Montmartre being world famous in its own right has apparently got an entire museum dedicated to its thrilling history. Le Musée de Montmartre’s housed in buildings which are 3 centuries old and have been home to many famous artists and writers, such as Pierre-Auguste Renoir who painted his celebrated La Balançoire and Le Bal du Moulin de la Galette here in 1876. Its residents have also included Suzanne Valadon, her son Maurice Utrillo, her husband André Utter, among others.
The collections contain paintings, photographs, posters and manuscripts that depict the history of the iconic neighbourhood, its effervescence, the bohème and cabarets from the XIXth and XXth centuries. They touch on the arrival of the district’s infamous symbol - the windmill, as well as the advent of the Cancan dance.
The exhibition includes Le Cabaret du Chat Noir by Steinlen, Bruant au Mirliton, Le Divan Japonais or Le Moulin Rouge by Toulouse-Lautrec, La Place Pigalle by Maurice Utrillo, L’Autoportrait by Suzanne Valadon, L’enseigne du Lapin Agile as well as the magnificent Théâtre d’ombres by Henri Rivière. It was a nice surprise to find out that a lot of Lautrec’s celebrated illustrations are being preserved here.
The gardens have been renovated according to Renoir’s paintings (I loved the heart-shaped white garden chairs, flowers and shrubs, and picked wildflowers.) They provide a view of the vineyard, Le Clos Montmartre, which has existed since the Middle Ages and is one of but a few remaining vineyards in Paris. It’s, however, said to make the most expensive bad wine in the city.
I headed to a nearby address known as the Pink Mamma for lunch. It’s essentially the best Italian restaurant one could wish for! Two Frenchmen with a love for Italian food opened their first restaurant in the south of France but quickly made their break into the Parisian dining scene by establishing the The Big Mamma Group: “a 100% Italian trattoria, with fresh products brought in from Italy, and a 100% Italian staff.” They even rented 20 apartments to house their staff!
The Big Mamma Group run several restaurants and bars: East Mamma, Ober Mamma (includes a fun cocktail list featuring Italian liquors and a huge wood-fire pizza oven for their Neapolitan pizzas), Mamma Prime (to make fresh, authentic Italian dough, specializing in prime piatti), Biglove (a caffé serving up 100% gluten free pizzas, brunch with an Italian twist, and coffee all day), Pizzeria Popolare (offering their most inexpensive pizzas yet), and Pink Mamma - the latest and biggest venue. Crowds lining up at the door is a common sight!
The trattoria’s located in Pigalle and is housed in an appropriately colored pink tiled, four story building. I made sure to arrive an hour early and book a table on the top floor. The entrance was decorated with photos of celebrities, wining and dining at the venue (including a shot of Sophia Loren). Countless Romantic paintings and sculptures hung from the walls along the staircase.
The top floor was reminiscent of a greenhouse, with sun streaming through the windows onto a room bursting with potted plants, flowers, and vines draping the chandeliers and wooden rafters. In the middle of it all, stands a beautiful gold brass, green and marble bar. Each floor is decorated differently, ensuring no two visits are the same.
No trip to Pink Mamma would be complete without a visit to their underground speakeasy. A gate saying “No Entry“ through a fridge leads to a warm, dark space reminiscent of the prohibition era. The menu consists of a map of Italy, with each cocktail coming from a particular region using local ingredients.
A couple of days later, I headed for the Ober Mamma which opens at noon. I happened to get there half an hour earlier and ended up being the first one in the queue of anxious visitors. Prior to opening the restaurant, the staff came outside into the street and chanted a big buongiorno. It was a warm a welcome into a perfectly Italian atmosphere - inside, bubbly Italians chatted loudly about their day.
Sadly, I didn’t make it to either to Pizzeria Popolare or Mamma Primi. The first one’s centrally located and is famous for its 5€ margherita, just like you would get in Naples. The restaurant is made up of communal tables and seats at the bar, giving it a more convivial spirit than the group’s other restaurants. It claims to have the biggest bar in Paris, with 500 different types of alcohol lining the restaurant’s walls. Here, you also have the option to add bonus truffe fraîche to your pizza for an extra 5€. The latter’s ideal for dates, as it allows for intimate dining sur la terrace.
Biglove Caffé represents the Big Mamma Group’s venture into the Parisian brunch scene. Located in the hip Marais, it serves delicious 100% gluten-free pizzas.