Yesterday, I met up with a motley crew of creative ex-pats: an architecture professor/tour guide, an architect intern/waiter, a chef, and an IT whiz/trumpet player learning French in Paris. We began at the Philippe Starck-designed hotel and bar, Mama Shelter in the 20th arrondisement, situated across from music venue  La Fleche D’or. It has some of the best cocktails in town and with rooms running at around 110 euros per night, it’s my top recommendation for hotels in Paris. The restaurant, bar and patio spaces are well-designed and quirky, but I do wish there was more of a lounge in the lobby. I settled into an arm chair between the pizzeria and the restaurant and quickly got consumed with a book on Eugene Atget’s photography before everyone arrived and we moved to the patio.

The neighborhood is edgy, up and coming and laid back, qualities hard to find in such an old city. Still, for those who still desire picturesque Paris, there are still cobblestone pedestrian-only streets leading to magnificent churches and old ladies peering out of mansard roof windows. In the streets and cafes, an energy buzzes: things are happening in this neighborhood. As I walked from the Porte de Bagnolet metro stop, I encountered only one non-minority, which never happens in central Paris. Also, a toddler carrying a surprisingly real model toy-rifle. This would be against the law in New York City (as canvassed across the subway system in educational advertisements).  The fear of course is whether gentrification, as we have know it from cities across the world, is in Père Lachaise’s future: an immigrant neighborhood becomes targeted by musicians, artists and then designer hotels. We’ll see what happens here. For now, it’s still a breath of alternative air in an otherwise conservative city.

Afterward cocktails, the Chef, IT whiz and I went searching for another local bar and were magnetically drawn in by the sound of “Sweet Home Alabama” (forgive our Americaness!)  playing from Café La Goguette. With 5 euro pints and a dance party breaking out on a Tuesday night, we determined that we had found quite a gem. Battling a rain shower, we ran to the nearest café, L’Abribus Café, which had a deceptively typical French corner bistro exterior and really quirky interior décor (and an upstairs kitchen).  Almost everything was under 10 euros and had quite large servings. The Chef and the IT whiz recommend the couscous (of which there are 10 varieties).

For more on the neighborhood, check out photographs of  Père Lachaise with a Lomo camera and a show at  La Fleche D’or  from Untapped Paris.

Mama Shelter 109, Rue de Bagnolet

Café La Goguette 73, Rue de Bagnolet

L’Abribus Café 54, Rue de Bagnolet

Metro: M3 to Porte de Bagnolet or Gambetta

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