint of beer al fresco in the area.

But having a blog, I decided to go on investigation journalism and I came back yesterday in the afternoon to try to find out a little more about the facts.

Because nothing could have made me guess a bar -any bar- in Paris would close at 1am. Now that was just empirical knowledge from the usual hours when I am forced to crawl out of closing cafés in Paris, but it had to be checked out. And it is confirmed: the website of the Paris Préfecture de Police is very clear; you must open your bar after 5am and close it before 2am. 2Am!! And on the Web, all entries to this very bar says it closes at 2am… So why did that trendy bartender sent us away, with all of her clients, making the bar lose a whole hour of profit? Pourquoi? POURQUOI?

What’s at stake here is very important. It’s true that Paris is not known as a party destination, and rightly so. It is no Berlin, no London, no Ibiza. Paris is mostly about eating and talking, and talking and eating. And drinking. We do not have a pub culture, and our café culture is based on coffee, yet, just like Americans now have starbucks, we tend to have café that are bars, and amazing neighborhoods for it, like le Marais, Oberkampf or Montmartre. But most of us will go there before or after eating. Oui, after a restaurant, which can take us easily to midnight. So if all bars were to close down at 1am, it would be a social tragedy, and ethylic drama. I cannot even stand the mere thought of it.

Just like an undercover officer, sitting at the counter, I question at 7pm the same waitress a few days later (well so much for being undercover I guess). So yes, it is the crowd outside that makes the noise, and the surrounding neighbors that cannot stand it. The Police often comes, and although they never had “fermeture administrative”, they decided to shut the bar down one hour earlier.

I objected that, contrary to a common belief, there is no special time for noise or disturbance of the peace, and that if the neighbors would like to go to bed at 10pm, they would have to close down at 9.30pm. She answered that the Police is smarter than that, they don’t move before a late hour. Well, I wouldn’t have to deal on a professional basis with such a sketchy line of reasoning. What if the Police change their minds? And more important, if you have a legal right to be open until 2am, wouldn’t it be more relevant to keep on making money and close the terrasse before the rooms?

The issue of people stepping out to drink and smoke has been a growing concern since the ban on cigarettes in restaurants and bars, to the point that the Préfecture de Police did a large advertising campaign on how we should keep it low. Yet, the behavior of that one bar, a landmark of Paris’ nights, could mean that with constant police calls and interventions, the neighbors might win over the night life. Which is definitely something we do not need. Already some historical clubs, like the Palace or the Pulp, did close because they couldn’t remain clubs due to “nuisances”, the inconvenients created by these kinds of business. Will it then be the same for simple bars and cafés? As I was dreaming about this horrible Museum Paris, with fake cafés closing at 11pm and an old rich population sleeping in oblivion, the bartender finally added:

“We also go home one hour earlier”

Voilà. She probably spoke the real reason there. I wanted to ask her: “and then, where do you go for a drink?”, but I paid my 1664 and went away, hoping that our Parisian socialism would not push us to close down bars just so that bartenders can get off earlier. I know for a fact that there are still a few bartenders and bar owners greedy enough to fight for that last hour, but I hope the trend, for once, will not get out of this bar, Paris’ trendiest bar to spread out in all of the City…