03 December 2010

some sweetheart deal: au bon coin, 75018

Let me begin by relating a certain suspicion I have.

Have you ever wondered about all the interchangeably anonymous loser cafés hunched on even the most desolate, least-trafficked Parisian streetcorners? For every thronged Le Progrès or La Perle, there must be another thousand sad unseen cafés, replete with formica counters, tables the size of euro-coins, and surgically bright lighting that serves only to highlight a conspicuous and enduring lack of patrons. How do these joints afford their rents, which, if residential real estate is anything to go by, must be stratospheric?

I'm have no hard information on the subject, but I assume there's some combination of government subsidies and death-grip rent-control at play.* Au Bon Coin, a gem of a café on a quiet corner on the low-key side of Montmartre**, is emphatically not a loser establishment, but something tells me they either own their building, or have not seen rent increases since sometime around the end of the second guerre mondiale. The prices on their tasty, simple menu, and on their emminently quaffable, never-updated wine list all evince a kind of unhurried attitude towards making money or staying afloat. Many of the bottles are around 16eu.

The list, or what you can tell by what's written on it, is either idiosyncratic or old-fashioned, in that it places seemingly as much emphasis on Vin de Savoie as on more accessible regions like Bordeaux and the Rhone valley. There's also an admirably long list of cru-Beaujolais.

Here I must give a word of warning, however: vintages are not printed, and frequently the listed vigneron is wrong as well. So it's kind of a crap shoot. Interrogation of the decent but completely inattentive staff will get you nowhere, as on more than one occasion I've asked before ordering whether the Julienas in stock was indeed by M. Audras, or which Thevenet the Morgon was from**, to no avail; all you get is a simple affirmative, before they bring you something else entirely.

Since almost all the bottles are open by the glass, your best bet is to hang at the bar for a moment and taste a few things until you find something you like. When I stopped by the other night for a drink with my friend E, I just asked for any cru Beaujolais from 2007 - usually a safe bet, although this time the Jean-Paul Charvet Fleurie they brought was a bit limp and undersketched. Sort of the vinous equivalent of a one-line-drawing.

On other nights, however, I've had very decent Julienas and completely acceptable Chiroubles. Never anything mind-blowing, but that's not really the spirit of the venture, at a place like Au Bon Coin, whose graces lie in how they pass on whatever sweetheart deal they're getting, by providing, at absurdly low cost, a pleasant place to eat real food and drink brisk unpretentious wines by the caseload.

*I shouldn't discount, either, the presumably huge influence of a certain grim, immoveably stubborn, resolutely unambitious personality-type among old French bar-owners.

**It turns out that at least one out of every five cafés in Paris is named Au Bon Coin. There are two near Metro Jules Joffrin alone. Remember the street name of this one.

***Neither Jean-Paul nor Charly, I can tell you that much.

Au Bon Coin
49, rue Cloys
75018 PARIS
Metro: Jules Joffrin
Tel: 01 46 06 91 36

Related Links: 

Lunchtime Beaujolais at Le Rubis


  1. This place is owned by a friend of mine, an Aveyronnais whose family has been in the Paris café business for a couple of generations. He's in the kitchen (and a super nice guy) so maybe you could say hi the next time you're there. Lovely post -- I've had many a jolly evening here!

  2. that sounds like the sort of person who'd be positively delighted if some anonymous expat poked his head into the kitchen and introduced himself ! i'm kidding. but many thanks for the suggestion, and as always many thanks for reading.

    rereading this post, i realise i no longer find it astounding that so many paris cafés and bistrots seem to survive sans clients. a certain portion of proprietors are waiting to get bought out at great profit and turned into a Zara; the rest are surprisingly content just waiting to die. in either case, restaurant service is not a priority. thankfully the folks at au bon coin would seem to belong to neither category.