Marché aux Puces de Saint-Ouen (flea market)
Saint-Ouen is a neighbourhood that has historically been best known for its weekly flea market, Le Marché aux Puces de Saint-Ouen, where the first rag-and-bone men originally set up their stalls just before World War I, with anything and everything subsequently sold here on Sunday mornings. The market now takes place every Saturday, Sunday and Monday and is the fifth most-visited tourist attraction in France, with more than five million visitors a year and the largest concentration of antique and second-hand dealers anywhere in the world. Galleries and warehouses were originally developed according to available space on either side of the market’s pulsating artery, rue des Rosiers – Paul Bert Serpette, Malassis, Biron, Vernaison and Dauphine, to name but a few of the Clignancourt markets. A variety of eateries, woven in between, create a convivial atmosphere, serving staples such as moules-frites, while the dulcet tones of Edith Piaf are never far from earshot, lending a nostalgic Parisian charm to a weekend of retail therapy.
But, as great a draw as it is, Saint-Ouen is defined nowadays by more than just the Marché aux Puces.
Mob Hotel of the People
Within walking distance of both Garibaldi and Mairie de Saint-Ouen Métro stations, Mob Hotel is a former telecommunications HQ which has been repurposed by Philippe Starck and Cyril Aouizerate into a quirky orange-hued art hotel with underground parking. An oasis for inquisitive nomads on Paris’s northern fringe, its minimalist-style rooms are utilitarian and spacious affairs with plush, red-velvet theatre-curtain-festooned headboards and bedside lamps suspended from ceiling-mounted ropes, lending a touch of Moulin Rouge from the seedy boudoirs of neighbouring Clichy. Instead of wall-mounted pictures, merchandise such as T-shirts and bags from artists the hotel has collaborated with hang for sale. While there’s an absence of TVs in the rooms (the hotel’s spirit is one of getting out and meeting people), larger doubles offer movie screens and films to rent via in-room iPads. The ground-floor reception, accessed from street level by a giant orange door replete with ancient Chinese-style golden lion door knocker, is flanked by office space for startups and pop ups, while residents devour takeaway pizzas from the in-house Karlito canteen. Doubles from €100.
6 rue Gambetta (corner of 50 rue des Rosiers), 93400 Saint-Ouen; mobhotel.com
Red Star FC match day at Stade Bauer
If ever there was a club that perfectly reflected its culturally diverse community, then Saint-Ouen-based Red Star FC, the second-oldest football club in France, formed by one-time FIFA president Jules Rimet (whose golden decagonal trophy of the same name was lifted by England captain Bobby Moore in 1966), ticks all the boxes. The 93rd department of Seine-Saint-Denis may lead the way in terms of multi-ethnicity, boasting a long history of immigration from former French colonies in Africa and the Caribbean, but it’s also the poorest in the whole of France. Yet, it has given rise to some of the most prodigiously talented and highest-earning French footballers of all time – Paul Pogba, Kylian Mbappé, William Saliba and N’Golo Kanté among them. Red Star’s very own youth academy was once very productive too: graduates such as Alex Song and Abou Diaby will be familiar to Arsenal fans, while former Spurs midfielder Moussa Sissoko was also a product of the club’s youth ranks.
In a city where football is dominated by the Qatari-financed Paris Saint-Germain, who run away with the Ligue 1 title at a predictable canter each season, Red Star’s home ground, working-class Stade Bauer, is a world away from the salubrious leafy environs of the Parc des Princes. It was named after Dr Jean-Claude Bauer, a communist and member of the Resistance who, as a hostage to the occupying Nazis, was shot on 23 May, 1942. As one of the founding members of Ligue 1, Red Star has yo-yoed somewhat on the French footballing pyramid: although it has spent 19 seasons in the first division, its last top-tier stint was as long ago as the 1974/75 season. The club has won five Coupe de France titles (moneybags PSG has racked up 14), meaning it’s tied fifth-best among all clubs in what is the French equivalent of the FA Cup. It currently resides in fourth place in the Ligue National (France’s third division) and is pushing for promotion.
