SoPi: South Pigalle, the Next Marais in the Paris Ninth

Enough speaking in code.  ‘So-Pi’ is a somewhat controversial new moniker for the residential area in the ninth just south of Pigalle, roughly speaking, around the rue de Martyrs market street, down to Notre Dame de Lorette, and incorporating a bit of Nouvelle Athennes to the west.  I became enchanted with this lively and wonderfully un-touristy quarter this fall.  A chance conversation with two rather-hip young moms during a Saturday afternoon book signing at Chajin, (one of my favorite salons du thé over near Place de la Madeleine),  had me on the 67 bus the next day to check out a terrific sounding tea and chocolate shop on rue Monnier.  More on that shortly. The two moms and I were talking about tea and chocolate while enjoying inspired matcha-filled chocolates from Mazet (on avenue Victor Hugo, in the 16th) which are made with Chajin’s top quality matcha.  I mentioned that I wanted to walk the rue de Martys and explore the surrounding neighborhood, as I’d heard it was a worth-a-visit market street.  I also wanted to check out the teas at Rose Bakery, which has been garnering much positive press lately.  I had already visited the marvelous little jewel-boite of a tea salon, Les Cakes de Bertrand, adjacent to the lovely Eglise Notre Dame de Lorette on a previous trip to Paris for inclusion in my new guide to Paris tea salons. As so often happens in Paris, serendipities ensued.  These two young women were from that exact neighborhood and as we commenced to sip tea and chat, they provided me with a spirited primer about their quarter.  Come on a Sunday they said. I did, gladly so. On Sundays the generally busy rue de Martyrs is closed to traffic, at least until early afternoon.  The neighborhood turns out in force to chat, sip, sit, shop and generally celebrate their petite village.  The mix of folks is most felicitous.  There are substantial numbers of older residents who have called the quarter home for decades.  Then there are the young in-migrants, including savvy bo-bo’s, artists, and a remarkable number of families.  Kids and cute babies seem to be everywhere, adding their energy to the inspired mix. My new friends had explained that the quarter has seen a steady increase in new residents, typically generally younger, often artistic or otherwise creative adults who frequently buy two of the typically small apartments and then renovate them into one larger space.  Prices, no surprise, are rising steadily.  What about open space for all those kids?  This is a densely populated neighborhood, but one that it turns out is full of buildings that are built around central gardens and interior greenswards, providing welcome greenery and peace.  “If you could see this quarter from the air”, they said, “you would be amazed how much open space there is. You just can’t see it from the street.”  And there is a very sweet little park and play ground at the bottom of rue de Martyrs where it crosses rue de Notre Dame de Lorette. The next Marais?  Well, who knows.  Right now, this very engaging quarter within the ninth is definitely trending in the branché bo bo direction but remains absolutely real and not catering to visitors as a significant part of its raison d’etre.  That is precisely its charm.  Museums in the neighborhood include the quirky and fascinating Gustave Moreau museum and the Musée de la Vie Romantique.  Architecture tends to the classical style with some beautiful buildings on place St. Georges.  There are small theaters and historic artist’s ateliers.  The quarter has traditionally been home to writers and artists, counting Georges Sand, Chopin, Renoir and others among its habitués. In the nourishment department, there is a superb patissier, Arnaud Delmontel who is a definite up-and-comer, located at #39 rue de Martyrs.  Try the cherry and pistachio flavored financiers and you’ll be back very, very soon.  Across the street from Delmontel, the Rose Bakery/Epicerie, 46 rue de Martyrs, is a disarmingly sweet little bakery/café owned by a Franco-English couple which explains the superb scones, carrot cake and Montgomery Farmhouse cheddar along with beautiful soups and salads.  Fifteen plus teas are available too.  Rue de Martyrs also sports excellent food shops and shops with all due necessities of Parisian living.  There are various small bistros on rue de Martyrs, and a terrific selection of French and ethnic restaurants on nearby rue St. Georges, leading up towards the Theatre St. Georges from rue St. Lazare. And that chocolate shop?  It is Natier, located at 1, rue Henry Monnier.  They are not open on Sundays or Mondays, but are very worth a stop on other days.  Madame Leterrier is the personable proprietaire of this cleanly designed, modern little shop with killer chocolates and a large selection of bulk teas from top purveyor, Le Palais de Thés.  She is a knowledgeable enthusiast about tea and chocolate.  She is also happy to talk about the neighborhood and is a fount of information (in French primarily) on all three topics.  And those chocolates are vaut le voyage! Thanks.Sally Peabody is a Paris Specialist.  She invites Bonjour Paris readers who love tea and chocolate to consider joining her fabulous new Tea..Chocolate..Paris tour in April of ’07.  Details on or email sally at [email protected]
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