L’Afrique C’est Chic
Words by Judith Tachie Menson
Paris is known and loved the world over as the land of berets, macaroons, the Mona Lisa, le Tour Effeil, and boulevards lined with classic architecture. It turns out that is also home to some extremely Hip African pockets.
The spot leading the way in bringing African vibes to Paris is undoubtedly Le Comptoir Général. The name translates to something like ‘standard drinking post’, a major (and of course deliberate) understatement for what it really is: an important Parisian institution showcasing a subtle, original and compelling side of Africa.
Created in 2010, and located on the Canal Saint Martin, in the super trendy 10th arrondissement, Le Comptoir – also known as the “Ghetto Museum” is in essence a bar, museum, concept store and a restaurant all at once. Despite being hidden behind an apartment block – giving it a secret feel – the 600 sq. meter space draws in hundreds of Parisians every weekend.
This unique place celebrates the creative disorder brought about by the historic interactions between Africa and France. The founders’ purpose was to shed light on France’s colonial past, and to question a chapter that is often overlooked in French society and in education. Though the topic can become controversial, the spirit and energy of the bar is actually more politically playful and open-minded than heavy going. And incredibly chilled.
“This unique place celebrates the
creative disorder brought about by the historic interactions
between Africa and France.”
Le Comptoir Général is a meticulously designed and curated jungle. The old chandeliers, deep red carpet and paintings on the walls in the entrance give your arrival a ceremonial feel. Inside the space is filled with eye catching, and rather random artefacts. For example, you may find quirky images of African hairstyles placed next to dinosaur bones from the Congo Bay. The shabby chic and mismatched furniture, an abundance of tropical plants, barrels, trunks maps and curious African items create a mystic and adventurous vibe. Like an invitation to travel, an impressive boat shaped bar is where you order your drinks. Try their signature “Secousse” cocktail, made from Bissap, vodka, passion fruit and cucumber, or even a Flag, a Togolese beer.
Le Comptoir has become a major in the Parisian scene. On Friday nights you can find a melting pot of races and cultural backgrounds all getting down to West African Afrobeat and Azonto, as well as those 1990’s Hip hop and R&B sounds that you forgot you missed. During the day at Le Comptoir you can sample African style brunches, watch programmed movies and documentaries for free, or check out the on site vintage bookshop.
The restful atmosphere of Comptoir is embodied in its fashionable Togolese manager, Amah Aviyi. As boss he is never very far, and is often seen gazing at the unexpected and lively harmony of his Comptoir.
Le Comptoir offers a myriad treasures and activities, and fortunately shopping is one of them. Its second-hand clothes store called Le Marché Noir is now taking a life on its own in the 3rd arrondissement.
Le Comptoir Général showcases a nuanced and creative side of Africa in the heart of the City of Light. As Gandhi said “In a gentle way you can shake the world”.
Other notable Hip African
spots and happenings in Paris
Located in the heart of Paris’ trendy 11th Arrondisement this restaurant serves up delicious West African favourites, such as Cameroonian Ndole, Aloco from Côte d’Ivoire, and Senegalese Thiep bou dièn, all in a chic and contemporary setting.
The Also Known As Africa Art Fair, whose inauguration takes place this November, will be France’s first contemporary African art fair, and Paris’ answer to London’s Africa 1-54. The fair will be held at the impressive Carreau du Temple, in Paris’ fashionable 3rd Arrondisement.
This boutique in the heart of Le Marais, which sells quirky interiors and other products from Senegal and West Africa in general, was founded in 1995. More than 20 years later it is still going strong, and is considered the go-to place to find authentic, high quality and stylish African hard and soft furnishings, as well as head wraps and bangles, in the centre of Paris.
Opened by the woman behind CSAO, in conjunction with world famous Senegalese musician cum politician, Youssou N’dor, this sparse and cutesy eatery features a short menu of Senegalese recipes with a heathy modern slant.
The Musée du quai Branly is the ultimate spot in Paris, and perhaps Europe-wide, to learn about the indigenous art and cultures of Africa, Asia, Oceania, and the Americas. Its collection includes 70,000 objects from sub-Saharan Africa, dating as far back as the 16th Century. The museum building also happens to be a wonderful, cutting edge, and eco friendly achievement.