What Stade Bauer lacks in glitz and glamour, it more than makes up for with its proper old-school match-day experience. It may be a three-sided ground with ramshackle stands, crumbling terraces, Brutalist floodlight pylons and l’immeuble mosaïque – the iconic triangular-shaped apartment block – running the entire length behind the goal, but this mish-mash of dissonant architectural elements reminds us 50-somethings of how football used to be before the claws of commerciality took hold of the game and created soulless stadiums that all look the same.
The club’s badge, a five-pointed red star, may at first glance appear to have communist leanings, but it is believed to be a reference to Miss Jenny, a British governess and confidante of Jules Rimet, who was adopted as the godmother of the club. It was upon her recommendation that the club was named after the historic shipping company the Red Star Line (although we are not told the reason why), which was founded in 1871 as a joint venture between the International Navigation Company of Philadelphia and the Société Anonyme de Navigation Belgo-Américaine of Antwerp.
With democracy currently at its most precarious ebb perhaps in almost 100 years, a global network of left-wing, anti-fascist and anti-racist football supporters has come to the fore, representing a counter-movement to the world’s shift towards the political right. Constituting a profoundly vocal collective voice of disapproval, they confront head-on modern supporters of fascist inclination, who inhabit the game’s stadia and beyond.
Much like the fan bases at sister “cult clubs” Venezia FC and FC St-Pauli, Red Star’s fan base aligns itself with left-wing politics and social activism. There’s no place here for racism, homophobia or islamophobia. Fans regularly unfurl banners, such as “refugees welcome”, and are revered for the party-like atmosphere they create at every home game, and the club itself actively encourages refugees to join its training camps, even supplying complimentary tickets to matches. The free-flowing sale of (dare I say 8%) IPA during matches does not appear to inhibit the conviviality or indeed threaten any sign of disorder. The band just plays on while the volume is gradually cranked up at the onset of every Red Star attack.
Call me an old romantic, but what I’ve witnessed here has honestly rekindled my love of the game. The atmosphere at the match against FC Martigues, which I attended in September, bordered on mythical proportions, fuelled as it was by an unbridled love of the game, spontaneous happiness, inclusivity and optimism. The fans’ unerring dedication to making their stadium a safe space for all ages, their non-stop singing, bouncing, gyrating, flag-waving and the lighting of white flares exceeded my expectations and made for an unforgettable match-day experience. I urge any football-loving fan to come and witness what, sadly, is a dying art of terrace culture. And, as if the match-day experience wasn’t cool enough already, the Neo-Byzantine-Romanesque domes of Sacré-Coeur, perched upon the hill of Montmartre, cut a magnificent silhouette in the distance.
As much as I’d be tempted to bottle up this unique atmosphere and spread it throughout the footballing world, it would go against the club’s principles. ‘We don’t want to globalise Red Star,’ says former Manchester United and Sunderland striker David Bellion, who’s now the club’s brand director: ‘What we do want to do is make it known that clubs like us do exist. There are a number of clubs like us that have a very specific identity that will never compete with the global elite.’
The club’s accession in the style stakes has been bolstered further of late by an influx of Parisian hipsters who’ve rocked up to join the party. In all my years of watching football, I’ve yet to see a more urbane set of fans, resplendently bedecked in the city’s finest streetwear-influenced apparel. If you want a taste of upcoming trends at Paris Fashion Week, head first to Stade Bauer. In his time in the role, Bellion has masterminded collaborations with cult brands such as Adidas (the club’s kit supplier), Vice (the media outlet known for its unapologetic take on news and coverage of under-reported stories), and fashion label North Hill (which designs and manufactures all its clothes in Paris’s 18th arrondissement).
“The club is what we call a social mix,” says Bellion. “You have different social statuses: it’s not a club for rich people, it’s not a club for poor people, it’s not a club for hipsters or bohos. We are a community club, a club for everyone, so, as such, we don’t have a preconceived supporter demographic. We just don’t think that way.”
