Sunday 26 February 2012

Rue du Faubourg Saint Denis (part 1)

St Denis,
head in hands
Saint Denis is the Catholic patron saint of Paris (an honour that he shares with Saint Genevieve).  Legend has it that when he was decapitated in Montmartre he picked up his own head and walked — preaching all the way — to what is now the suburban town of Saint Denis, to the north of Paris.

If you want to walk from the centre of Paris to the Basilica of Saint Denis, start at Place du Châtelet and follow Rue Saint Denis to the north.  About two hours should do it.  You'll have plenty of opportunity to indulge in sins of the flesh before you start your pilgrimage, as the first few hundred metres of Rue Saint Denis contain some of the tackiest sex joints in town.

The name of the street changes several times along the way, the first change occurring at the Porte Saint Denis as you cross the Grands Boulevards.  Beyond that point the street becomes Rue du Faubourg Saint Denis.  (Faubourg means a part of a town outside the centre, but not as far as the banlieue.)  This is where the promenade becomes interesting!

Porte Daint Denis
(looking north)
Start by taking a good look at the Porte Saint Denis itself.  If it reminds you of the Arc de Triomphe at the top of the Champs Élysées, there's a good reason: it was built — as was the neighbouring Porte Saint Martin — to honour the great military victories of Louis XIV.  The gilded bronze inscription reads Ludovico Magno, "to Louis the Great".

The part of Rue du Faubourg Saint Denis from here up to Gare de l'Est is a true melting pot of cultures.  There are many small restaurants and cafés of different ethnic origins, along with greengrocers', spice shops and mini-markets.  The most obvious ethnic group are the Turks, with their sandwich shops and delicatessens, but there are also quite a few traditional Parisian establishments.

Among them is Le Sully, traditional in a classical way, if you see what I mean, but also in that you meet all sorts there: business people in suits, workers, students, artists, layabouts, men and women, young and old, and from all social and ethnic backgrounds — a reflection of the surrounding quartier.  For the biggest surprise, take a look at the prices.  In Paris you can expect to pay around €3 for a demi beer (25cl, approximately half a pint), more if you sit on the terrace, and more again after 10pm.  At Le Sully you'll get a pinte (50cl) for €3.50 regardless of the time.  Or how about a glass of wine for €2.20 or a cocktail for €4.00?  No surprise, then, that the place is usually quite busy.

A few doors up, on the opposite side is Julien, a fine example of the Art Nouveau style of Parisian brasserie. Well known for its traditional fare, it is worth a visit just for the décor.  The high walls are covered in great mirrors surrounded by painted mouldings and ceramics.  Between the mirrors are four nymphs representing the seasons.  Peacocks and herons hide among the flowers, and stained-glass ceilings dominate the scene.

Just across the street, in Cours des Petites Écuries is Brasserie Flo, owned by the same group.

Passage Brady
There are several arcades off Rue du Faubourg Saint Denis, covered passageways mostly housing small shops.  Passage Brady has long been colonised by Indian and Pakistani restaurants and spice shops.  More recently they have shared the space with barbershops, while the restaurant business has spread out to the main street.

If the southern part of Rue du Faubourg Saint Denis is heavily influenced by the cultures from the north of the Indian sub-continent, you might expect the northern extremity of the street to be dominated by businesses from southern India and Sri Lanka.

See Rue du Faubourg Saint Denis (part 2) — coming soon — to find out.

Getting there

  • Metro: Strasbourg - Saint-Denis (lines 4/8/9); Château d'Eau (line 4); Gare de l'Est (lines 4/5/7)

Copyright © 2012 — All Rights Reserved — Tous droits réservés
Paraic Maguire (


Sfilato said...

well written and interesting, even or especially, for an old grumpy Parisian like me !

Páraic Maguire said...

Glad you liked it, old man!