While it opened a couple of years ago, Paris’ (perhaps only) gem just off of Place de Clichy in the 18th arrondissement is this art space/café sponsored by the city of Paris- LE BAL. Nestled on a quiet alley just off the main road, across from a grassy playground, is an unexpectedly modern, airy space containing a café/restaurant, a book shop, and a gallery. Upon walking in, the modern interior and the design of the place will definitely catch your eye, but the chalkboard menu full of interesting, homemade goodies will surely steal your gaze.

The two chefs in the kitchen were once behind the amazing Rose Bakery in Paris, and the duo in charge of picking what wine you’re sipping are formerly of Willi’s Wine Bar.  If you don’t think those two precursors are a sign of how great this spot it, then you might as well get another Big Mac at McDo. Whether you decide on the 11 euro lunch formule, mine came with smoked haddock gratin and a cold cucumber soup, or just a simple peach and raspberry cobbler topped with a dollop of crème fraîche, you’re sure to leave happy. (Bonus: Amen, they have wifi…so no need to scour the city for a place that will both give you a good vibe and let you surf the net for hours on end.)

Plus, following along the trend of the improvement of coffee brewed in Paris, LE BAL has one of the best I’ve tried.  First, their espressos are done super short, so be prepared for a straight-to-the-punch kind of deal.  But their cappuccinos are a different story.   With the little heart designed into the top of the foam, just like my favorite café in Austin does, the taste of the cappuccino is creamy and comforting.  Compared to the rest of Parisian cappuccinos, this ones frothy goodness takes the cake.

So, enough about how delicious it is.  Let’s get down to the cool factor, starting in the roaring twenties.

LE BAL was once a place called “Chez Isis” and functioned more like a ‘love hotel’…ok, a brothel…than anything close to a gallery.

Chez Isis was a haven of drinking and dancing in the Roaring Twenties. Customers came in droves, eager to let their hair down in its ground-floor restaurant, basement dance floor and upstairs in its “no questions asked” hotel. After the Second World War, it became France’s biggest betting shop until 1992, after which it was left to go to ruin.

The building, in north Paris’ 18th arrondissement, was bought by the City of Paris in 2006, following a proposal by the Association des Amis de Magnum Photos, as the venue for the future LE BAL.

Bertrand Delanoë was enthused by the idea, and in 2006 the City of Paris bought the building. The project for LE BAL was born. Since then, a small and determined team has fought on every front to bring LE BAL into existence: put together a demanding programme of talks, debates, photography and video exhibitions, publications, and grants; rally a dedicated community to galvanise ideas, projects and encounters.  Work finally began in 2008 on the building, and today is one of the most interesting spaces in Paris.