Paris: Drinking down at the local zinc
The Parisian equivalent of the Cheers bar—a place where everybody knows your name—is the humble neighborhood zinc. Referring originally to the metal counter that supported elbows, drinks, and conversation, the zinc now refers more broadly to the place itself.
That place can wear the guise of a café, a wine bar or even a modest bistro. It isn't the menu that defines a zinc, but rather its slightly nostalgic feeling. A true zinc embodies the French idea of mixité, or diversity. It should be modest (read: cheap) enough to support a motley mix of regulars. It requires a counter where those regulars can debate everything from Carla Bruni to la crise (the recession). Bad coffee, smoke-stained walls, a local drunk, and a sleeping dog are also good indicators of authenticity.
A zinc will feel different depending on the hour of your visit. In the morning, regulars gather to down a café express (espresso) before dashing off to work. Many of them take their coffee at le comptoir (the counter), where the price is usually cheaper. Laptop warriors and journal-scribblers arrive later and often stay working until the late afternoon. (A good number of zincs offer free Wi-Fi; check here to see a list by neighborhood.) The early evening is when you'll find the most diverse mix at the local zinc. Parents and children come to share the goûter (after-school snack), friends meet up for the apéro (before-dinner drink), and lovers cuddle in dark corners before going home to their families. Some zincs start to feel like restaurants around dinner time, while others feel like a dive bar all day long.
The Paris zincs are a little bit emptier these days, after the implementation of a smoking ban in January 2008. Café owners complain that business is down by 25%, with customers less inclined to hang out for hours without their nicotine crutch. Nevertheless, zincs remain a great perch from which to watch the local wildlife. You'll find a zinc in every neighborhood of Paris, but here are a few of my personal favorites:
Le Temps des Cerises A friendly spot in the southern Marais with yellow walls, long burgundy banquettes, cheap drinks, and simple boards of charcuturie or cheese. 31 rue de la Cerisaie, 4th arrondissement
Le Rubis A casual oasis off the posh rue Saint-Honoré, le Rubis is a destination for wine sippers in the afternoon and evening. They also have a great grandmotherly lunch in the bare-bones dining room upstairs. 10 rue du Marché Saint-Honoré, 1st arrondissement
Aux Folies Grab a table on the sidewalk terrace to soak up the atmosphere of one of the city's most diverse neighborhoods. Aux Folies is a Belleville institution during the apéro hour. Start your night with a drink at this charming dive before moving on to an east-side restaurant. 8 rue de Belleville, 20th arrondissement
Hot Property: How do you like the view?
Arizona and Utah's remote Monument Valley, known for its rust-colored buttes, now has a touch of green thanks to the new 90-room, Navajo-owned View Hotel (monumentvalleyview.com, from $95). Located on the tribe's parkland, the building is low-impact, with a reflective roof for natural air-conditioning and low-flow plumbing. But make no mistake, guests come for the vistas of the Mittens buttes, which inspired the Navajos to settle here more than a millennium ago. —Adam H. Graham, from the March 2009 print edition of BT
Zoo babies: Where to get your daily fix
We can't resist devoting a major photo story each spring to baby giraffes, meerkat pups, gorilla twins, and other adorable newcomers at U.S. zoos—and each spring, it gets a bit more ridiculous. In 2008, we published New Kids on the Block and a look back at 2007's babies, Where Are They Now? Well, it turns out there's an even more shameless publication that devotes itself entirely to the zoo babies beat: Zooborns.com. The blog publishes frequent photo and video updates from around the globe. Consider the tale of Pingu, an African penguin born at the Living Coasts attraction in Torquay, a town in southeast England. Pingu, who was glum after being separated from its family because a sibling continually hogged all the food, "has found companionship"—with a penguin stuffed animal that staff bought at the gift shop. (Just try looking at these photos of the fast friends without cracking a smile…) The blog makes it easy to search by zoo or by animal. Pandas brings up news about Lun Lun, a giant panda we've profiled at Zoo Atlanta. When we left off, her daughter Mei Lan, 110 pounds, had just been weaned and was exploring the habitat on her own. Apparently, she matured just in time—Mei Lun has been looking after a baby brother for a few months now. Check back around May for our own Zoo Babies 2009 installment. [Via VSL:WEB]
