Text: Jayson Harsin
From the vantage point of Pere Lachaise in the 20th, in the closing pages of Balzac’s delicious Pere Goriot, the hero Rastignac looks down into the mudpit of Paris, seething with moneylust threatening to devour the grand monuments and traditions of an overgrown bourg. Refusing to let it tame him, he vows to don his galoshes and wrestle it to submission.
True to its past, the 20th (along with the 18th and 19th, and a few holdouts in the 11th) is now the arrondissement that peers down on the rest of the city and resists its formidable pull toward disneyesque tourism and suffocating plutocracy, the basin below where many of the once wild jazz caves and cabarets are now full of plump track-suited Americans perusing their Lonely Planet’s and Let’s Go’s.
It’s in the 20th/11th neighborhoods that one still finds a host of little no-name jazz and torch singer joints, squeezed into the communards’ corners around the metro stations of Gambetta, Pyrenees, Menilmontant and Alexandre Dumas. These are the same scruffy sidewalks where Edith Piaf was born on a policeman’s cape and commenced her warbling for a few paltry sous, and from whose hills Guy Debord tumbled down to beller from the bowels of The Spectacle. It is also where one finds the most thriving indie rock, pop, folk, electro clubs in the City of Light: Le Nouveau Casino, La Fleche D’Or, La Feline, Le Studio de L’hermitage, the Bellevilloise—and La Maroquinerie.
The Maroquinerie, like the Nouveau Casino, hosts a range of mildly known indie acts signed to labels but not yet able to pack the masses into the venues upwards of the Zenith (an identity that is sometimes strained by the FNAC-ification of advance tickets for some of their shows). Indeed, some of their artists do outgrow their 500-client capacity and move on to play bigger venues, as the sensational Franco-Finnish duo the Do have done recently. Other groups that have or will soon grace their basement stage include a range of artists spanning genres from dub and funk to indie folk. However, the majority of their acts can be classified as indie or experimental rock. An incomplete list of local and international acts includes The Silver Mount Zion, Dub Incorporation, Black Lips, Gore Gore Girls, 65 Days of Static, The Long Blonds, The Bellrays, Flogging Molly, Tokyo Police Club, Band of Horses, and Buck 65.
The Maroquinerie is connected to a Cultural Center and offers an inexpensive bar-restaurant, boasting a charming terrace during the warmer months (try the copious assiette de charcuterie for about 11euros). Like Rastignac it looks down on the city from the promontory of Menilmontant, a skip away from the Parc de Belleville, the art-squat La Miroiterie, Jim Morrison and Rastignac’s Pere Lachaise, and the charmingly orphaned Les Trois Arts bar in all points of the vane. Next door to it is another fine bar-resto concert space, La Bellevilloise, and across the street on the corner of rue de Boyer and rue Menilmontant lies the happening little Café des Sports. Indeed, one could counsel a jolly musical bar crawl from one end of the little street to the other.
The Marock is frequently the host to an ongoing series of important national and local festivals, such as Les Femmes S’en Mêlent, Lo-fi Folk, and Les Inrocks. For those searching for affordable honesty in a global capital struggling to negotiate the lines between tourism, art, and commerce, the La Maroquinerie is an essential resource.
23 Rue de Boyer, 20th
Ph: 01 40 33 35 05
Métro: Menilmontant (2)