As evening settles over Paris' Mansard roofs and wrought-iron balconies, the French capital unfurls a more varied bounty of night-time possibilities than just about any other place on earth. Fancy an aperitif in a gilded Old-World hotel followed by a night at the opera? Facile. Dinner with 'les beautiful people' and drinks with the fashion set? Bien sur. A late-night avant-garde art show and a kitsch-cool hipster cocktail lounge? Pas de problème. Like the seductive blackness of a Rorschach ink blot, a Parisian evening morphs effortlessly to every mood and taste. From glamorous cocktail lounges and hip bars to late-night shopping and museums open past the horde-packed hours, here's how to enjoy the City of Light by night.
A true Parisian evening should begin - must begin - with an aperitif, known to every French person as simply an apéro. Step into the 19th-century confines of L'Hôtel and order a Kir Royale (Champagne with crème de cassis) amid the gilt columns, plush fabrics, bookshelves and thick rugs of the Empire-style bar. If the tassled, plush interiors feel cosily familiar, that's possibly because they were conceived by celebrity designer Jacques Garcia, the man who decorated hotspots such as Hôtel Costes and Hôtel Le Royal Monceau. And if you feel a surge of wit, you might be channelling the ghost of Oscar Wilde; the Irish writer passed away in 1900 in room 16, where he uttered one of his most famous lines: "My wallpaper and I are fighting a duel to the death. One or the other of us has got to go".
For a beautifully illuminated tour of the City of Light, head to 12, place Vendôme (where Frédéric Chopin drew his final breath) and take the 8pm sightseeing trip with Paris Charms & Secrets. Humming along on an electric bicycle, you'll point your headlamp down cobbled medieval streets and grand 19th-century boulevards as bilingual guides lead you past the eerie glow of the Saint-Sulpice church (famous from The Da Vinci Code), the radiant crystalline beauty of the Louvre pyramid and the glittering gold dome of Napoleon's tomb, as well as other centuries-old icons. You'll also encounter classic Parisian hang-outs like Le Procope restaurant, former haunt of Benjamin Franklin and Voltaire and the Japanese-Deco movie theatre La Pagode.
If soaking up high culture is more your speed, the city's most refined musical spectacles await inside the colonnaded, gilded, chiselled and statue-draped Opéra National de Paris or Opéra Garnier as it's more commonly called. A late-night stroll through the Louvre is also possible on Wednesday and Friday evenings after 6pm until 10pm. By night, the backpackers and digital camcorders thin out, leaving the vaulted galleries blissfully tranquil. A few hours isn't much time to explore the museum's 16 kilometres of galleries, so head straight to level one of the Denon wing. A pageant of colour-soaked works from Botticelli, Raphael, del Sarto and other masters of the Italian Renaissance flow by, culminating in Da Vinci's Mona Lisa and Véronèse's enormous The Marriage at Cana.
After filling up on music or art, sate yourself on classic French country cuisine at Aux Lyonnais. Built in the 1890s, the ornate bistro was bought in 2002 by superchef Alain Ducasse and Thierry de la Brosse. The pair has maintained the Old-World décor - grand mirrors, oak tables and painted floral motifs on the walls - and brought a stylish and sure-handed touch to traditional Lyonnaise-style cooking. From the wonderfully thick and crisp roasted poitrine of pig to the richly sweet cherry soufflé, the dishes are robust and no-nonsense.
Alternatively, if you're seeking sustenance from more exotic climes, head to Chez Omar. Every other discerning fan of North African cooking does: young and old, Left Bank and Right, bourgeois and bohemian, Sofia Coppola and Yoko Ono. Around for decades, the Arabo-Berber brasserie is renowned for its steaming couscous dishes, which arrive fluffy as a pillow, as finely granulated as caviar and topped with your choice of roast chicken, skewered lamb or spicy red merguez sausages (or all three). Unrepentant carnivores can tackle the robust mechoui, a five-bone rack of succulent slow-roasted and well-marbled lamb with a wonderful salty crisp coating. A bottle of hearty Algerian Cuvée du Président red wine is the ideal complement.
"It's awfully easy to be hard-boiled about everything in the daytime," muses Jake Barnes, the world-weary, Paris-based protagonist of Ernest Hemingway's masterpiece The Sun Also Rises. "But at night is another thing." It's doubly hard when you're ensconced in a cosy leather chair and sipping a house Serendipity cocktail (Calvados, fresh mint, apple juice and Champagne) amid the book-lined walls of the ultra-deluxe Hôtel Ritz Paris' Bar Hemingway. As Papa would have liked, it's a clean and well-lighted place - perfect for scoping out the suited dealmakers, fashionistas, foreign moguls and incognito film stars who haunt the place. For something more lethal, ask one of the white-jacketed barmen to serve up one of the cocktails named for hunting rifles - a 12-Bore (Cognac and vermouth) or a 20-Bore (Cognac and dry sherry) - as you exchange terse sentences with the old man with the Seabreeze next to you at the bar.
