The Canal St. Martin area makes for one picturesque and very Parisian stroll in the capital, with its quais punctuated by pop-up shops, trendy boutiques, arty bookshops, cozy cafés and art/music spaces. Linked with the canal’s history is the mythical Hotel du Nord, which has been standing on Quai de Jemmapes since 1885. It was a second home at that time for many workers and sailors docking along the canal, and dubbed the “Hotel of the Flying Lice” due to bedlinen being aired out of the hotel windows onto the street below by its chambermaids.
A collection of short stories on the life of the characters revolving around the hotel was published in 1929 by the owner’s son Eugène Dabit, which was adapted into a movie by Marcel Carné in 1938. “Atmosphère, atmosphère”¦ do I look like atmosphère to you?” goes the famous line from the film by the actress Arletty as she argues with Louis Jouvet while standing on a bridge over the canal with Hotel du Nord in the background. The film immortalized the building and the canal, drawing curious tourists and film buffs to see the cult classic structure, even though most of it was shot in a studio in Boulogne-Billancourt.
The hotel escaped demolition in 1984, thanks to an association whose president was Arletty, who played a prostitute in Carné’s film. Its faà§ade was saved and reopened in 1993, until the 27-year old Julien Labrousse (who also recently renovated the concert hall Le Trianon) stepped in as the new proprietor in 2005.
Three months of renovations later, Hotel du Nord transformed into a 1930s brasserie with red velour booths, parquet floors, heavy zinc bar top counters and a cozy terrace fronting the canal. At the far end of the restaurant is a library, where one can curl up on the couches with a cup of coffee and browse through books from the shelves.
Chef Pascal Brébant’s menu is hearty and modern, and if you’re just there for a quick break they have a wide selection of Betjeman & Barton (ask for the tea menu). A meal here is a step back in time, where you can imagine playing a part in a black-and-white film in the 30s. As Arletty said, it’s all about atmosphere.
Hotel du Nord
102 quai de Jemmapes 75010
Metro: line 5 (Jacques Bonsergent, Republique)
Cafe open everyday from 9am to 1:30am
Restaurant open everyday from 12am-3pm, 8pm-midnight