On May Day — perhaps the only sunny day of the last few weeks, Parisian cool kids turned out in force for the first birthday celebration of Café A, the restaurant and bar housed within the old Couvent des Récollets, on rue du Faubourg Saint Martin. Complete with outdoor bar, hammocks, picnic tables and (silent) DJ sets, the café’s courtyard provided the perfect spot for sun-drenched imbibing and people watching.
Established in 2003, the old convent is home to 3 organisations:
- The Regional Council of Architects of the à Île de France region
- Le centre international d’accueil et d’échange des récollets, which provides accommodation for visiting artists and researchers from around the world
- Maison de l’Architecture en à Île de France, an organisation promoting architectural practise and training and interdisciplinary interaction within the construction industry and the arts for the à Île de France region. Café A caters for conferences, expositions and soirées hosted by the organisation, as well as private functions and a number of regular evenings run by a collective of Parisian DJs from the Le Mellotron & What the Funk Paris stables, as well as live swing, jazz, soul & funk gigs.
The convent was endorsed in 1603 by Marie de Medici and Henri IV for an order of Franciscan friars, and is of an austere architectural style typical to French religious buildings of the 17th & 18th centuries. The convent was confiscated during the Revolution in 1789 and housed soldiers of the National Guard, after which it became a spinning mill and subsequently a hospice for incurables in 1802 — around which time the street elevation of the chapel received a neo-classical remodel.
In 1861 it became the Military Hospital of Saint Martin, and due to its proximity to the Gare du Nord and the Gare de l’Est saw a lot of action during both World Wars and France’s war in Algeria, it closed after the latter in 1968. The building then became a canvas for a collective of art squatters known as the Anges des Récollects, whom were even licensed by the state to live and work here.
Located just beside the Gare de l’Est in the 10th arrondissement — we are in a ‘bobo’ neighbourhood that is still rough-around-the-edges enough to be subversively trendy, a key trait for the trending venues of la rive droite (cases in point: Le 104, Le Comptoir Generale, La Bellvilloise), and just a 2 minute walk from the Canal Saint Martin (and my apartment, bonus!).
The 2003 renovations by architects Karine Chartier & Thomas Corbasson is almost an anti-development, whereby existing original walls, staircases and murals are retained and celebrated, and volumes and spaces returned to original proportions and integrity. A design approach that respects the many lives of the building and the protected heritage elements within.
Parisian explorer and writer Adam Roberts gives a poetic description of the various traces & murals he encounters in his visit back in 2009.
The stripped and tactile double-height walls of the main Café space are broken down by a partial mezzanine floor, which creates a cosy spatial antithesis to the double height volumes and walled courtyard outside. This serves as the perfect spot for an intimate apéro or tranquil working space. During the day there is always at least one creative-looking type poring over a a laptop or iPad, and DJ decks are often installed under the mezzanine for an evening boogie.
Admittedly I have yet to dine at Café A, but after several daytime and evening visits, I can confirm sightings of many happy and satisfied diners tucking into well-presented dishes with decent sized portions and great looking produce.
The chapel’s original timber barrel-vault roof and bunker-like walls provide a moody setting with great acoustics for seminars and live music / DJ sessions.
Due to daytime neighbourhood noise restrictions, music during the day is provided by two DJs on separate silent disco channels. Whilst most folk seemed to prefer the low level music emanating from the café interior and conversation with friends, others were happy to dance with headphones in smaller groups. I’m not sure which channel he was following, but one member of staff was having a fantastic time working his way between the kitchen and courtyard tables. Mid-evening the celebrations and DJs moved inside from the courtyard, where dancing continued without head phones.
Wishing Café A many happy returns on your birthday, may you continue to bring fun and music to our neighbourhood for many years to come!
How to get there:
148 rue due Faubourg Saint Martin [Map]
Metro: Gare de l’Est