I had a completely misguided perception of what Bordeaux would be like. My friends and I decided to visit so we could enjoy one of France’s most popular wine regions. And based on my previous experience in Napa Valley in California, I assumed Bordeaux would be on the high-end and boring side.
But I couldn’t have been more wrong. It turns out Bordeaux is this beautiful gem of a town full of young people enjoying good food, good wine, and a vibrant nightlife. And aside from maybe Budapest, I can’t say I’ve ever enjoyed a city’s nightlife as much as I enjoyed it in Bordeaux.
Bordeaux’s bar scene
Since the city is on the small side, all the places to go out are in concentrated, walkable areas. This is basically a prerequisite for me to enjoy the nightlife in any city. Because I hate getting dolled up and taking an Uber somewhere, only to realize it sucks and there are no alternative options around. In Bordeaux, you can start drinking during Happy Hour and switch bars every hour until last call and you won’t have to walk more than 20 feet.
Many of the bars and lounges are restaurants for the majority of the day. So don’t be surprised if you pass by a classy upscale tapas restaurant at 4 pm, and then find it’s been replaced by a rowdy underground club at 10. This also means it’s hard to find a place still serving food if it’s too late in the evening. But if you’re looking for wine, beer, and cocktails it will be plentiful.
Where to go
There are some eateries and bars along the river, which are especially nice if the weather is comfortable enough to sit outside. Many of them have a laid back hipster feel, where you’ll hear The Kooks followed up by James Brown. These are places that are probably great to get some work or reading done before they get too busy.
You’ll also find places to go out in the area surrounding Rue Sainte-Catherine, which is the city’s main outdoor shopping street. Given the location, those are more likely to be upscale and expensive. But if you take Rue Sainte-Catherine all the way down toward the University of Bordeaux, the vibe will start to get rowdier and the bars cheaper and full of college students.
For me, the best of all worlds is the area around the Place du Parlement. All the streets just off the square are packed with great options to party (or eat, depending on the time of day). Many of the bars, like L’Alchemiste or L’autre Petit Bois, are small and cozy. So they’re great if you can get a table, or at least a couch. But they all sprawl out onto the sidewalk with plenty of outdoor seating.
Going dancing in city center
Hidden among the classy gin and wine bars in the area, there are a few places where you can really let your hair down.
Imagine our surprise, as four locas from Miami (two of whom are marooned in Europe suffering from pachanga withdrawal), to stumble upon a bar called Calle Ocho in Bordeaux. This place is straight out of Little Havana in Miami, complete with Cuban flags, mojitos and people banging on pots and pans to salsa music.
Though the music is not really my style and the place is definitely too crowded if you go late in the night, it’s an interesting stop on a street that has many other bars. So if you get overwhelmed, you can be somewhere more civilized in two minutes. If nothing else, it provides a window to a strange and exotic land outside of France (my home!).
My favorite nightlife spot from the trip was this classy little joint called L’Empire, which looks like an overpriced restaurant in the evening. In fact, according to TripAdvisor reviews, it sounds like that’s exactly what it is. But after a few drinks elsewhere, the place was a full-blown club. It was crowded, but since it’s fairly large, we had room to dance. Which is good, because the music was amazing.
It’s local enough that they played French music that had the entire place bursting into song. And let me tell you, I kind of love French party music. But they had a good mix of contemporary club songs and old school hits including Michael Jackson and AC/DC. Honestly, any DJ that can transition from the Spice Girls to Nirvana gets my seal of approval.
Clubbing in Bordeaux
If you’re a late-night party monster, you can enjoy a more serious club scene on the waterfront near the Saint-Jean train station. Along Quai du Paludate, the clubs don’t open until midnight and don’t close until the following morning. Though reviews are generally mixed, Le Bistrot Discotheque are La Rhumerie are popular. If Calle Ocho got you in the mood for a more Latin flavor, then go full Cuban at La Pachanga. Dale!