Arriving in Paris on a Wednesday afternoon after a sleepless, overnight flight and a long bus ride from Charles-de-Gaulle, I haul my luggage half-way around town, up and down metro stairs and along narrow side-walks until finding the apartment I rented on a small street in the 20th. Once inside, it’s difficult not to be seduced by the comfort of the bed, an open invitation to a (frankly, well-earned) nap. But I quickly remember the brevity of my stay and instead opt for a quick shower and change of shoes so that I can step out and start exploring.
I walk a bit. Quite a bit, actually – along the street that runs parallel to the high walls of Père-Lachaise cemetery and down the long rue du Chemin Vert, both of which are nearly deserted. As I quickly discover, today is a holiday in France. Nearly everything is closed, save a couple of supermarkets and tabacs. Shops are armored in anti-theft grates. The sidewalks feel barren; a solitude sets in as the sky becomes grey and the wind picks up. It starts to drizzle and I cling to my street-map, hesitant to admit that, even with all the pretty around me, I feel adrift and a little lonesome.
At some point between the 11th and 3rd arrondissement, Chemin Vert meets boulevard Beaumarchais, a wide, four-lane drag peppered with shops and restaurants and bars. Regardless of the holiday, patrons spill out of cafés and onto the sidewalk – smoking, talking. They may not know it, but to me and my crumpled little street map, they are welcomed signs of life.
A short way up Beaumarchais, I come across a boxy structure with long, industrial windows sticking out from the base of a traditional 19th century apartment. Despite it’s unassuming silhouette – sleek, monochrome, rectilinear – it’s an eye-catching extension of the building, crowned with a clean string of marquee bulbs. As I get closer, I recognize the furnishings of a restaurant. It’s packed with the hum of a dozen conversations that can be heard through the glass.
I step in and ask for a seat at the bar. In an instant, I’m led to the the far end, right next to the kitchen and its large stone pizza oven. Unlike the weather outside, the whole place bathes in a warm glow – a mixture of candlelight, soft incandescent and the phosphorescent embers of the oven. I order the house Negroni, which comes in an old-fashioned champagne coupe and is infused with walnut. This is my introduction to Grazie. And it’s a lovely one.
The place bustles like mad. A little bit of Italian hollering bounces between kitchen and waitstaff, but none of it feels frazzled. The back-and-forth is harmonious and focused. There’s also enough playful banter in the mix to remind you that they are still camarades, joshing eachother until the first one cracks a smile.
Ethiopian jazz plays; the bartenders swing from one end of the bar to the other. Everything seems to work with effortless synergy. The bottles of booze on display sit on an arrangement of wooden crates, back-lit with a few twinkle lights. A regal-looking stuffed peacock is perched at the very top, surveying the patrons below.
It’s easy to get woozy fast at Grazie – a combination of the Campari and the heat off the oven’s stones. There’s more yelling from the kitchen. The energy is intoxicating. You sweat. You sip your Negroni. You feel a warmth head to toe. Life is good.
The pizza arrives, splendid and bubbling – anchovy, escarole, grape tomato and a few shavings of parmesan on a beautifully blistered crust. The crunch of the escarole with the smoky anchovy and sweet tomato is an impeccable mix, all of it anchored by the crispy chew of the crust. It’s not complicated food, or fancy food. But it’s the kind that makes you happy to be alive.
The pizzaiolo stretches new pieces of dough and glides them into the rotating belly of the oven. They refresh your drink and chit chat with you between rushes. It’s only 8pm on a Wednesday, but you get the feeling it’s going to be a late night.
91 Boulevard Beaumarchais, 75003 Paris, France
+33 1 42 78 11 96