July 19 2010
My favourite park in Paris isn’t the sprawling, rather grubby Bois de Boulogne or the manicured Tuileries. Rather, it’s the Parc des Buttes Chaumont, that forgotten patch of green space in the northeastern corner landscaped from a quarry in the 19th century as an artful entertainment for the huddled masses: its varied topography was intended to act as a tableau vivant of France’s countryside for the sans-culottes who would never see beyond the bounds of Paris.
I have long picnicked on the steep slopes there in summer, gazing out across the city and chowing down on crusty baguettes. Now, though, there’s an added lure to linger. Rosa Bonheur is a café/bar-cum-store by day; it sells delicious bottles of rosé for €15 or so as well as light meals – the last time I was in Paris, it saved an undercatered, over-attended picnic from disaster, since we simply made regular sorties for new bottles as more guests materialised.
But come dusk, Rosa Bonheur transforms – and that’s when I love it most. The ramshackle neighbourhood bistro morphs into a chic, supper club-like lounge that caters to the fashion and media crowd; originally, entrance was password-protected, but now insiders are issued with membership cards to help them slip past the tight velvet rope of the tiny space. The hut-like building is surrounded by wooden benches where models and those that love them dawdle; it’s fenced off from the park by bouncers and metal railings. But a friend told me the simple way to bypass this: I simply lingered by the door in the late afternoon as the railings were erected, and was grandfathered in among the bobo beauterati. After an afternoon sunning on the slopes, the only problem was: I wished I’d brought a change of clothes.