Dating in Paris is often a tricky business, particularly first dates. You’re so eager to make a good first impression – you need the perfect outfit, of course, but there’s also the pressure to pick a perfect location. You need a place that’s not too casual, lest it sneak into that ambiguous area known as “hanging out,” but you can’t go for a six-course tasting menu either. What if he turns out to be a dud and all you want to do is escape?
After much trial and error, I have come to love what I call “walking dates.” Start at a café for drinks or coffee, take a short stroll somewhere scenic, then – if it’s going well, of course – end at another establishment for a more substantial meal. There are built-in escape routes if it’s not going well, but if he turns out to be charming, there’s plenty of opportunity to get to know each other in several different settings.
What follows are some routes that I love, but feel free to tweak them to your preferences. If you have any that you can suggest, we’d love to hear about them in the comments!
Start at La Caféothèque to sample one of their house-roasted brews. Try a café gourmand if you or your date would like a sweet snack, or split a dégustation of three espressos made with beans from three different regions.
Once you’ve gotten your buzz on, take a walk north along Rue Saint-Paul, passing by the charming rambling shops in the Village Saint-Paul, and continue along Rue de Turenne. Turn right and take a turn around Place des Vosges. If it’s going well, take a seat on one of the many benches (or on the grass if it’s sunny), and discuss your favorite bands and books.
By this time you should start feeling a little peckish. If it’s a daytime date, or if you’re in the mood for a light dinner, make your way to Breizh Café. The savory buckwheat galettes are the best you’ll find without taking a train to Brittany. If you’re in the mood for something more substantial and traditional, Café des Musées is a cozy perennial favorite serving up classic dishes at a very affordable price.
If it’s still going well, how about stepping into a bar for a nightcap? Little Red Door, Candelaria, and Le Mary Celeste are all within a few blocks of each other, and all have well-mixed drinks that are just the thing to finish off a great night.
Meet at Bones, James Henry’s restaurant and bar in the 11th, for a glass of natural wine or a beer. I recommend the excellent unsulfured Prosecco available by the glass, perhaps with a few nibbles like marinated olives or house-made charcuterie.
Walk north toward Republique and take a few minutes to get lost in the bustle of the little cafés and bars around Oberkampf. Conversation topics: the most interesting or bizarre random encounters you’ve experienced in Paris.
If you would like to share some small plates for dinner, head to Au Passage. This little restaurant has a relaxed vibe that’s perfect for splitting a bottle of wine and some delicious small plates and settling in to get to know someone. If you’re looking for something more intense, try Pierre Sang in Oberkampf, where you can chat with the effervescent chef while he and his team cook up a different, highly seasonal and highly improvisational menu every night. This one isn’t suggested for those who are picky about their food, though; the staff lets you taste and finish each dish before telling you what was in it.
If the conversation is still flowing, head over to La Fine Mousse to finish off the night with a taste of craft beer from their twenty taps, featuring several options from French breweries.
If you’re having a day-date, there’s nowhere better than Montmartre, particularly if you can find the less-touristy parts. I would suggest meeting at Soul Kitchen, a cute café and restaurant just off of Lamarck that serves locally sourced food as well as excellent, homey pastries and coffee drinks. You and your date will be charmed, I promise.
Take a walk up a few flights of stairs to the Parc de la Turlure, a little green space located just behind Sacré-Cœur. There’s a little park where a gaggle of kids always seems to be giggling and playing, as well as a pretty trellised walkway and a lawn for lazing. Find a spot to discuss something light and happy – perhaps cute things you did when you were children.
Walk back down the hill and east to Rue Caulaincourt, making your way to the picturesque little restaurant called Au Rêve. The food here is nothing to write home about, but still solid, with the usual Parisian bistro favorites. What you’re really there for, though, is the ambiance: this little café has been a watering hole to the wandering souls of Montmartre since mid-century, and retains much of the antique luster of those bygone years. Sit in the little back room and share a planche of charcuterie and cheese and some wine and watch the locals chat with the barman. Unfortunately they no longer serve absinthe, from which the bar got its name (“the dream” being what those who overindulged in the spirit would slip into), but hey, it’s only your first date. You’ve got time for that later.
Written by Diane Yoon for the HiP Paris Blog. Looking for a fabulous vacation rental in Paris, London, Provence, or Tuscany? Check out Haven in Paris.