One of the best places to get an impression of “old Paris” is rue Montorgueil, Paris’s oldest market street. In some ways, it seems hardly changed since Claude Monet immortalized it in his painting “La Rue Montorgueil” back in 1878. As ever, this delightful, grey-tiled street is lined with fruit/vegetable markets, butchers, fishmongers, bakeries, and cheese shops. You may feel transported in time as you listen to the merchants calling out, encouraging you to inspect their fresh salmon, cuts of meat, or sweet, sweet strawberries, three baskets for the price of two.
That said, in the last two years, a Starbucks, a sleek, new sushi restaurant and a glittery mini-market has found its way onto this centuries-old street – and there is lots of disgruntled talk about a “hypermarché” (huge supermarket) coming to the neighborhood soon. Better get to rue Montorgueil fast, before much of its old-world charm disappears forever. In addition to the street itself, here are three historic places of which you should take note:
1. Au Rocher de Cancale
This traditional bistro is one of Paris’s oldest, dating back to 1846. Back then, it was a swanky restaurant, primarily featuring oysters served fresh from the Cancale region of France and catering to customers no less renowned than Balzac and Stendhal. Today, the bistro’s clientele is much less hoity-toity, but it continues to offer good food (including oysters from the Cancale) at a reasonable price. Should you go, don’t forget to check out the restaurant’s neo-Renaissance façade – soot-stained and exquisitely ornate, it’s almost a full century older than the bistro itself.
78, rue Montorgueil, 75002 Paris. Open daily, Mon-Sat. 8am-2am; Sun. 8am-9pm.Tel.: 01 42 33 50 29.
2. Pâtisserie Stohrer
Paris’s oldest pastry shop is easily identifiable on rue Montorgueil – just look for the place where the pastries displayed in the window glitter like jewels. This patisserie was founded in 1730 by Nicolas Stohrer, the former pastry chef of Versailles and creator of the decadent French dessert, Baba au Rhum. In case you’re wondering why the shop feels so elegantly old-fashioned, get your eyes off those delicious pastries and look at the romantic murals that grace the wall and ceiling. They were painted by Paul Baudry and date back to the mid-19th century.
51, rue Montorgueil, 75002 Paris. Open daily, 7:30am – 8:30pm. Tel. 1 42 33 38 20,
3. L’Escargot Montorgueil
Three guesses – what do you think L’Escargot Montorgueil’s specialty is? Right you are! Snails. This stylish restaurant has been serving snails to famed personages such Sarah Bernhardt, Marcel Proust, and Charlie Chaplin for nearly two centuries. You can have snails prepared at least nine different ways, from snails with Madras curry to snail-stuffed baked potatoes. If the thought of snacking on snails doesn’t go down well with you, but you want to bask in the restaurant’s old-world ambience, you can sample some of the other delicacies on their menu – frogs’ legs, anyone? Don’t worry – they serve a mean steak, too.
38, rue Montorgueil, 75002 Paris. Open daily, Noon-2:30, 7:00pm-10:00pm (7pm-11pm, Sat.) Tel: 33 1 42 36 83 51.
Photo of French pastries from Stohrer, Paris by yuzu