French Exception

Le Café Noir near Les Halles in central Paris attracts a clientele of all ages with its retro sophistication and a soundtrack of rock and techno. Yet overlaying the din of music and chinking glass there's another buzz: conversation. Even the young customers are there not just to drink, but to converse — intelligently. "We don't have the problem like in England and elsewhere, where people drink until they can't stand up," says Charlotte Quantin, 26, the bartender. "When we get drunk, we get stupid, and that's just not right." Sidi Lemine, 25, nursing a drink at the bar, also distinguishes...

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