THE JET SET
"People call us the petit Versailles," says Wini June of her namesake bar. It's no wonder, given the décor in the unmarked hang-out: gilt mirrors, cherub statues, Murano glass flowers and marble tables. Opened in December 2006 with co-owner Massimo Mattetti - a veteran fashion designer who has worked with Balenciaga - the stylish and speakeasy lounge has become a favourite spot for creative types from the art and fashion worlds, and for pre-party ventures with Champagne or cocktails. The fit-for-an-aristocrat snacks include beef carpaccio and pasta with truffles.
Fashion models may not be known for their huge appetites, but the buyers and designers who clothe them can't resist Kai. A mascara-brush throw from the Carrousel du Louvre, the air-kissing hub of Paris Fashion Week, this smooth and subdued Japanese eatery is brightened by the flamboyant colours and asymmetrical garments of its clientele. Don your best Westwood and Margiela threads and pore over the menu of Franco-Asian dishes. The robust pork tonkatsu is garnished with fresh lime, while the chawanmushi combines steamed egg custard and foie gras. If you're worried about staying runway-thin, try the excellent salad of tuna and avocado with miso-wasabi dressing or simple sashimi.
A stylish digestif awaits just off the fashionable Champs-Elysées at the sleek boutique hotel Pershing Hall. Inside the upstairs lounge, a glass of Champagne is both the drink of choice and a fashion accessory for the scruffy guys in impeccable suits and the women in designer jeans and high heels who chat tête-à-tête in the sexy red- and violet-glowing chamber. And you're spoiled for choice. A floor-to-ceiling set of shelves shows off a range of high-end magnums, and the long counter beckons with chilled bottles of bubbly in silvery ice buckets. Piper-Heidsieck? Veuve Clicquot? Feuillatte Palmes d'Or? Henriot? Big spenders can splurge on a bottle of 1995 Dom Pérignon Rosé. Or, to save the limousine fare, just get a glass of Pommery Brut Royal. Sure, you could order a beer, but that would be so Left Bank.
And if you're seized by a burning 11th-hour desire for a new Marc Jacobs handbag, never fear. Open seven days until two in the morning, the ritzy Drugstore Publicis addresses late-night fashion emergencies and other last-minute needs. Weave through the clothing boutique, newspaper kiosk, bookstore, pharmacy and deli, and walk out with a bottle of Château Talbot, a gold necklace and that coveted Marc Jacobs accessory.
Like way-stations for avant-garde insomniacs, a host of Parisian spots beckon after hours with art, cinema and rock 'n' roll. Fans of all three meet up nightly at the Hôtel Amour. Once a louche hotel catering to the denizens of the nearby red-light district, the building was bought and overhauled last year by a group of Paris nightlife impresarios - and the new generation of clients seem willing to stick around the premises for much more than an hour at a time. Lit by sexy red candlelight and outfitted with mid-century modern American furnishings, the lobby restaurant and bar is a great place to discuss your latest video installation or modelling gig over an Amour cocktail (vodka, apple juice, elderflower and raspberry purée) or pineapple-ginger martini. If you're feeling decadent, kick off the night with a bottle of Nuits d'Ivresse, a Bourgueil from the Loire Valley, and retire to the leafy patio - or to one of the 20 kitsch-cool rooms.
Then, for foie gras with the self-styled bohemians, cruise Canal Saint Martin. Once a shipping channel of warehouses and industrial buildings, the waterway and its quays have been transformed into the city's hottest hang-outs for young artists, musicians and designers. Taken over and revamped last year, the 19th-century Hôtel du Nord has quickly become the quarter's most à la mode bar-restaurant. Within the film-noir décor - zinc bar, tiled floors, velvet curtains - Paris' creative démi-monde dine on jazzed-up French classics (dorade royale with fig chutney or filet mignon of pork with black linguine) and a sublime moelleux au chocolat (chocolate pudding).
Any late-night fix for wildly conceived conceptual art is satisfied at the four-year-old Palais de Tokyo. The converted Art Deco-era complex claims to be the world's only art museum to remain open until midnight (closed Mondays). There's no permanent collection, but rotating exhibitions showcase experimental video, sculpture, painting, collage and mechanical installations. If all that walking, analysing and chin-stroking works up your appetite again, grab dessert under the glowing sci-fi pod-lamps in the Tokyo Eat restaurant. Faithful to the museum's creative mission, the kitchen produces confections such as pineapple and coconut ravioli with vanilla syrup. Your precocious toddler will love playing with the action figures of Oscar Wilde and Jean-Michel Basquiat sold at the museum's arch and clever gift shop, BlackBlock.
Cap off your evening Arabian-style at Andy Wahloo, a North African answer to Andy Warhol's factory. Thanks to its excellent Wahloo Special cocktail (rum, lime juice, crème de banane, cinnamon and ginger beer) and colourful décor- striped Arabesque banquettes, walls lined with Arabic-inscribed food boxes, pop-art images of veiled women and men in djellaba robes - the kasbah-cool bar is a favourite of Parisian and expat 30-something scenesters. DJs set the vibe under the tangerine-hued lights, spinning everything from 70s funk to 80s Madonna to contemporary Egyptian and Algerian pop. And there's no cover charge.
For more information on Paris, contact the regional Committee of Tourism Paris Ile-de-France,www.pidf.com.