The club’s commercial activity is as on point as you would imagine, with none of the cheap, unadventurous tat most Premier League clubs peddle in their shops. It sees regular rollouts of limited-edition cult clothing lines, from Red Star-emblazoned bomber jackets, vintage tracksuits and shirts, to cutting-edge lookbooks, such as the recent one celebrating the latest alliance with club sponsor Vice. Inspired by David Brent’s The Office, it starred club staff decked out at their desks in new club merch sporting the cult graffiti-style logo. Everything down to the club’s latest shirt sponsor is decidedly on brand. Drawing inspiration from the LinkedIn platform, communications agency TBWA\Paris created LinkedOut, a new digital platform that allows homeless people to list their profiles in search of a job that, it is hoped, will help them escape their current predicament. While he’s not alive to seek clarification, something tells you that the late fashion designer Virgil Abloh would have aligned with the club’s psychology.
Meanwhile, the team’s cultural and artistic wing, Red Star LAB, is an award-winning community project set up by club president and film director Patrice Haddad in 2008 with the aim of providing a platform for its youth players to find and explore their creative passions through a series of workshops and special projects. It promotes life skills, as well as helping to unearth passions aside from football through various artistic endeavours, such as music, photography, drama and acting. It’s certainly revisiting principles originally laid down by founder Jules Rimet, who in 1897 installed a library in the stadium to offer players cultural training alongside football.
Despite all of this, in May 2022 an ambitious €200-million renovation project and takeover of the club was announced without prior consultation with the fans. Sources close to the club tell me that, in hindsight, it was remiss not to have consulted their loyal fanbase before the press release entered the public domain and it’s something the club regrets. In essence, Haddad forced through the club’s sale to 777 Partners, a consortium who owns Italian club Genoa FC, stating that it was “the best choice to guarantee and preserve the values of our club, while giving us the means to broaden our horizons”.
If Red Star FC is ever to return to the higher echelons of French football, it clearly needs investment. As appealing as it may be to us groundhoppers, Bauer in its current state fails to meet the necessary criteria to be accepted into Ligue 2 and above. An opinion piece by Joe Wherry in The Cambridge Language Collective argues that “the project also contrasts markedly with the identity the club has built throughout its rich history and what it continues to align itself with. Projects and initiatives such as this symbolise the club’s ongoing desire to maintain its own identity and culture against the commercialised nature of modern football, yet it remains to be seen whether the club will be able to continually seek such a balance between tradition and development, with the transformation of its home scheduled to finish in 2024” [when the ground will be one of the main football training sites for the Paris Games].
The redevelopment plan seeks to preserve the architecture of a stadium that first opened in 1909, while bringing it up to modern-day standards. Drawing inspiration from English football stadia, the new 10,000-capacity Stade Bauer will feature stands close to the pitch in an effort to retain Bauer’s intimate atmosphere. The bulldozers have already descended and only one side of the ground remains open – the Première Est et Ouest tribune, where the ultras stage their histrionics – so don’t hang around if you want to sample this last bastion of terrace culture before Bauer’s makeover is complete.
Red Star FC, Stade Bauer, 92 rue du Docteur Bauer, 93400 Saint-Ouen-sur-Seine; tickets
It’s only been open a few months, but Bistro I’Insurgé, near the Jules Vallès flea market, is already establishing a bit of a reputation for itself. It was set up by young hotelier Clément David, who was looking to open a restaurant in the northern suburbs and realised the potential of starting one in up-and-coming Saint-Ouen. “It’s a bustling place with lots of things to do,” says Clément. “I knew I wanted to open a bistro/wine cellar to combine my two great passions in life – food and wine.” Having secured the services of chef Paulina Eshono, business has been brisk. The bistro offers weekday menus for €17.50 (starter and main course or main course and dessert) and €21.50 (starter, main course and dessert). I chose the bavette de bœuf with beurre persillée écrasée de pomme de terre, washed down with a bottle of cabernet franc, my favourite French single variety right now – Chinon Le Fauteuil Rouge 2018 – from a seriously impressive wine list. The pavé de saumon with sauce crémeuse au citron and écrasée de pomme de terre served on the opposite table looked equally good.
