New dancing pleasure

La Guinguette – c’est chouette!

Clubs are yesterday according to Mademoiselle Lili who recently discovered a new dancing pleasure: in the good old guinguettes.


It’s the first day of spring, I iron my swinging white lace dress, put on my straw hat and get on the RER train, which takes me far beyond the gates of the city, to Champigny-sur-Marne. My destination: a real guinguette, like the ones I’ve seen so often in the paintings of Vincent van Gogh or Pierre-Auguste Renoir. For a long time, the guinguette was to Parisians what the beer garden is to Germans, a popular place to go by or on the water. In the 19th century, the grand Sunday outing for nature-hungry city-dwellers consisted in going to taverns along the Seine or Marne for lunch and dancing. And to take a rowing boat out on the river in the meantime. From the 60s, this French tradition fell dormant. Today, there are only a handful of such establishments left around Paris. One of them is Guinguette on Ile du Martin-Pêcheur (www.guinguette.fr)

When we arrived just after midday, the place was bustling. Whole families and groups of friends were doing a kind of line dancing to the accordion music of a solo entertainer in a glittering jacket who looks like a mixture of Florian Silbereisen and Claude François. The clothing of the guests, ranging from eight to 80, was unusual too: many were wearing the typical canotier straw hats, along with linen suits, marine shirts or vintage dresses with up-dos. Imagine the famous Clärchen’s Ballhaus in Berlin, and you have a fairly good idea of the crazy atmosphere which is a blend of hip and trash, retro kitsch and avant-garde, in fact, just very French: chansons instead of hits inside, snails and mussel gratin instead of curried sausage and schnitzel on the red and white checked tables outside.

“The guinguette has enjoyed a renaissance over the last few years”, said Jean-Yves Dupin, the operator, who opened the establishment in 1990. Today he is the President of the eponymous association. From March to October, when the weather is lovely on a Sunday afternoon, the place is jam-packed, just like at Chez Gégène in the neighbouring Joinville-le-pont (www.chez-gegene.fr), the oldest existing guinguette, which was already preserved for posterity in the photos of Robert Doisneau and the films of Jean Gabin and Jean-Louis Trintignant.

Those who don't want to travel quite so far will also love Bois de Boulogne, Paris’s city forest: this is the location of Châlet des Iles (www.chalet-des-iles.com). This chalet-style country house is reached by boat only from Porte de la Muette. During the Belle Epoque, it became Paris’s most popular literary café. Following a fire in 2011, the venue was recently restored to give the historic architecture a chic, contemporary interior. As soon as the shuttle boat docks, you feel like you’re on holiday. The good, fresh cuisine and the music choice, ranging from DJ sets to live dance music, provides variation, both in terms of the audience and the fashion. Before heading there you should first take a look at the website to see whether you'll need claquettes (the hipster slide sandals) or Mary Janes.