Bordeaux may be known for its top-end châteaux, but a lively student population means the city also has an excellent bar scene. By James Lawrence.
*This feature was originally published in the June 2018 issue of The Spirits Business
Considering its synonymity with wine – including the most illustrious châteaux on earth – surprisingly little has been written about Bordeaux’s varied nightlife. But perhaps this is to be expected; most visitors focus on the majestic vineyards, gastronomy and stately mansions of the city, leaving little time to explore its wilder side. However, discerning barflies rarely leave La Belle Au Bois Dormant (or ‘sleeping beauty’) disappointed, for despite the misleading nickname this city now scarcely seems to sleep at all.
Today modern Bordeaux cuts a fine figure – towering above the west bank of the River Garonne, it is a blend of Neoclassical grandeur and innovation. First-rate museums, excellent shopping, fine restaurants and lively nightlife make Bordeaux an absorbing place to spend a long weekend.
And while the Saint-Pierre district’s time-honoured bistros remain as they always have been, Bordeaux’s nightlife has undergone a striking renaissance over the past decade. It now boasts a variety, liveliness and sophistication that is unbelievable to anyone who visited the city at the turn of the Millennium. Bespoke cocktails, chic cafés, excellent live music and dive bars – kept afloat by the city’s massive student population – are all up for grabs. The only problem, as ever, is knowing where to start.
There are three key zones, the most famous of which is Bordeaux’s historic centre: Saint-Pierre. Many good evenings start off amid the winding streets of the medieval district, although you’ll have to put up with the tourist rabble that got there first.
Trendy rue Saint-Rémi should be your first port of call, but be discerning – many tacky, ripoff dives sit alongside interesting local haunts.
More off the beaten track is the Quai de Paludate, which is by the wholesale meat market. Liberal local licensing laws tailored to the needs of market workers made this an ideal spot for the flourishing of rowdy bars and neon clubs that would not look out of place in Vegas.
But a favourite of mine is the old abandoned Wet Docks (Bassins à Flots) to the north of the centre. In recent years, the docks have been colonised by people offering every conceivable type of entertainment, from strong libations to powerful bass. Great atmosphere, an eclectic crowd and hardly a tourist in sight – bliss.
Click through the following pages to see our top five bars in Bordeaux, France.