21 rue du Plaisir, 93400 Saint-Ouen-sur-Seine; bistrolinsurge.fr
Located in Les Docks de Saint-Ouen, a new 100-hectare eco-district on the banks of the Seine, Yaya is the brainchild of two Franco-Greek brothers, Grégory and Pierre-Julien Chantzios. Yaya is the nickname given to Greek grandmothers, and it’s a word, the pair say, that “immediately evokes conviviality, sharing and authenticity”. Inspired by the Cyclades islands, the impressive, high-ceilinged, natural-light-infused space was designed by Saguez & Partners. It’s a contemporary take on the traditional Greek taverna, with chef Juan Arbelaez at the helm. Chow down on delicious mezze to start (homemade breads with olive oil accompanied by tzatziki, white tarama or aubergine caviar), mains such as grilled octopus with mashed carrot, coriander and lemon, and shoulder of lamb confit with the healthiest, tastiest side salads I’ve ever had. Beer from Pantin-based Brasserie Parisienne is on tap and there are happy hours, DJ sets and all-you-can-eat Greek brunches every Sunday. What’s not to love?
8 rue de l’Hippodrome, 93400 Saint-Ouen-sur-Seine; Yaya Saint-Ouen
Saint-Ouen walking tour
Why not work off the excesses of that Greek lunch by joining the PR4 walking tour, which takes in the key sights of old Saint-Ouen, its castle, parks and the completely transformed Les Docks district and then goes on towards the Marché aux Puces via the Arago-Zola district.
Tap into local intel
Who better to show you around the north-eastern suburbs of Paris than locals themselves. Having established successful ventures in New York, Toronto and Buenos Aires, Greeters recently rolled out its services in metropolitan Paris. The website connects you with local volunteers, whose wish it is to share their love and knowledge of their own neighbourhoods with overseas visitors. There is no obligation to pay, but it’s courteous to tip the guides at the end of each tour.
Brasserie de Saint-Ouen
Settle in for the night and sink pints of quaffable Red Star IPA. The brewery that produces it supplies Red Star FC with its match-day beer (in fact, it’s so close it could be syphoned across to the ground) and boasts graffiti-style labels designed by local artists Kay One and Monsieur Gabriel. Situated in rather non-descript premises opposite Stade Bauer, the brewery is one of those places you could easily walk past and not realise it’s there (I only stumbled across it when the Red Star match I’d bought a ticket for was subsequently ordered to be played behind closed doors because of crowd disorder – namely pyrotechnics being thrown on to the pitch at a previous home match linked to the club’s recent takeover by Miami-based alternative investment platform 777 Partners). I was welcomed in like a long-lost soldier and, as an ardent football fan, I have to say it was one of the most surreal experiences watching the live-stream of the game as the match was being played out literally just across the road. But the beer flowed and the Red Star staff, who were there watching the live feed too, rather took me under their wing. The brewery is cool without even trying to be, perhaps because in its former incarnation it was a skateboard store. Its somewhat spartan interior rather resembles a residential garage that’s been converted for home brewing – a haven of kegs, stainless-steel vats and scattered hose pipes snaking around a couple of beaten-up sofas and a flat-screen nailed to the back wall. The microbrewer’s main objective is not to sell beer on a large scale, but to offer high-end ale. For this, the brewery has just acquired a laboratory evaporator, a sort of aroma extractor more commonly used by chemists and perfumers. An unusual investment for a microbrewery I suggest. “The idea,” says owner Marc Perivier, “is to master the aromas very precisely, rather as a perfumer would. I want to have a whole library of flavours that we can tap into and reuse in our beers,” he explains. If beer’s not your thing, fear not, as Perivier has a nice selection of mainly Provençal wines from his oenophile contacts down south.
101 rue du Docteur Bauer, 93400 Saint-Ouen-sur-Seine; Brasserie de Saint-Ouen
Lee Osborne is creative director of Secret Trips