If you look back at what Paris’s 13th arrondissement was in the 19th century, you would see car factories, train depots by the Seine, and chimneys — and and you wouldn’t see them very well, thanks to billowing plumes of smoke from burning coal.
Among all of that were precarious, tiny houses made of wood, home to Paris’s poorest citizens. Some of these areas were called ‘Ilots insalubres’, ‘unhealthy blocks,’ and so unhealthy that some streets were officially listed by the city hall as off-limits for respectable citizens. It was far, very far from the glamour of today.
Located in the southeastern part of Paris, the 13th arrondissement was also famous in the 19th century for stocking ice during the winter to be used in the summer months for keeping things cold and making ice-cream. Thus, it is in this neighborhood that you’ll fin the ‘Rue de la Glaciere,’ or ‘Ice Box Street.’
With its strong socialist background and low rents, the 13th as always been famous for welcoming new immigrants : the Paris Chinatown is located at Tolbiac metro station, where fine Asian cuisine – from Vietnamese to continental Chinese food are at their best. Try Pho Banh Cuon 14 (129 Avenue de Choisy), a little ‘boui-boui’(greasy spoon), with the tastiest Pho in the city. If you are more in the mood for a DIY meal, head to the local supermarket Tang Freres (48 avenue d’Ivry), where you will find all you need from Thai curry to Japanese rice.
After enjoying a good meal, the 13th is the perfect place for a digestive stroll. Don’t miss the unique Pagoda-like McDonald’s on Avenue de Choisy, then you might be tempted to head to the riverside. You might want to work in a nap at some point, though, since the banks of the Seine in this part of town are where all the fun nightlife is right now. The quai d’Austerlitz has been a buzzing scene for any emerging artists for the past five years.
Take a look at the Dame de Canton (Port de la Gare), for example. This floating concert hall located just next to Bibliotheque Francois Mitterrand (Quai Francois-Mauriac) is a traditional Cantonese shipyard built by two adventurous French men in China. The legend says it took them a decade to travel to Paris, right before they opened the space to the public. Up-and-coming local artists perform here during weekdays, mostly talented folk songwriters. It’s the perfect spot whether you want a romantic date or a family outing. There is also a tiny restaurant that offers delicious foie gras.
Want to jump ship ? Just walk a few yards down. You will find the Batofar (11 Quai Francois-Mauriac), a former all-red Irish ship with a lighthouse, organizing the most famous electro-dub nights, including events from the Weather festival, and hosting a playful sand beach from May to September, by the docks. The urban crowd will impress you with its laid back yet stylish vibes and the tiny dance floor in the boat is the perfect place to let loose.
Other options abound: Petit Bain (7 Port de la Gare), a cultural center that hosts one of the edgiest and the most eclectic performance schedules in town, from a Senegalese music to a hard metal to a three-night dubstep immersion event, it is the best place to meet curious wanderers. Speaking of wandering, don’t forget Wanderlust (32 Quai d’Austerlitz). It is said to be the it-club in Paris right now.
If you are more into discovering the hipster Mecca -and ready for a long night, go to Nuba (same founder as Baron and Calvi of the Rocks festival), which is literally next door to the Wanderlust (34 Quai d’Austerlitz). It is the open-air rooftop club of the Cite de la Mode et du Design and closes at 5 in the morning, right on time for the first metro. If you don’t stay in bed for too long, it is highly recommended to come back at noon for a delicious after-party brunch (only on Sundays). And enjoy, just one more time, the view by the Seine.