La Rochelle is better known for its Port de Plaisance and Francofolies festival than for its “indie” spots, but make no mistake—this French tourist destination has its share of unique and charming hideaways. Here’s our (totally subjective) selection of five places to check out, whether you’re off the beaten path or right out in the open.
La Sirène Boutique: Records and comics at Prao
Is it possible to shop for records and delicious groceries in the same place? The answer is yes. Located in the La Pallice neighborhood since it opened in March 2011, concert venue La Sirène decided to relocate a portion of its goods to the city center as of last February. Manager Damien Lapeyre jumped on the opportunity to partner with high-end grocer Prao and relocated part of La Sirène there. With comics, magazines, and a lovely selection of vinyl, you’re sure to find your bliss in the little back room at Prao. As an independent record seller for the past twenty years, Damien is a man of taste. Among his offerings, you’ll find records from the excellent label Born Bad Records!
1 rue St-Nicolas, 17000 La Rochelle
+33 5 46 37 23 73
Tuesday to Saturday from 10.30AM to 7.30PM
Le Panier de Crabes: Eat with your hands
Located at Place de la Fourche in La Rochelle, Le Panier de Crabes is not actually a crab shack, despite what the French name would have you believe. It’s a great place to enjoy fresh seafood without having to resort to the overcrowded popular destinations of the Vieux Port. As the former owner of the locally famous bar La Java des Paluches, Olivier Tetaud (a.k.a. “Toto”) didn’t need to do much convincing to open this restaurant. Located a mere 50 meters from his former bistro, he serves up glorious Marennes-Oléron oysters, gigantic seafood platters and crab on the half-shell with an excellent homemade French mayonnaise. Not to mention the carefully selected white wines, which pair perfectly with the seafood without overpowering it. It was high time La Rochelle had a place like Le Panier de Crabes in the city center—it’s everything you could want from a trip to France’s Atlantic coast!
9, rue de la Fourche, 17000 La Rochelle
+33 9 53 56 59 97
Wednesday to Saturday from 12PM to 2PM and from 7PM to 10PM, Sunday from 12PM to 4PM
Le Vinophone: Friendly wine bar
Tucked in the middle of the “restaurant street” in La Rochelle, Le Vinophone wine bar is a local favorite. Grab a glass and sit down at a table inside or out on the patio, order a lovely cheese or charcuterie board and you’re set for the evening at the Vino. The wines tend to be biodynamic and are hand-selected by owners François-Cyril and Cédric, who just celebrated the bistro’s fifth anniversary last July. Over the years, the wine bar has become a real meeting place in the community where hip locals rub shoulders in a simple, but festive atmosphere. Le Vinophone also puts on art and music shows—there’s no calendar; it all depends on who they meet and what they like!
29 rue St-Jean-du-Pérot, 17000 La Rochelle
+33 5 46 29 16 03
Monday to Sunday from 5PM to 2AM
L’Aiôn: An ethical, socially conscious concert bar
In the student quarter of Minimes in La Rochelle, an activist-run concert bar has been drawing big, diverse crowds since it opened in July 2014. Drawing inspiration from other regional favorites like Le Plan B or l’Alternateur, L’Aiôn runs as a cooperative with an equitable and cultural vision. The concert calendar is varied and features lots of local artists. Shows from the local scene are intermixed with “jam sess’aiôn” nights. More than just a spot to meet up and chat with friends, the café also puts of improv theatre shows and even public readings! Oh, and in case you were wondering, you can even enjoy a tasty dish made of local and organic ingredients while you watch the show!
41, rue de la Scierie, 17000 La Rochelle
+33 9 72 47 87 05
Tuesday and Wednesday from 5PM to 12AM, and Thursday to Saturday from 5PM to 2AM
Le P’tit Pavois: A real old-fashioned watering hole
Le P’tit Pavois makes no claims of being the hippest bar in the Vieux Port! Behind the red door, you’ll find an old-school bar chock full of nostalgia. Old tile floors, the smell of varnished wood—it’s as charming as can be. Lilianne, who has owned Le P’tit Pavois for ten years, welcomes customers with no frills whatsoever. It’s a great spot for conversation, with a cheap beer in one hand, and the local paper in the other. At the back of the small room, you’ll find an electronic dart board that Lilianne will be happy to turn on for you if you ask. After that, you’re on your own! Lilianne’s an authentic lady and you’re likely to be authentically drunk. There’s no getting out of here without a little swagger in your step and a toast to the good old days!
17 bis quai Valin, 17000 La Rochelle
+33 5 46 41 65 01
Monday from 10AM to 2AM, and Wednesday to Sunday from 10AM to 2AM
Photos: DR and Frédérique Voisin-Demery (main photo)