In Review: Au Chat Noir Performance Cafe and Bar

Looking for a bygone bohemian Paris? You've found it

The Paris cafe Au Chat Noir's emblem is, you guessed it, a stylized black cat.
© 2006 Phasme. Some rights reserved under the Creative Commons License.

This charming Parisian cafe and bar located near the lively Belleville district is an appealing addition to Paris's cafe théâtre scene. Not to be confused with the legendary Montmartre cabaret Le chat noir, an emblem of the 19th century bohemian movement, Au Chat Noir boasts an eclectic program of music, theatre, film, and art, attracting a cosmopolitan audience. It's also one of the cafes in Paris most favored by students and writerly types: you can order a good Americano, plug in your laptop, and get inspired at one of the Chat's humble wooden tables.

Read related: Best Student-Friendly Cafes in Paris 

The Lowdown

Pros:

  • Interesting program
  • Free events
  • Traditional Parisian cafe atmosphere
  • Free Wifi

Cons:

  • Limited food menu
  • No-frills facilities-- a shabby-charming ambience reigns here

Practical Information:

  • Address: 76, rue Jean-Pierre Timbaud, 11th arrondissement
  • Tel.: +33 (0)1 48 06 98 22
  • Metro: Parmentier (line 3) and Couronnes (line 2)
  • Open: Tuesday to Sunday, 10 a.m.- 2 a.m.; Monday evenings only
  • Music: Jazz and International
  • Theatre: Literary interpretations
  • Cinema: Short-film screenings
  • Program details and reservations (in French)
  • To eat: Sparse brasserie fare (omelets, sandwiches, etc.)
  • Drinks: Full bar; 3-8 Euros (approx. $4-$10.50)
  • Dress code: None
  • Crowd: International; all ages

The Setting

It’s during a lazy Sunday afternoon spent strolling around Belleville that a friend and I stumble on this ramshackle (but charming) cafe. From the exterior, there's little to distinguish this venue from numerous others in the area, but the soft lighting, suggested ambiance, and vintage Parisian exterior lull us in on a whim.

Read related: Best Nightlife Districts in Paris

Appearances

The interior is classic Parisian cafe/brasserie, with run-of-the-mill Paris-style decor and an international clientele.

The squalid cafe restroom is not a myth in Paris, and Au Chat Noir is no exception. If restroom cleanliness is high on your agenda, you will be nonplussed in the city of light, where more often than not, even great cafes get low scores in this area.

We were spared the observation to some extent here, though, as neither bathroom had a functioning light.

Drinks and Ambiance

There are no big surprises in the drinks menu, and prices are in keeping with the area (3 Euros/approx. $4 for beer/wine; 6.50 Euros/approx. $8.50 for cocktails) so we order a couple of mediocre cocktails and settle in for the evening.

Read related: Best Cocktail Bars in Paris

The Mood

The guitars and other musical instruments dotted around the room suggest that music is on the cards, but when we spot a musician leaving, we realize we have probably missed out. Board games are provided for the customers, making this café a good place to lounge and linger on a dreary Sunday.

Entertainment

The literary and artistic events are generally a free-for-all, where you can just show up, order a drink, and take advantage of the entertainment on offer. The basement room is a regular host to contemporary art exhibitions.

Concerts and other musical performances are almost always on the menu here, and with a concert program filled with influences from around the globe (Latin-American, Romanian, Kurdish, etc.) expect an original, ethnically rich experience. Tickets for these concerts should be pre-reserved to avoid disappointment.

Read related: Paris for Music Lovers

The Sunday Program

With the prospect of a scrabble contest en français too much for our week-weary brains, we check out the flyer being distributed by a staff member. The Sunday program includes three separate acts, all performed in French:

  • An interpretation of New Yorker Damon Runyon's "Butch Minds the Baby".
     
  • A guitar-and-sitar-accompanied recital of the poetry and prose of 19th-century poets Charles Baudelaire and Edgar Allen Poe (fitting, since Baudelaire translated many of Poe's works into French) .
     
  • A performance of the adolescent French poet and writer Arthur Rimbaud’s gloomy Une saison en enfer ("A season in hell").

The Acts

The ongoing Sunday events are free of charge and open to any of the café’s patrons. We decide to give the Rimbaud act a go and head for the basement, where the show has already begun.

We are quietly ushered into a darkened room and try to make our way inconspicuously to one of the empty seats. The audience is an undefinable mix of earnest students, suffering artists, and some elderly tourists.

The set is basic, and the room has an intimate theatre feel. The actor is engaging and seems to do a good job of ignoring the comings and goings of the sparse crowd. Unsurprisingly, the show is far from uplifting, so unless you have a particular weakness for Rimbaud, twenty minutes or so is probably going to be enough for you. (It was for us, and we leave the serious fans to it.)

Lasting Impressions

Au Chat Noir is perfect for Sunday afternoon lazing and culture and I would be interested to return and sample the music on offer. Tourists with a soft spot for French literature will be pleased with the Sunday program, which gives a glimpse of an otherwise overpriced Parisian theatre scene.

More Places to Explore in the Area:

Also make sure to check out our complete guide to the Menilmontant-Gambetta neighborhood, which is in close reach of the Chat Noir and is one of the city's most coveted areas for nightlife and live music from independent bands.