For some people in Paris, bars and clubbing are not enough. Craving contact and conversation, intrepid Parisians are now turning to "private" parties where you don't have to put up with high cover charges, irksome attitude, and ear-splitting noise. Situated in unusual locations, or just private homes, these alternative get-togethers can be a great way to mingle with the natives. Interestingly, some of the oldest of these soirées are those that were started by expatriates, whose long-standing weekly gatherings have become an essential stop for new arrivals to the Parisian scene.
If there ever was an institution on the Parisian ex-pat scene, it is Jim Haynes' Sunday dinners (83 rue de la Tombe Issoire, 14th arrond.; tel. 01 43 27 17 67; www.jim-haynes.com; Métro: Denfert-Rochereau). Sometime in the 1970s, Haynes (a Louisiana native) got into the habit of inviting strangers to his home for food, talk, and fellowship. You'll meet anywhere from 30 to 40 people at these free-form fiestas, which are frequented by a intriguing mix of long-time residents, hangers-on, and people passing through town for one reason or another. The emphasis here is on meeting people: visitors are not allowed to stand on the sidelines. If you try, Haynes will be at your side in a minute, introducing you to someone. A good number of the people who come here have been here before, which is why the chat is so lively. Now you can come too; just call or write a week ahead (you can also reserve on the website), and call again on Sunday morning to confirm. Dinner starts at 8pm sharp, a contribution is politely requested (from each according to his or her means, but many give around €20).
If the atmosphere at Patricia Laplante-Collins' dinners (Paris Soirées, 13 rue Mulhouse, 2nd arrond.; tel. 01 43 26 12 88; www.parissoirees.com; Métro: Sentier) is a little more subdued, the offerings aren't any less interesting. Held on Wednesdays and Sundays at 6:45 pm in a small, but lovely apartment, Patricia's parties are also frequented by both residents and visitors. After dinner, everyone settles down to listen to the guest speaker, who could be anyone from an actress reciting Oscar Wilde's Salomé, to a famous movie director talking about his films and his life as an expat. Reserve at least a few days in advance by phone or e-mail; have a €20 contribution ready at the door.
For nine years, Michael Muszlak has opened the doors of his Latin Quarter apartment to visitors looking for a cup of tea and some chat. Called Teatime (tel.01 43 25 86 55; firstname.lastname@example.org), this low-key event takes place just about every Saturday between 5-8pm, when a stream of friendly faces fills up Muszlak's living room and starts exchanging names. Tea, of course, is served, as are cakes and finger-food; a small contribution (about half what you'll pay at the two above) is requested as compensation. A French/British polyglot, (he speaks five languages), Muszlak started these events to keep his linguistic muscles flexed. You must call ahead and chat a bit before Muszlak will give you the address and directions; this is his home after all, and he needs to sift out any potential crazies.
On Thursdays, from 8pm-2am, the Confrèrie des Chevaliers de St-Sabin (that's the Confederacy of the Knights of St-Sabin, to you) invite you to join them at La Taverne Medievale (Les Caves, 50 rue St-Sabin, 11th arrond.; tel. 01 40 21 00 13; www.latavernemedievale.net; Métro: Breguet-Sabin or Chemin Vert) for an evening of feasting, music, and good fun in their ancient vaulted cellar. This huge underground space (350 sq. m/3,767 sq. ft.), which dates from at least the 17th century, has been completely restored and subtly beautified with wood carvings, lanterns, and the occasional antique column or statue. First there is the food, which involves appropriately medieval-inspired dishes like spiced beef and chicken with dates (main dishes €10-€15). Then there are the drinks: care for a glass of mead (a fermented honey concoction) or rose wine? Finally, there is the entertainment: wonderful live medieval music (these are not amateurs but professional groups that come in from all over France, Europe, and even overseas) is on offer, as are strolling troubadors, sorcerers, story tellers, jugglers, and the occasional marionette artist. If you don't feel like socializing, you can play chess or watch a duel, or both. Or you could dance -- if you get there at 7pm, you can take a medieval dance class (€5; reserve ahead, these fill up quickly).
There is no cover if you are in costume, otherwise, you'll be asked to rent one for (€15). It may sound silly, but the costumes are important; there's something about being in one that seems to level the playing field and allow people to open up. The crowd, which spans an age range from mid-twenties to retirement, is eclectic, to say the least. Though there are a lot of "medievalists" who take their Middle Ages pretty seriously, there are plenty of others who simply come to have a good time in these extraordinary surroundings.
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This article is an excerpt from Pauline Frommer's Paris, 2nd Edition, available in our online bookstore now.
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