When anybody asks me what the highlight of my Parisian adventure was, one experience sticks out more than any other. This is actually a difficult blog post to write, I’m conflicted about whether I should share this information, or keep it a secret between myself and the other Travelscene Facebook Fan Trip winners.
If you promise not to turn this place into a tourist trap I’ll tell you.
The night before our Disneyland adventure, Yvonne (click her name to get momentarily distracted by her absolutely stunning photos from the trip) had suggested a little wine bar that she’d read about on a blog. I was a little excited about Disneyland, so didn’t read the link she’d sent us, but thought it would still be fun to all go out together and enjoy our last real night in Paris together.
In the end four of us made the trip downtown together, Yvonne, Sarah, Ally and myself. We got off the metro at Louve-Rivoli and from that moment on I’m not sure how we ended up at the wine bar. I know we wandered down some alleys where I uncovered another Space Invaders piece, and passed a few quiet restaurants, but if you asked me to find our little bar again off the top of my head, I probably couldn’t direct you to it. Maybe the secret is safe after all!
Around the corner from my latest street art discovery stood an absolutely hopping little bar, the likes of which you’d find on Chapel or Brunswick street. Tiny, but bustling with people. An immediate way to tell if somewhere is popular is to see how many people are there. At Le Garde-Robe people were spilling out onto the pavement, and these weren’t tourists, they were locals. This was a tucked away hidden local gem.
We squeezed our way inside, past people sitting at the long bar, and against the bookshelf that doubled as a wine rack. Attached to the bar was a shiny, metal, hand powered, meat slicer; we’d read the charcuterie was good here. Little blackboards scattered around told of specials on both wines and foods.
We approached a man who was bustling about the bar, and asked for a table for four, in the best French we could muster. We were going to be out of our depth here though. This wasn’t a place where menus were half written in French half in English. We had to play by their rules here.
The man responded, in French, something along the lines of:
“Do you have a reservation.”
He shrugged his shoulders, looked around at all the people in his crowded bar, and muttered something like “Well, bad luck.” He turned away from us, and we disappointingly squeezed back out of the bar.
“We could try that restaurant down the road?” Suggested someone. I was hesitant, it looked far more expensive than this one, but we walked towards there anyway. Down another little alley. As we arrived outside it, and began to look at its menu, from the other end of the alley we heard someone yelling out.
“Hey! Hey! Hey! I was making you a table!”
It was the bar owner! He’d come chasing us down the alley! He’d been joking with us all along! Apparently not only do we not speak French, but we definitely don’t get French humour. We headed back to the bar, and as he lead us to the table he spoke to everyone he passed, as if he knew every person that was there. I’m sure he was saying something like “Silly Australians, walked out when I was making them a table!”
We huddled around a table at the back of the bar and began questioning who knew anything about wines. None of us. We had all just thought it would be a fun experience. After we debated whites or reds, and then tried to translate the menu to figure out what we wanted, we still hadn’t been served. Ally was getting a little worried we were being ignored, but this wasn’t Australia, where more often than not you’re rushed into making a decision, and then just as quickly rushed out of a venue. This was a true Parisian experience.
Waiting encouraged us to start conversation, and as we’d only known each other for three days there was a lot to catch up on. Time whizzed by, and then the bar owner returned. Would we like white or red? White. A bottle? Yes please. Before we’d had time to ask him what was good, or suggest what we’d like he disappeared to his bookshelf.
He stood pondering over bottles of wine, pointer finger tracing the bottles, until, THAT ONE. He pointed at it, pulled the display bottle out, grabbed the one behind, and headed off to uncork it.
Sarah and I looked at each other and gulped. Was this the most expensive bottle of wine on the shelf? Was he taking advantage of our tourist status again. Had he overheard us saying we knew nothing about wine?
The bottle was brought to our table, and a test glass was poured for Yvonne. Who took a sip, and was immediately in love. Soon we all had a glass and were in agreement. This was by far the best wine I’d ever had. I’d been all too used to cheap wine that became harder to swallow the further you got into a glass, but this was beautiful. Sweet, smooth. I suddenly understood how you could go wine tasting and pick out different flavours in the wine. It was an enlightening experience. We suddenly didn’t care how much the bottle cost, whatever it was it would be worth it.
As conversation began to flow as freely as the wine it was time to order some food. A plate of mixed charcuterie (cheese and meats) and a plate of mixed vegetables were ordered, and I watched the meat being sliced, mesmerised by the hand operated blade. Just as the wine was amazing, the food didn’t let us down either. There was an amazing traditional French sausage, sliced incredibly fine, but so full of flavour, some fantastic cheeses and amazing baguette to accompany it. This was also the only place I ate at on the whole trip that replenished the tables bread basket. I was impressed.
As the white wine had been so amazing, I decided to wind up the night with a glass of red, and again was not disappointed in that decision. I’m far too used to seeing red wines being a really thick, deep coloured red. This was a pale, cloudy red, unlike any red wine I’d ever seen before, and it tasted unlike any I’d tried before either. Smooth, subtle, incredibly easy to drink. The perfect way to end the night.
The bill was presented, and we held our breath in anticipation of a shockingly large amount, but were pleasantly surprised to find our fantastic bottle of wine was only 38 Euro. Far cheaper than we’d expected. The bar owner hadn’t taken advantage of us, instead, he seemed to know exactly what kind of wine we’d like. He could tell.
And that’s what made this experience so special. He seemed to know us, just like he knew everyone else in the bar. He knew exactly what we were looking for. He made us feel like locals. If I could spend the rest of my life in that wine bar, with the fantastic company of that evening, and drink nothing but those impressive wines, I’d die a happy man.
We left the bar hours after we’d arrived and headed back for our hotel. I couldn’t have imagined a better way to spend that final night and that’s why this night will always be the highlight of my four days in Paris.
La Garde-Robe is located somewhere near the exit of the Louvre-Rivoli metro stop. If you’re in Paris and can find it, I’m sure you’ll have a wonderful night. But I’m not going to tell you exactly where to find it. You’ll have to search for it yourself. Trust me, it’ll be more rewarding that way.