If you take the street right off of Pont Marie all the way north until you hit the Marais, then keep going a bit, there’s a café on your right. It will, at any given moment, have at least 10 motorcycles in front of it. Not scooters, and most certainly not vespas, this is an impressive selection of Harley Davidson’s, Black Rebel Motorcycles, and the occasional BMW bike. Accompanying these bikes are an even more impressive assortment of — obviously — bikers. They dress completely in black leather, they chain smoke cigars and always have someone on a run to get another pack of cigarettes. They sit together, always at the front three tables, and banter loudly, slapping each other on the arm and guffawing at some joke which nobody else hears. They look slightly terrifying, tattooed, pierced, and massive. They are all in their forties and up, and they all seem to take up the space of about three normal men.
I went to the café because the french fries are legendary. They serve them with their homemade mayonnaise, which tastes nothing like the Best Foods or Helman’s that you can buy in the states, and they steam for about fifteen minutes before you can even bite into them. They are humungous (we Americans might think of them as the steak-cut fries), hot, and heavenly. A friend of mine who has lived in Paris for a few years now told me about them and we went one afternoon on my first week in the city.
Across the street, waiting for the light to change, I observed this large group of motorcyclists. There was probably 20 of them at the time, all perched on stools in a circle. I caught eyes with perhaps the scariest of them, who had long black hair, probably down to the middle of his shoulder blades, and a massive black neck tattoo. We held eyes and, in a moment, he smiled at me. A broad, warm, welcoming smile; A ‘come on over and say hello’ type of smile; A ‘can I buy you a café and you teach me English?’ kind of smile. Quite frankly, there were very few things I was expecting less than that.
The light changed to green and we crossed the street. Immediately, two of the men turned around and shouted “Age!” (the name of my friend) She was voraciously hugged by three of them, who all — in turn — looked at me and took me too into a crushing bear hug. They spoke to her in broken English and she spoke to them in broken French. The one with the long black hair tapped the chair next to him and signaled for me to sit down. We both did, and spoke with them for fifteen minutes, watching quickly leather and ink melt away until we saw the teddy bears they were underneath.
This café was their spot. It had been for years. They came everyday with their impeccably cleaned motorcycles and sat around chatting. They were all bark and no bite, some might say—although, honestly, they were barely any bark. They just had big teeth.
After about twenty minutes, my friend and I stood and moved over to our own table where we ordered the best french fries that have ever been crafted on this planet, and a bowl of mayonnaise the size of a small chihuahua. When we were heading out, they stopped us and hugged us again, reminding us to come back soon, telling us that we were always welcome.
I go back to that café at least once a week now, and order the french fries and mayonnaise, and happily greet my shiny new friends. They love to chat with us in whatever English they can, which means that the conversations always follow the same general circle. They have a very hard time helping us with our French, so it’s a limited scope; but we all enjoy each other, and we have no trouble sitting and listening to the others speak in whatever language they feel more comfortable in. It’s a great good place, undeniably. And when the man with the long black hair offered me a ride on his pitch black Harley Davidson, I politely shook my head, laughing and said “maybe next time.”
I’ll keep going back for the French fries, the company, and the chance to cruise Paris on the back of the nicest bike I’ve ever seen.