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Chez Louisette, 18th arrondissement in Paris (Photo by Christine Sarkis)

Who: Christine Sarkis

Where: Chez Louisette, Marché Vernaison at the Marché aux Puces de St-Ouen, 18th arrondissement in Paris (M: Porte de Clignancourt)

What: Behold Chez Louisette. On a trip to Paris in the early 90s, my aunt and mom found this tiny and endearingly strange restaurant tucked in among the stalls at the marché Vernaison (part of the larger Marche aux Puces de St-Ouen). When my sister and I moved to Paris a decade later, we made this a regular pilgrimage point.

We’d spend the morning scouring stalls for our latest obsessions. Hundred-year-old First Communion announcements, antique tarot cards, nibs for fountain pens, cast-off newswire photos from the 1960s: The marché Vernaison was a treasure trove.

For lunch, we’d wind our way to Chez Louisette. I haven’t been back in years, but at the time, even in summer the whole place looked like it had been decorated for Christmas. Christmas, 1967. You can see it here: The tattered gold garlands and string lights floating above the ground-floor dining room. Upstairs offered a perfect vantage point from which to watch the festivities. And what festivities…

Rumor has it that Edith Piaf used to sing here. Singing is still a major part of the experience, at least on Sundays. The same two singers, who may or may not have also been waiting tables between numbers (hard to tell if they were holding down the job or just helping out in a fit of stage-induced giddiness), were there every time: the older man in the suit with a red flower tucked into the lapel and a rather sharp hat, and a Diana Rigg lookalike who had aged dramatically but never abandoned the dress or the makeup of the Avengers decade. They sang, they swayed, the accordion bellowed harmoniously. They threw themselves into the old standards, the crowd pleasers by Edith Piaf, Jacques Brel, and others. The patrons were mostly French whenever I was there, and they clapped and danced along, flushed with wine and joy.

The food? Meh. But what a wonderful place to be early on a chilly Sunday afternoon.

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