Drink Paris: after attacks, Le Carillon finally carries on

Keep calm carillonIf the November 13 terror attacks hadn’t put the Carillon on the map, I’m pretty sure nothing would.

It was the favourite dive bar of every hipster in the 10th, for the very reason that you’d never heard of it. And it was making zero effort to change that.

The décor was comforting, not comfortable: chairs for primary school students, plastic lawn chairs with bendy backs that encourage slouching, and sofas that would have given even junkies pause for thought.

The beer was shit, the wine bad, and the mojitos made with the type of love that would probably land you jail time in Sweden…or at least an extended stay in an Ecuadorean embassy.

Situated on a four-way crossroad and opposite a hospital that looks like it played host to a series of grim abuse cases, the location was not the selling point. One block back from the canal, there wasn’t even water frontage – though now they’ve drained the canal, no bar does.

If you made it to the Carillon it was only because you were there with someone who knew about it; probably someone who was local, worked in media, was a jaded expat, and possibly all of the above.

As we now know, all that was to change on November 13. The bar and the Petit Cambodge opposite were the first nightspots hit after the Stade de France bombers; 14 people dead in the space of seconds. Patrons dived for cover, the owner’s nephew locking himself in the toilet (I’ve done this before in less sober circumstances, and requiring rescue).

The bar closed. A sign on the window thanked patrons for their support but gave no indication it would reopen any time soon, if at all. In addition to the candle and flower tributes, local residents rigged a canopy of coloured rag flags above the streets.

Pedestrians now walked past in slow-motion: the premises had assumed that morbid serenity you find in hospitals, funeral homes and the job-seekers queue.

They were participating in collective mourning; for the victims of course, but also the culture of the 10th. And inevitably for Instagram feeds too: “I went to the Carillon and (unlike ISIS) all I shot was this lousy photo”.

In early January the decorators arrived. The first signs of life since those 14 ended. “Opening around mid-January,” one of the bar staff I recognised told me.

It was good news: Paris had returned mostly to normal within a month of the attacks, but as a local, navigating around the floral tributes and seeing favourite bars shuttered was impeding the process of “getting back to the new normal”.

I missed the opening night, but made it there a few nights later, curious to see what might have changed. Did the renovations end with a new lick of paint, or would there be more structural, fundamental changes?

Would there be bouncers in bullet proof vests and ID checks? Would the windows now be made of bullet-proof glass?

I was heartened to notice nothing of the sort on arrival. Sitting down to a pint, more good news: the beer was just as shit as ever. Before too long I felt that memorable chemical taste you get with mass-produced European beers, the ones that give you hangovers like someone’s hoovered out your soul overnight.

I had a hunch the furniture might not have changed: and my hunch was not only correct, but indeed caused by the self-same chairs and their poorly designed back supports.

The neighbourhood cat was also still there; jumping from bar to table to heater and back, causing everyone to lurch for their drinks with un-cat-like reflexes.

So what had changed aside the paint and the necessary changing of bullet-riddled windows?

Perhaps I was wrong, but three things now stood out.

One was the prominent fire extinguisher mounted on the wall. The second, a laminated chart giving instructions what to do in a terror attack

And the third? Hanging from the ceiling in the centre of the room was now a rather prominent perspex sign…and on it, clear directions to the toilet.

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