The outdoor café is part of what gives Paris its charm and energy.
Whether it’s occupied for breakfast and morning coffee, pre-dinner apéritifs with friends, or late-evening discussions over a glass of wine, la terrasse has long been the preferred living room of Parisians. It’s a beloved institution that no one could ever imagine disappearing.
Then for a few months in early 2020, the patios were gone. The outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic forced cafés, bars, and bistros all over the city to shut their doors and put away the round tables for several months. The city looked like a ghost town.
A Joyful Summer “Deconfinement”
But Paris will be Paris. When France entered the second phase of “deconfinement” on June 2, outdoor spaces reopened. It felt like a New Year’s celebration after a strict two-month lockdown, followed by several weeks of takeout and then… curbside dining.
With parks and terraces initially closed, the curb was the trendiest spot in town. I enjoyed many lattes that way in my neighborhood, safely distanced from other sidewalk occupants.
Life post-lockdown was back to normal (sort of) while café owners had to get creative.
Even if many places today allow for indoor seating, expanded terraces are here to stay until at least June 30, 2021. With that comes a set of new safety regulations.
To enable social distancing during the ongoing pandemic, the city loosened regulations to allow cafés to place additional seating in parking spaces. Not only did existing patios get more real estate, but cafés that previously didn’t have any outdoor space created makeshift terraces in order to welcome customers.
Tables are more spread out than before (and not always facing the sidewalk, which makes Parisian people-watching trickier). Paper menus are increasingly being replaced by QR codes attached to tabletops (but not to worry: if you don’t have a scanner app on your phone, you can still request a “traditional” menu).
Restaurants and cafes are required to provide hand sanitizing gel near entries, your server needs to wear a mask when taking your order, and if you plan to go to the restroom inside, you’ll need a mask too.
Ordering in French may prove harder for some, too, since masks can muffle voices and eliminate the ability to read lips.
Despite these constraints, if I have a choice between eating indoors or outside on a terrace, I tend to choose the latter (unless the street is too noisy). Not only because part of the fun of living in Paris is sitting in an outdoor café, rain or shine, but because infectious disease experts say that eating outside is safer, notably because the virus can more easily dissipate into the open air.
Without further ado, let’s have a look at a few of the new and expanded terraces that have popped up around Paris– and may just stick beyond the current crisis to become a permanent part of local culture.
The cozy coffee shop and Asian canteen in the 11th arrondissement, attracting an international crowd, used to offer exclusively indoor dining– with the exception of a couple of benches outside where you could sip your coffee. Now the owners have added a few tables along the windows, plus a few more in a parking spot across the street.
The small bakery and specialty cake shop between Metros Bastille and Voltaire not only added a small patio, but also expanded its menu beyond pastries to include hot meals for lunch (lasagne, quiche) and weekend brunch, all to be enjoyed on the quiet Rue Sedaine.
This is just one example of how businesses that have rarely boasted terraces are finding new ways to connect with customers during a period of economic challenges.
Located in the upper Marais district, the tiny Mexican taqueria and top-notch cocktail bar specializing in agave spirits is a hot ticket, but tables don’t come easily.
With the addition of a plant-lined terrace hugging the sidewalk, you may have more luck getting a seat to enjoy your tacos.
Some café owners have gone the extra mile to ensure social distancing. Le Choupinet, a cafe across from the Jardin du Luxembourg whose name meaning “sweetie” or “cuddle bear” in French, deploys giant teddy bears on the terrace to help keep customers apart during busy times.
The bears once served as indoor decor, but have found a new, arguably cuter, job outdoors. Try not to say aww…
The legendary café in Saint-Germain-des-Prés, celebrated for its famous clientele (Simone de Beauvoir, Jean-Paul Sartre, James Baldwin, and Pablo Picasso, to name a few) already boasted one of the city’s most-visited terraces.
But since the end of lockdown, it has added a dozen tables next to the neighboring bookshop L’Ecume des Pages. So very Latin Quarter!
About the Author
Pola Henderson is a travel writer, city explorer, and founder of Jetting Around. She has been featured in major media outlets including CNN, NPR, and Daily Express. Pola grew up in Krakow, lived in Chicago for many years and is currently based in Paris, where she works in communications and hosts monthly travel meetups. When she’s not writing, she’s out and about in Paris, looking for the next café to try out.