The Place de la Bastille can be a truly exciting stop at a historical and social centerpiece of Paris, but it can also be overwhelming and confusing. At night, you’ll behold hoards of young people orbiting the Place de la Bastille, many of them pulled towards the pulsing nightlife of Rue de la Roquette, and older people exiting the Opéra de la Bastille. Every Paris-wanderer finds themselves on the Place at some point, looking for food. To help you get your bearings, here is a definitive ranking of the seven cafés sitting on the busy square where the French Revolution began.
1. Café des Phares
7 Place de la Bastille
The self-proclaimed “first philosophical café in Paris,” Café de Phares sits on the west side of Place de la Bastille on the same plot as the infamous former prison. Featuring a full brasserie menu at a reasonable price and a prime view of the bustling Place, this café is the premier destination for those looking for the best on-the-Bastille experience. Ample seating and quality service set this café apart—even from its more expensive and chic counterparts—because of the surprising intimacy of the sprawling terrace and classic interior. As for the philosophical quirk, Sunday mornings are when crowds of professors and eager lifelong students gather to discuss ideas and the meaning of existence from 11am-1pm, if one is so inclined.
2. Café Français
1-3 Place de la Bastille
Next to Café des Phares and also sitting directly on the plot of the prison, Café Français offers a more high-end experience with augmented prices. The cuisine here is more conceptual, yet it’s filling nonetheless. For example, this café’s take on the classic croque madame is a thin 12″ slice of toast with the classic sunny side up egg in the middle. The terrace is fortified with a faux marble-walled garden and glass panels to protect against the inevitable rain, while the chic interior makes the most of modern French minimalism.
14 Place de la Bastille
Indiana is not an homage to Midwestern cuisine in reference to the Hoosier State, but rather an American-Mexican fusion restaurant with some of the most interesting food in the neighborhood. Fair warning: the ownership has taken some rather racist liberties with the use of Native American symbols, on coasters and napkins, for example, marking a classic French malentendu. If you can forgive them for their mistake, the cocktails and spicy food here are great for any meal or snack, whether it be a late night destination or just somewhere to kickoff the evening with a margarita and nachos.
4. Café Rey
1 Rue du Faubourg Saint-Antoine
Café Rey is a no-frills, brick and mortar café with a classic French menu and simple black-and-white aesthetics. Pinched in alongside Rue du Faubourg Saint-Antoine, the foot traffic can make dining au terrace here a bit risky, but it’s still a great place to take in the bustling Bastille.
5. Club Affaires
Club Affaires has perhaps the best view of any of the cafes on Place de la Bastille since it sits right beside the controversial architecture of the Opéra, but it is way overpriced for the actual quality of the food. No cocktail here is under 10€, and the food is disappointing despite prices creeping beyond the twenties. Come for the view, but don’t stay for much else.
6. Le Bastille
Despite taking on a bold title, there is little else daring about this measly café on the doorstep of the buzzing Rue de la Roquette. Pinched on the corner with a barebones menu and a minimal wine list, Le Bastille is a poor harbinger for what is otherwise a great hub of nightlife on its street.
7. Le Falstaff
10-12 Place de la Bastille
Greeted by a lit-up androgynous pink mannequin, the Falstaff’s greatest attribute is that it is open 24/7, drawing the kind of hoi palloi that can make such a place either really interesting or downright uncomfortable. Expect minimal to egregiously inattentive service with a bare-bones menu and overpriced drinks. Its view of the Column de Juillet is something to behold, and its placement by the Métro can make it tempting, but little else about the Falstaff is remotely endearing.