How to Find a Party in Paris

Paris Cafe Writing group, Paris

How to Find a Party in Paris

By Patricia Tennison

Yes, Paris is filled with museums and lovely little restaurants, but how do you meet the people? How do you sip a glass of wine, dance and mix with the Parisians?

The answer: You have to take a step forward.

Step #1: Look for a vernissage

While you’re strolling, look for a poster announcing a vernissage. This is an opening party for someone introducing their latest works, typically an artist. These events are held in a gallery or a restaurant, and they're not really private.

The artist wants you to come. There will be a free glass of wine, some nibbles, and the hope that you might find something you want to buy—and you might. But at the minimum, you are mingling with a small group of people loosened up with a bit of wine and ready to talk. You’re in!

I spotted one of these vernissage posters (top left photo) and smiled because I loved the contrast between the haute couture model on the right and the comically leering older gentleman next to her.

I say gentleman because I know the man, Richard Ballarian. He’s an American ex-pat who has been living in my neighborhood in Paris for more than 30 years. Earlier in his career, he photographed some of the world’s top fashion models, and he still works in photography, mostly fascinating black-and-white compositions of Paris.

By the time I spotted the poster, that vernissage at the gallery was over. But I ran into Richard at Le Cellar restaurant on rue Crussol in the 11th, where our July session of Paris Café Writing was having dinner.

I handed Richard my iPhone and asked him to take a snapshot of our group—brilliant, I thought—but he couldn’t quickly figure out how to handle the new contraption and thrust my iPhone back at me.

Hence, the above middle photo of us (taken by another diner)—plus Richard’s back.

However, by spotting the poster and by getting out to dinner, I discovered that there would be yet another vernissage for Richard at that restaurant later that week.

Voila! Another chance to meet and mingle.

Step #2: Head to the Firemen’s Ball

Everyone knows about the fireworks on Bastille Day, when the Eiffel Tower glows in a multicolored salute to freedom. However, it took me a couple years to grasp the rhythm of the Firemen’s Balls.

Every year on July 13 or July 14—the day before or on Bastille Day itself—the firehouses in Paris throw huge outdoor dances.

Live bands whip up the air with disco, rock ’n’ roll, French ballads, and polkas. Hotdogs smolder on a grill. The firemen often staff the champagne bar.

If you happen to see a couple firemen ... (I was about to write “good-looking firemen” but that seemed sexist, and then I gave in because being good-looking is just on the French chart of basic elements.)

So if you happen to see a couple damn good-looking firemen standing on a corner selling tickets, buy a couple—tickets, that is.

If you don’t spot the members of the Brigade de Sapeurs-Pompiers de Paris and buy a ticket, head to the ball anyway. There will be a “barrel” where you can make a donation.

The dances are typically 9 p.m. to 4 a.m. and you can find the dates and locations here: and then “Les bals du 14 juillet.”

The photos: From left to right, a window poster announcing a vernissage for Richard Ballarian; the July 2013 Paris Cafe Writing group at Le Cellar restaurant with Richard Ballarian in the background; two damn good-looking Parisian firemen.

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