If you want a glass of wine in Paris, there’s usually one within a block of where you’re standing. It may not be great, but it’s available. This can make having a NAD (a No Alcohol Day) in the city feel like a great accomplishment.
On a definite non-NAD day last summer I walked by an unusual looking little place. In the center of a large window, a simple white script neon sign said La Buvette.
From the sidewalk I could see the entire interior: a small sunlit space with just enough room for three or four mismatched tables and a little wooden bar. It’s uncommon for a Paris café or bar to have San Francisco-type natural light, and the French word lumineux really is the right word to describe it. There was also something else that might have fit in well in San Francisco, at least in my Castro neighborhood: large, bright close-up photos of sausages.
The first time I went (I’ve now been 5 or 6 times), it was early and I was the only customer. The owner, Camille, a young woman with big glasses and dark hair in a loose bun was reading a book. She used to work at the oh-so-chic Mama Shelter and Le Dauphin, but she is informal, low-key and very knowledgeable about the natural wines she’s selected to sell by the bottle or glass. The number of wines by the glass is refreshingly small and manageable.
One of the wines I had was a Julien Courtois 100% gamay from the Eastern Loire. I know labels aren’t supposed to matter but these are pretty special, featuring only an illustration and no words (all of the wine info is on the back of the bottle). The wine had a brightness that balanced the strong dark fruit flavors, and the long finish made it a delicious pairing with one of the cheeses of the day and a small plate of huge beans (haricots blancs) in olive oil with tiny wild flowers.
If you want a wine experience with a local, crafted feel somehow un-swayed by the wave of now-routine hipness design, run by a cool young woman, go to La Buvette.
I was too distracted by the wine and the atmosphere to take pictures of anything except the olives, delightfully served, but Antonin Bourgeaud has taken a series of photos that captures the interior and the spirit of Camille herself.
La Buvette, 67 rue st. maur, 11th