Rue Oberkampf: I Followed Jeffrey Iverson’s Tips and Here’s What Happened

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Rue Oberkampf: I Followed Jeffrey Iverson’s Tips and Here’s What Happened

Paris is a city of flâneurs, walkers who amble through streets watching people and their actions. But when Paris writer Jeffrey T Iverson describes the style and energy of a street in his Bonjour Paris Live webinar series, walkers become more than flâneurs. They become educated explorers with a map in hand, knowing what places to visit but also inspired by finding clues of the street’s history and its ultimate transformation to keep up with today’s ever changing Paris. Plus, real explorers are open to personal experiences like connections with strangers, finding Invader street art or a cat hiding in a window.

For the second time, I visited rue Oberkampf. My first visit was prior to hosting the March 10 Bonjour Paris Live webinar featuring Iverson talking about the street. I wanted to be knowledgeable for the webinar but afterwards when I learned the history of Oberkampf and Iverson’s recommendations of what to experience, I wanted to return to explore. Plus, on the first visit I found 10 Invaders in the area. Could there be more? 

My husband and I chose to revisit on a sunny Saturday, which turned out to be a lively day for the street. First stop was Le 18, a suggestion by webinar attendee Heather. Iverson didn’t cover the lower section of Oberkampf between Boulevard des Filles du Calvaire and Boulevard Voltaire so he didn’t include it. Le 18 is a wine bar that serves food and has jazz nights. It wasn’t open yet when I visited but several people were busy prepping the bar for the afternoon and evening. Small, but elegant, the wines offered were modern styles with plenty of bio brands.

Once past Boulevard Richard-Lenoir, rue Oberkampf became extra lively as a marché filled the street with all ages of people looking at tables full of clothes, shoes, décor, books, jewelry and other treasures old and new. One seller said her mother had recently died so she was selling items her family didn’t want. Several young women were interested in faux pearl jewelry and a woman was inspecting a red glass vase. I suspect it was a good sales day for the daughter.

Around all the market were the locations mentioned by Iverson. First stop was Le Verre Volé, a natural wine store opened in 2002. The walls were stacked with bottles of wine and several people were lined up to purchase as I passed by. All were young and the man at the counter was giving advice about each bottle to his customer.  

The butcher, Affûté, had sausages hung above glass cabinets filled with beef, pork, lamb and prepared dishes like cordon bleu, tomate farcie and aiguillette panée. From filet mignon to beefsteak, from rolled pork to ground lamb sticks, to French beef for burgers, the claim that Affûté is the “boucherie de quartier” (neighborhood butcher shop) was obvious by the crowd lined up to take home a delight for dinner. 

Many of the other foodie places suggested by Iverson were full of people as it was nearing lunchtime. Will’s Deli featuring American pastrami sandwiches had the kitchen window open with a view of the chefs and the rich smell of pastrami was beginning to draw a crowd. The French Bastards boulangerie had a line of people of all ages for their exceptional breads, viennoiseries and patisseries. The modernized Chez l’Auvergnat cheese and épicerie also had several customers. Café Charbon, which describes itself as a “brasserie atypique”, was packed, even the outside tables next to the brightly painted street artist wall. Maitre Dattier, which was filled with baskets of dates, had several people choosing between plain dates and chocolate covered ones. For me, chocolate covered of course. 

Affûté butcher shop. Credit: Martha Sessums

Our choice for lunch was at Le Camion qui Fume which offers a nice selection of gourmet hamburgers including veggie and smashed. According to Iverson, it started as a food truck. We ordered classic burgers and by the time we left, the restaurant was almost full. Service was gracious and efficient by a young woman who wanted to practice her English with us. We prefer to speak French so it was a funny two language conversation for ordering our food and when she delivered it. Smiles all around and the burgers were very good. 

On my first visit to rue Oberkampf, we ate at Pierre Sang, which turned out was one of Iverson’s suggestions. It features a French/Korean menu designed depending on seasonal ingredients. It was full when we passed the restaurant but I exchanged smiles with a woman seated at a window table. We walked a little way past the restaurant on a side street then turned around to return to Oberkampf and saw the woman who had just left the restaurant. “C’est magnifique,” she said. 

Restaurant Pierre Sang. Credit: Martha Sessums

Five steps later we passed the window area where she had been sitting and saw the waiter cleaning the table. I pointed to the table then to my husband and me and the waiter nodded and smiled. We entered the restaurant and met the waiter at the table who sat us down. He then asked if we had reservations. Truthful, we said “non.” He thought for a second then shrugged his shoulders and asked us if we wanted a three-, five- or six-course lunch. We choose three and had a delightful meal of very fresh dishes featuring meat and fish in interesting and delightful sauces. Sometimes it’s about serendipity, plus Pierre Sang is a great Iverson recommendation.

I had to explore the passageway at 104-106 to see the blue elephant facade that Iverson said was once part of a pavilion in the 1900 World’s Fair. Halfway down was the amazing panel of carved blue elephants walking in a row at the base of a second floor window. Beautiful purple flowers were beginning to bloom outlining their march. History with a spring touch.

On the way out of the passageway we discovered a cat in an apartment window. Enjoying the spring sunshine, he gave us the usual cat stare then turned his head. He had seen enough.  

There is a lot of street construction along parts of rue Oberkampf so it was difficult to get to the square around Marché Popincourt to see the antique stores. I suspect they were probably a part of the street market. However, I found another Invader and racked up 30 points.  

Newly found Invader on rue Oberkampf. Credit: Martha Sessums

One of the beauties of rue Oberkampf is its combination of old and new and how well they work together. Iverson said it’s a neighborhood in transition, but a good transition as a wide variety of ages – from couples with kids to older people with walking sticks – along with diversity in food forms and people all add to the energy of the street. Along with the trending stores and restaurants on Iverson’s list was a wide variety of neighborhood stores from an ancient cordonnerie (shoe repair) and serrurerie (locksmith) to inexpensive grocery stores and plenty of take away foods from Asian to sandwich. The combination adds up to many lively neighborhood businesses that fully support the community. 

And I found a second Invader on rue Oberkampf, earning 50 points when flashed. It was an easy one to miss as it was located low on the wall just above the sidewalk and totally black.  

Thank you, Jeffrey, for the great introduction to rue Oberkampf. Now I must explore Passage Choiseul, a shopping arcade in the theater district that will be the street explored in Iverson’s next webinar. Whew. Can I keep up?

Lead photo credit : Rue Oberkampf has become a destination for foodies. Photo credit © Jeffrey T Iverson/ France Today

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Intrigued by France since her first stroll along the Seine, Martha and her husband often travel to Paris to explore the city and beyond. She lives part-time on the Île de la Cité and part-time in the San Francisco Bay Area, delighting in its strong Francophone and French culture community. She was a high-tech public relations executive and currently runs a non-profit continuing education organization. She also works as the San Francisco ambassador for France Today magazine.