Paris created the concept of the café as well as the restaurant, of fine dining along with the picnic, so it’s little surprise that in this city each type of eatery has come to have a fairly set definition. A brasserie is not a bistrot, for example, and a bar another thing altogether. Some distinctions can get blurred in modern, multi-tasking times, of course, but one institution that has held firm is the guinguette.
A guinguette is a kind of outdoor tavern, usually found by the waterside. It tends to be a casual affair, although breezy music and lights strung around the greenery create a festive atmosphere.
Guinguettes became a thing in the eighteenth century, a time when Parisians were beginning to discover the joys of leisure time. These party gardens popped up along the Seine beyond Paris’s borders, where they were exempt from city taxes. The name was likely derived from a cheap local wine known as guinget.
It was in the Belle Époque that guinguettes boomed. Nature-loving Impressionists especially loved venturing out to them — think of the one that appears in Auguste Renoir’s Le Déjeuner des Canotiers.
Glamorous takes on guinguettes opened in Paris, too, particularly in Montmartre and the Jardins des Champs-Élysées, where they were more like al fresco balls, with Parisiennes dancing the polka in glittering gas-lit gardens.
In recent times, nostalgic Parisians have rediscovered their love of guinguettes — at the same time as they have newly embraced the Seine as the social centre of the city. And some of the most enjoyable guinguettes happen to boast a prime riverfront address, with stunning views to boot …
Part barge, part Plane-tree-shaded terrace, this is the go-to if you’re in the mood for a platter of oysters washed down with chilled, crisp rosé. Runners and cyclists whiz by on the Parc Rives de Seine, but the view to the other side, that of the time-capsule of an island that is the Île Saint-Louis, is perfectly in sync with the relaxed vibe.
To get there: It’s between the Ponts Louis-Philippe and Marie, on the Right Bank.
Like a suspended garden, this lush oasis — think plush grass and exuberant blossoms — sits atop the roof of the Bateaux-Mouches cruise company. A blend of locals and internationals comes for the creative cocktails, as well as for a vision that never gets old: the Eiffel Tower lighting up against a darkening sky. Mademoiselle Mouche is a pop-up for the warmer months, so schedule in an evening before the summer sets, too.
To get there: head down to Port de la Conférence, from the north-east point of Pont d’Alma.
Rosa Bonheur Seine
A whimsical party boat that spills out onto the lower quais of the Seine, Rosa Bonheur serves up pizza, tapas and cocktails — and a stunner of a view up to the Pont Alexandre III and Grand Palais. It’s open every day, from midday, but it’s magical as the sun is lowering, and the surrounding monuments flicker into night mode.
To get there: Scoot down the stairs at the south-east corner of the Pont Alexandre III.