There seems little point in visiting any part of France and not sampling these best expressions of ‘La vie Française’. My personal tour of Bordeaux’s best includes:
A battered looking little café/brasserie on the Place des Grands Hommes that has foresworn a makeover in favour of retaining its faded charm and Maigret-era décor. Visit soon, before a yellow arch is thrown across the front.
Not far away in the middle of Bordeaux’s smartest and most expensive shopping district, is an almost equally distressed brasserie with a 100-year-old pedigree and an upstairs room that shouts “Edith Piaf has just left and Jean-Paul Sartre will drop by later”. Service is slow but I don’t know if that is policy or just the way they are.
Further up town there are almost too many choices around Place Gambetta, Rue des Remparts and the cathedral square but the brasserie Le Globe at Porte Dijeaux just edges it as a place to linger over a Ricard or Lillet and people-watch.
Down on Ste Catherine, where it crosses Cours Victor Hugo, the Brasserie des Arts is a popular spot with the natives to see and be seen, but if you are looking for lunch then the really cool spot is 100 metres further up Victor Hugo (ie head away from the river) at Le Palatium. Expect to queue for a table if you arrive at 1 pm – get there for 12.30 to secure a window seat and, if you have a decent appetite, order the plat du jour with a side order of frites maison.
To see Bordeaux through the eyes of a student, carry on down Ste Catherine to Place de la Victoire, and take a coffee or snack on one of the pavement cafés where students huddle, flirt and bemoan their impoverished state (over large beers). If you require broadband access, Café Auguste has a WIFI service or just around the corner on Rue de Candale, Mario is host at the ‘Heroic Sandwich’ – an internet café where some of this website was battered into shape.
Having come this far it makes sense to continue down to the Capucins market where you can take a little glass of something at the Bistrot du Marché or stroll along to ‘La Flêche’ where any one of a gaggle of pavement cafés will provide authentic Moroccan mint tea and a clear view of the markets that are held in the square. (If its lunchtime try Don Camillos on the east side of the square for Portuguese specialities in the dining room behind the bar or, on the west side, a Tapas bar flies the flag for the rest of the Iberian peninsula). In the summer months, you can clamber up the bell tower to get a roof top view and photos of the old city. If heights are not your thing, the interior of the church is sometimes open to view and if not there is an antiques arcade behind the St Michel café that has tempting treasures.
Not exhausted? Cut down to the river front to take in the neoclassical frontage as you stroll downstream until on your left there appears an avenue of trees – Quinconces. Follow these until you reach the Girondins monument and just across the road at the Place des Quinconces find the Brasserie des Négociants a comfortably bourgeois watering hole for the city’s professional classes.
Just one more – the city does not have a lot of parks but the Jardin Public would rate 5 stars if they were graded by Michelin. On the south side there is a decent little café with those lounger seats that just demand that you order a sophisticated drink complete with swizzle stick. Enjoy.
Not sufficiently left bank for you? I have recently found a bar/gallery on Cours Du Médoc which on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights throws open its doors, but doesn’t put the lights on. At the entrance I could just make out some pieces of auto memorabilia (I think) and inside, a large mirror just about indicated the location of a bar. I will tell you more when I revisit (armed with a flashlight). There was no indication of other customers so I s’pose I might have wandered into someone’s private cellar bar.