Best cheap bars in Paris

Our guide to drinking in style on a budget

© Emmanuel Chirache

Aux Folies

A Belleville drinker’s institution, never empty of local youth imbibing black coffee with their afternoon papers or kicking off the evening with an aperitif or five. The Folies is named after an 18th-century watering hole at the gates of Paris, in then then-rural quarter of Courtille, famous for the annual debauches of the city carnival. Today, the outlook is a little less bucolic – the rows of vines have been replaced by winding streets, but the area still packs a distinct buzz. The packed terrace is the place to be winter and summer, as it’s heated and lit until the last rays of the sun have died away. Finding a chair and a spot to wedge it into is a challenge, but the satisfaction is worth it – and at €2.50 for a beer and €4.50 for a cocktail, it’s no trial to settle down and get in several rounds before closing time. In the evening, red lights go on beneath the bar, and the friendly, efficient staff remain cheerful despite the throng. In summer, the terrace crowds spill out on to the narrow Rue Dénoyez, and on weekends on the semi-pedestrianised street the art galleries set out stalls, bands strike up, and graffiti artists start tending to their frescoes.

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La Cordonnerie

Loitering as it does in the shadows of peep shows and sex shops, for many years this little dive was merely the refuge of locals in search of pleasures less carnal and more alcoholic. Its happy hours offered probably the cheapest pints in Paris, as well as rums and cocktails at minimal prices, imported beers, and free couscous on Thursdays and Saturdays.Then, this old working-class tavern started to attract a younger clientele in search of a good deal – and today La Cordonnerie is an after-work drinks venue to be reckoned with. The terrace is crammed with students and arty types from 6pm right through the happy hour, and as the evening wears on the bar stays full of laughter and talk. Soul, rock and reggae sounds keep things going until 2am.

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Les Pères Populaires

Ever get nostalgic for 70s youth hostel decor? Look no further – the trappings of table football, board games and musty old books have all been slavishly recreated at the Pères Populaires. One of the cheapest bars in the city, it’s also a local canteen, complete with sticky table-tops and the tenacious smell of stale beer that bears witness to many a debauched evening. The décor is an incoherent mixture of second-hand furniture with some good pieces, and of bent wood hat stands with peeling wallpaper. One perches uncomfortably on chairs or on a knackered old sofa, knocking back jugs of beer or rum mixers and mopping it all up with a cheap charcuterie board (€5 to €8). During the day the place is tranquil and full of light, thanks to a huge picture window – and the area’s students flock to its free Wi-Fi. Always full in the evenings, it gets busiest when the gigs start at 8pm, mostly local groups playing jazz or cheesy hits. A decidedly blue collar French venue, but none the worse for that.

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20e arrondissement

Bar Ourcq

If chilling on a deckchair on the banks of a canal or playing pétanque gets you going, head to Bar Ourcq of an evening, where a flip-flop wearing, shorts-sporting clientele is welcomed with open arms. On summer days, crowds gather for open-air guitar jamming sessions or to picnic on the banks of the canal, refuelling at Bar Ourcq with plastic goblets of cold beer or bottles of wine. Things get pretty boozy as the day wears on, leading many a pétanque player to squint uncertainly at their target, and every throw draws ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ from the audience of fellow drinkers.It’s much less busy here than on the Canal Saint-Martin, with no passing cars to pollute the tranquil atmosphere. What’s more, you can eat and drink for next to nothing, with drinks from €2.5 and savoury snacks from €1.5. Apart from the busy summer terrace, the winter months offer many cosy corners in a cosy, pouf-strewn bar area where those in the know come to spend afternoons indulging in books, board games and free Wi-Fi. In sunnier months, DJs play electro from 5pm, the perfect soundtrack to celebratory after-work drinks in front of the sunset – and they spin on until midnight during the week, 2am at the weekends.