This weekend: Stomp your feet at the Creole Crawfish Festival
The folks at Southaven, Miss., 30 minutes outside of Memphis, have one solution for anyone feeling down about the economy or the still-lingering winter: Try dancing to upbeat zydeco music and then get some gumbo in you. Lots of it. The 4th annual Creole Crawfish Festival kicks off at noon on Sunday. Attendees will be busy—there's the Zydeco dance instruction and contest, where newbies can learn the steps. And then there's the gumbo cook-off, where participants compete for the People's Choice Award. There will be lots of fresh boiled crawfish to sample—you can see how to eat these pesky crustaceans in this YouTube video, by the way. Also in attendance is a Louisiana band led by Thomas 'Big Hat' Fields, singing Cajun and French music, and a Latin drum section. Consider making a trip of it—if you mention the festival, you can get discounted rates at the Holiday Inn. Rates without the discount start at $85 per room per night. Snowden Grove Park, Southaven, Miss. Festivities start at noon and go until 6 p.m. Admission is $5 for adults; kids 12 and under free. Call 901/619-5865 for more info.
Paris: Crêpes from street to chic
Walk down almost any Paris sidewalk and you're likely to be struck by the sweet smell of crêpes. Every city has its own street foods, and the favored snack in this town is a thin pancake stuffed with melted savories or sugary spreads. Street crêpes are inexpensive, portable, and available at any hour, which makes them perfect for moments when you don't have time or money to spare. Native to the northwestern French region of Brittany, crêperies have proliferated around the country. Parisians flock to them at lunchtime for cheap combo deals like a drink and a galette (a savory crêpe made with buckwheat flour) for €5. Afternoon snackers stop by for their sweet fix: the crêpe au sucre (with sugar) or au citron (with lemon) are favored choices. Kids and Americans (that's me on both counts) go for the chocolate/hazelnut mess that is Nutella. I still remember my first encounter with a street crêpe in Paris. After hours of flea market foraging at the Marché aux Puces, I headed to a vendor on the street. In the wintry outdoor air, that first crêpe arrived hot and oozing with salty cheese. I cupped my cold fingers around the steaming mass and nibbled it like a rare treasure, not realizing at the time that the delicious bundle was probably the worst crêpe I'd ever eat. Even when they're soggy and filled with inferior ingredients, a bad street crêpe is still pretty good. But a great crêpe, as I've learned through years of extensively caloric research, can change your life. When I'm looking for a transformative pancake (and I often am), I head to the Crêperie Josselin (67 rue du Montparnasse, 14th arrondissement, 011-33/ 1-43-20-93-50). This sit-down restaurant is a dark and wood-filled, with lacy curtains and tiled walls. Your first sight upon entering will be an enormous slab of real Breton butter. The cook uses it on his griddle, giving the crêpes a golden color and a crisp, lacy edge. My regular lunch order (approaching fifty visits), is the complète: a galette that's stuffed with ham, egg and melted cheese. This glorifed egg McMuffin comes with a bowl of Breton cider and a dessert crêpe for only €10. Because it's served steaming on your table within minutes, it also qualifies as the best haute fast food in Paris. For those who want a more modern take on the crêpe, the Breizh Café (109 rue Vieille du Temple, 3rd arrondissement, 011-33/1-42-72-13-77) is another wildly popular destination. Here, an impressive list of artisanal ciders and shellfish starters complement some very creative crêpe cookery. The ingredients at this Marais hotspot are all organic, and the light-wood interior is a departure from traditional Breton décor. The crêperie's location, just down the street from bars like La Perle (78 rue Vieille du Temple) make the Breizh a great place for a pre-crawl dinner with friends.