The sound of clinking wine glasses floated through the evening air recently as throngs of patrons sipped chilled rosé and nibbled on cheese plates in front of the cafes, restaurants and épiceries bordering Place d’Aligre in the Bastille district of Paris.
Waiters threaded through the crowd, their trays loaded with Aperol spritzes and oysters, as more people hurried in to meet friends. Children played tag and scampered to their parents to grab an occasional French fry. Tourists ordered drinks and posed for Instagram photos sure to inspire envy back home.
The diners were squeezed into hundreds of chairs that had been put out earlier in the afternoon. But time was precious; the entire inviting setup would have to be dismantled by 10 p.m. under strict post-pandemic rules to balance the interests of those enjoying the scene — and those finding it a nuisance.
Paris has long been renowned for its bustling cafe culture, with 13,000 open-air terraces occupying sidewalks and squares in the years before the pandemic. But thousands of additional outdoor spaces bloomed under an emergency program set up to relieve businesses during Covid lockdowns. They are now permanent, after a 2021 decree by Mayor Anne Hidalgo that allows them to return every year from April through November.
As a result, parts of Paris that used to be vacant or even sketchy have morphed into animated destinations, complete with a mini-economic boom.
The Place d’Aligre is one of them. Mostly empty at night before 2020, a vibrant transformation has unfolded here.
“The scene has changed completely,” said Laurent Zanardi, a manager at Chez Camille, a family-run cafe that used to cater mostly to a morning and lunchtime crowd from the nearby Marche d’Aligre, a food market founded in 1779. “Nobody used to come here in the evening. Now they are coming from all over Paris.”
At Salvo Olio e Vino en Vrac, an Italian deli sought out for its truffled hams and wines dispensed from barrels, Salvatore Cantarella, the owner, welcomed a wave of new clients to the Place d’Aligre after receiving a license to open a “terrace estivale,” or summer terrace. The extra business kept him from going under. “I’m so grateful there’s a positive outcome,” he said.
Most of Paris’s new summer terraces occupy parking spots, nearly 4,000 of which have been covered in temporary wooden decks. The Seine’s banks are also blanketed with pop-up tables, as are rooftops with panoramic views.
With less room for…