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Bassin de la Villette

La Fourmi

The terrace of La Fourmi [the ant], whose name is a wink to the nearby concert hall La Cigale [the cicada], is a summer sun-trap for pretty girls with cute haircuts and skimpy dresses, attracting a throng of Pigalle street singers come to serenade their charms. As soon as they launch into song, the venue’s crowd of arty bohos take up position behind the big bay windows of the big main room with its high ceilings and post-industrial décor – an enormous, yet warm and friendly wood-panelled space, with a stunning chandelier made of glass bottles.Come here to sip cocktails, glasses of wine and beers (€2.80 a pale ale) – all very affordable when compared to the neighbouring Café de la Cigale or the Petit Trianon. The area is full of Parisians helping out at concerts at the Cigale, the Boule Noire, the Trianon and the Divan du Monde, so be prepared to fight your way through to get to the bar, and for the attention of the perfectly nice but overstretched staff. If, by a miracle, you get a table, there’s a menu of sandwiches, salads, charcuterie boards and some dishes of the day.

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Le Mauri7

Le Mauri7 is the perfect antidote to its rival over the road, the achingly hip Chez Jeanette. Where the one is always crammed with snooty drinkers, the other’s clientele are a delightfully mixed bag, its atmosphere an appealing sort of ugly sexy kitsch. The walls are plastered with out-dated vinyl sleeves and film posters, while behind the bar a tacky neon sign proudly spells out the name. We love le Mauri7 because the place oozes a human warmth lacking in its neighbours. The prices are reasonable, the waiters always available and helpful (something you can’t take for granted in Paris) – all in all, the perfect place to finish up a boozy evening in street style.

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10e arrondissement

La Caravane

With all the wandering joie de vivre of its gypsy namesake, this lively little local bar just two steps from République specialises in slide shows, jam sessions, jazz and DJ sets against a backdrop of colourful, comfortable clutter, all poufs and window seats. Stop by for the entertainment, while sipping a few caipirinhas or beers at prices (€4 a pint) that are more than reasonable for the area. The fusion food is also a draw – it mixes Asian, French and Italian on a regularly changing menu, packing the rooms out for lunch and dinner. The staff are cool and relaxed, reflecting the vibe and the spirit of the local clientele. Rammed and raucous on weekends.

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11e arrondissement

Pili Pili

Les mots du proprio: 18 juin 20h Soirée David Lynch vs. Jim Jarmusch!Projection de (re)découvertes de l'univers musicale de ces deux réalisateurs incontournables

As small and powerful as its name suggests, the sting in the tail is having to choose between numerous flavours of rum mixes or cocktails at unbeatable prices. There’s a ton of character in the décor too, with winks to African culture but also to British punk: a real red telephone box takes pride of place in one corner. Attracting both regulars and interested new faces, the atmosphere is relaxed and intimate and the music always well chosen and eclectic – funk, rock and hip-hop, with gypsy jazz gigs or DJs mixing electro-swing at the weekend. Theme nights – God Save the Queen, Western Saloon or Prohibition Era – attract a dedicated crowd of dressing up fans.

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Le Bar Dix

This local dive has been miraculously preserved (in sangria) since 1955. You’d be hard put to find something more ‘real’ than this tiny venue – more of a musty-smelling cave covered with posters and a patina of nicotine. Its clients occupy their time slipping Euros into the slot of the collector’s jukebox, awakening it to play tunes from the era of Goldman, Brassens and Ferré. The moustachioed barmen are frequently drunk but always charming, mostly there to rein in clients whose carousing threatens to compete with the music, and to mop up spillages of the house sangria as the evening wears on. The menu is much as you’d expect: apart from a few bottled beers and chorizo and cheese sandwiches, you’ll mostly be ordering sangria or sangria. But it’s good and fruity and cheap, and we all keep coming back for more.

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The front end of a Peugeot Twingo sheltering the DJ decks is only the first wacky design feature to grab your attention in this cool, lively, slightly trippy bar – the impression builds as you take in the stuffed flowers, the cheerful orange walls, and the car pressed into service as a table. The décor is a definite draw for this little bar hidden in a dead-end street near Bastille, almost as much as the rock-bottom prices. A word of warning – the clientele is very young (think freshers) and the mojitos aren’t great, but the Grimm on tap does the job and the music is eclectic without being commercial. The tiny dance floor and the back room get pretty rammed on the weekends, so come during the week if you want to be able to hear yourself think.

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