Faubourg Saint-Antoine: The Other Marais by Docent Bernard Zirnheld

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While the Marais has grown in popularity with tourists over the past ten years, the Faubourg-Saint Antoine – a little-visited neighborhood just across the Place de la Bastille — remains the province of Parisians. The neighborhood stretches along the boundary of the eleventh and twelfth arrondissements and is bisected by the rue du Faubourg Saint-Antoine (not to be confused with the rue Saint-Antoine in the Marais).Faubourg Saint-Antoine has long been a district of craftsmen. Woodworkers and furniture makers have concentrated their workshops here since the fifteenth century and the neighborhood is still home to a robust design and artisan community.

This workshop tradition gave rise to a unique form of nineteenth-century architecture: the passage industriel. In many ways the productive twin to the Parisian shopping arcade, passages industriels were created as live-work spaces for craftsmen. They are narrow, alley-like courts lined by glass-fronted workshops with worker housing often located above. As you make your way down the rue du Faubourg Saint-Antoine or the rue de Charonne, look for large passageways set in rather conventional street facades. They have names like the Cour de l’Étoile d’Or or le Passage du Chantier or the twin Cours Saint-Joseph and J. Vigues. Don’t be shy. If you peek into the cobbled passages that lie beyond you’ll find some of the most stylish urban oases in Paris.

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The passages industriels of Faubourg Saint-Antoine have largely been appropriated by contemporary designers and craftsmen which lends the neighborhood a decidedly “bobo”, or “bourgeois bohemian”, character. Often you’ll find these are the studios of the very people who create the merchandise we ogle in the windows of the more fashionable Marais. Indeed, the backstreets of Faubourg Saint-Antoine – like the rue de Charonne or the Rue Faidherbe — are lined with more individual, more affordable shops than those of the Marais.

And if you wander down to the Marché d’Aligre – a covered market hall that mushrooms into one of Paris’ largest and most lively street markets every day except Monday – you’ll probably find yourself downing oysters with the locals at the Baron Rouge (rue Théodore Roussel) with a glass of white wine drawn from the oak casks that line the walls. The Place Aligre is lined with cafés still characterized by the no-nonsense grittiness of a market place but which now come alive in the evening with thirty-something hipsters. My favorite is run by a North African Jewish family at the corner of the Place and the rue Emilio-Castelar; basically for the plate of pickled vegetables that accompany your drinks – far better than the usual peanuts!

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