March 24, 2011
Paris is not a city lacking in cultural gathering places. And I’m not just referring to café terraces – be they high brow (the Flore), or controversial (La Perle). Just to keep the scene fresh, in 2008, the Mairie de Paris (Paris City Hall) converted a former morgue in the North East of Paris into a vast cultural centre, Le 104. With its art, restaurants, events and shops, it has since been drawing the bobo throngs to this otherwise gritty and largely overlooked part of the capital.
The monumental space, covering 39 000m2, was built in 1873 and became the municipal funeral parlor in 1905. Over a century later, the building has kept its open-to-all policy and the skeleton of its magnificent steel and glass structure, but now as a slightly less morose place pass some time.
The 104 defines itself rather broadly as an Artistic Establishment. Under that title, it puts on a dynamic range of cultural events including art installations, art fairs, events, concerts and theatre performances. Around the edges of one of the two great halls are artists’ and musicians’ studios, and within each of the halls there is usually a variety of installations and exhibits and you will often see dancers or actors rehearsing here. You can even partake in free Qi-Jong classes and there is a dedicated space for children, La Maison des Petites.
There are three eateries at the 104, which cater to the full gamut of budgets and appetites. For a quick bite, there is the pizza van parked up in the smaller hall. The second option is the Café Caché, tucked away behind an interior courtyard. The 50s style decor was designed by a former artist in residence at le 104, Sebastien Wierinck. Here the speciality is small-plate sized servings, which you can mix and match in savoury and sweet combinations.
Eating at the 104
The 104’s newest restaurant, Les Grandes Tables, has been very well received by critics. There, Michelin-starred chef Fabrice Biasiolo brings a local angle to world food by using local seasonal produce in recipes inspired by far away cuisines, all prepared before your eyes by chefs stationed at little portable “street-food” style kitchens dotted around the edge of the restaurant.
Le 104 is also home to some good honest commerce. Le Merle Moquer, the centre’s large, well stocked bookshop, focuses on art but also has a great selection of literature, cookbooks and a dedicated space for children. In keeping with the spirit of the 104, it welcomes the curious browser with open arms.
The charity shop Emmaus, also present in the sprawling structure, is laid out like an apartment: the local community comes to drop off its unwanted wares and discerning clients pick through the second hand bric a brac for vintage treasures. Within the store, the Tribu Deco Defi workshop transforms old pieces of furniture into new creations.
Next door to Emmaus is the centre’s dedicated pop-up shop space, which is currently home to the brand SAWA and its tennis shoes, textiles and accessories made and sourced in Africa. Every Saturday from 11am, the 104 also hosts a farmers market dedicated to organic cheese and vegetables sourced from two organic farms.
The vast 104 is like a village in itself, welcoming artists to create and the curious and intrigued to visit its attractions, sample its food and browse its wares. It is now home to a living, breathing community of creators – a welcome evolution since its early days, when its main occupants weren’t quite as dynamic…
Le 104, 104 rue d’Aubervilliers – 5 rue Curial / 75019 Paris; Open 11am – 8pm (7pm Sun). Closed Mon. Open later for certain events, depending on the program.
- For Paris’ latest cultural happenings, check out Vingt Paris Magazine
- Kim’s wonderful blog, I Heart Paris, uncovers Paris’ hidden gems and must-dos-and-sees
- Tired of the Louvre? Check out our Not-The-Louvre Museum Guide.
Written by Kim Laidlaw Adrey. All images by Julien Hausherr. Julien Hausherr is a photographer based in Paris, specializing in architecture, still-life and reporting. Contact: email@example.com.Looking for a fabulous vacation rental in Paris, Provence, or Tuscany? Check out Haven in Paris.
Written by Kim Laidlaw
London-import Kim Laidlaw is the creator of insider city guide Unlock Paris. After studying History of Art at the Ecole du Louvre, she decided to make Paris her home and has lived here for 8 years and counting. Kim writes travel guides for Lonely Planet, Thames and Hudson and Dorling Kindersley, and articles for the BBC and Conde Nast, as well as copywriting for ad agencies in Paris and copyediting for several fashion magazines, including Fashion For Men and Self Service.
Website: Unlock Paris