It would be difficult to find a corner of Paris with more tracks than the 10th arrondissement. And despite the plausibility, I’m not alluding to mainlining à la Ewan McGregor.
If trains are your thing, in more of a middle-aged, anorak-wearing male kind of way and you find yourself in the vicinity of Gare de l’Est and Gare du Nord, with a few pre-Eurostar-connection-moments to wait, then I have the perfect stop.
From Gare de l’Est, take Rue d’Alsace, climb the balustraded steps, take a moment to observe the confluence of tracks in the gare to your right, then continue walking until you get to the corner of the aptly named, Rue des Deux Gares. Here stands Au Train de Vie. My inner-anorak-wearer said, “this is the place”!
I was not in the door of this brasserie a second before being greeted with a bon soir and a Ukrainian train conductor’s hat – to wear! This little corner is the platform for our host, Mourad’s, ten year obsession with all things train.
Hats settled above the bar glasses, old vinyl train seats, luggage baskets, signs, station clocks, even the bar is an ex-SNCF train front.
When I visited Mourad was taking the post-Christmas opportunity to fit new luggage baskets above a small vestibule tightly packed with a carriage worth of antique seats (later tightly packed with a group of his friends). These ancient luggage baskets would have been the envy of modern DB (Deutsche Bahn) passengers. Just this week I heard customers whinging about the lack of luggage space compared to ICE (Intercity-Express).
Your trip is completely authentic, right down to the toilette stop which you can make through a sliding door. You can nearly imagine being thrown against the wall, as the train speeds on.
The hum of the 6.50pm something ICE readying itself for departure to somewhere like Switzerland accompanies your meal, which only adds to the whole atmosphere; a train-lover’s paradise. You can arrive any time after 8am and have a seat until 11pm.
The menu is simple and reasonably priced – I had an omelette with pan fried frites, and a small salad with my standard non-alcoholic Diablo Menthe. There was definitely nothing Michelin about it, but with such decoration, it was always going to be much more about the trains – j’adore! Maybe the more appropriate film analogy would be Love on a Branch Line.
Au Train de Vie http://autraindevie.wordpress.com
An excellent travel book about travelling by train to discover France’s history is Ina Caro’s Paris to the Past, 2011.