Up until recently, you’d be surprised to find a trendy wine bar in Belleville, a Parisian neighborhood that has been a thriving center of working-class life and hosted large, successive waves of immigration for centuries. But since the early 21st century, the area has been gradually gentrifying, with young professionals, artists and families moving to the area in search of cheaper rents and ample studio space.
Since then, places like La Cave de Belleville– a wine bar in the hilly heights of the Rue de Belleville– have sprung up in the area, to the delight of some, and the slight consternation of those who see the development as running counter to the neighborhood’s traditional working-class vibes.
Wedged between Asian markets selling brightly colored fruit and vegetables produce from heaving bins, discount clothing shops and noodle bars, La Cave de Belleville offers wine by the glass or the bottle, hundreds of French and international wines for sale, and a variety of small plates. The bar also offers events such as wine tastings and themed soirees.
I recently went to see what all the fuss was about, occupying a seat at a counter-style bar with a friend on an early spring evening.
Opened in 2015, La Cave manages a traditional, rustic feel melded with modernity, thanks to abundant wood and stone walls, an intimate dining space that comprises just a few tables, long, marbled counter seating, and floor-to-ceiling shelves stacked with wines from France to Italy, California to New Zealand.
In recent years, craft beers, liqueurs and spirits have also been appearing on the tall shelves. But the real strength of La Cave is its carefully curated selection of wines from small independent vineyards, mostly from France– many organic or biodynamic. There’s also a good number limited-edition bottles that manage to pique the curiosity even of those of us without strong expertise in wines.
The counter seating is “cozy”, to say the least– we practically found ourselves elbowing the patrons around us as we settled in for a bottle and a dinner of cheeses and small plates. But it didn’t feel claustrophobic as some basement cellars can in Paris. There was a feeling of convivial joy in the air that Friday evening, with the warm hum of conversation and the clinking of glasses adding much to the flavors of the food and wine.
The Wines and the Food
We shared a bottle of Meursault, a red from Burgundy with a rounded intensity to the fruit and deep spicy, oaky notes. We accompanied it with a cheese platter (all French cheese varieties) and two small plates: sauteed spring asparagus with hummus on the side, and crunchy radishes, bright red and white chioggia beets and cauliflower with a salted Greek-style cheese.
All was delicious, including the crusty baguette that accompanied the cheese platter, and the prices were accessible compared to many other wine bars in the capital.
As is common in Paris, the service was efficient and un-effusive. The server answered all of our questions about the wines and small plates featured on the board, but mostly just left us to enjoy our meal. As per custom for a Friday evening in the capital, we spent a good two hours or so at the counter, feeling wholly unhurried (which is, according to me at least, one of the great boons of dining out in France: you’re rarely asked to leave your table for the next patrons).
Practical Info & Getting There
- Address: 51 Rue de Belleville, 75019 Paris (19th arrondissement)
- Tel: +33 (0)1 40 34 12 95
- Dress code: None/casual
- Reservations: not required but recommended on weekend evenings
- Payment methods: Cash, Visa, Mastercard
- Visit the official website