There was a bar I frequented in the 80s when I was a graduate student here called le 10. Situated on the rue de l'Odéon across the street from the original Shakespeare & Company, where Sylvia Beach published Joyce's Ulysses in 1922, I cannot now remember why I first started going to that bar or how I knew it was there. I wasn't at all a drinker so it amazes me now that I was even drawn to such a place with its small and unremarkable façade. Even back then it looked weather-worn and tired and not the kind of hangout which says "Come on in; good fun is to be had inside!" The picture below, taken recently, shows le 10 still looking very much as it looked when it was my Saturday night go-to spot, although in my grad school days it was painted dark green.
If you peered through the barred window 25 years ago, you'd get a glimpse of the cramped quarters, mosaic floor, and the jukebox, a jukebox whose favored offering seemed to be Louis Prima's "Just A Gigolo." Every hour, someone in the crowd would drop a franc into the slot and select that tune, provoking the room into a group-singing experience, with people up on their chairs waving napkins around, over and over into the late night. It was an early version of today's flashmob.
There was also a basement room for those who were willing to descend into this unventilated, hot and sticky cave. Again, no space to move about; once you grabbed a chair and sat down, you were stuck there for the evening. The servers had to pass the pitchers of the house sangria via the nearest person and count on them making their way down the table to the appropriate party. It was most certainly a fire trap.
Such a tiny and nondescript little place--the French would say ça ne paie pas de mine, "it doesn't look like much"--yet I've discovered it showing up in other people's lives like some kind of common Parisian touchstone. In Lily King's first novel The Pleasing Hour, her protagonist goes to meet up another au pair girl at le 10. The bar was in fact a haunt for many au pairs of my era; the Swedish girls were very loyal to it. Recently I was watching French TV and was surprised to see a little clip of Daniel Auteuil and a trio of other actors exiting le 10 after having been interviewed inside. And the other day I was talking about le 10 to a colleague (we were reminiscing about our youth) and she told me that she used to hang out there as well, when she came to Paris on a study abroad program.
It wasn't the potent sangria that drew me to le 10. I think what I liked about the place was the "Cheers" factor: I could drop in and always find someone interesting or fun to talk with. It wasn't chic, in fact it was rather homely, but it was safe and welcoming. And given that it has survived all these years, I suspect it must still be that way.