As a 24-year-old American bartender on my first trip to France – hell, first trip to Europe – I was determined to find out what the nightlife scene was all about.
I’m a journalism student, so when my school announced a food and travel writing course in France, I was in.
Our group had the opportunity to taste local cheeses and chocolates, explore the Alsatian wine route, and see the production process of Black Forest ham in neighboring Germany.
The experience was unlike any other. By day, the places we visited and people we met were fascinating, but it was the places and people we encountered by night that interested me the most.
Before leaving, I researched the bar scene in Strasbourg, a historical city in southeastern France along the French-German border, and where we were spending the first half of our trip.
I put a list together that included a few suggestions from some of my more seasoned-traveler bar regulars and set off on my journey.
The jet lag was pretty intense, resulting in a basically nonexistent first night.
Then came the following 11-hour day, which included a lot of walking in the heat and not a lot of iced coffee.
Needless to say, it was pretty difficult persuading myself, let alone anyone else, to venture out in the foreign city “wilderness.”
When the time came it was only myself and Caitlin, another student in the group, who were game. The bus lines were, obviously, listed in French and by the time we figured out which we needed to take, it was already 10 p.m.
We climbed the steps to the bus and found our seats. I reached in my pocket for the list, unfolded it and peered down at the names and addresses. My bar lineup wasn’t short, and while I planned to visit as many as possible, there was one in particular I was determined to find: Wawa.
The spot stood out among the rest for a few quirky reasons. One being its shared name with an American convenience store chain that has the highest quality food that I’ve seen at a gas station – ever.
On top of that, Strasbourg’s Wawa happened to be an American-themed bar.
An American bar in France? I wasn’t going to miss out on that.
Apparently it wasn’t an ordinary bar either. In my pre-departure research I found out it had beer pong tables, a ball pit and an interior that was designed to look like a 20-something’s apartment.
This sounded a whole lot better than any “American” bar I’d ever been to.
We arrived at our stop and hopped out onto a dark, cobblestone road. A few street maps and, admittedly, a wrong turn or two later, we had finally found the street. As we walked, the cluster of lights ahead grew brighter and the chattering voices got louder.
A minute later, I was excitedly standing a foot away from the place. Outside, four rows of picnic tables were pushed together underneath a large tent with layers of dangling multicolored lights. Several groups of people were seated around the tables smoking cigarettes and drinking tallboys.
I walked in and the bar was close to empty. It made sense that the 40 or so people chose to sit outside, because inside felt like an oven. Regardless of the temperature, the bar still had a great vibe.
The couches, tables and chairs all differed from in size, color and style, and were scattered around the room in no distinct order, as if there was no specific placement for anything at all.
I noticed the ball pit on my left as two not-so-sober ladies were laughing uncontrollably as they repeatedly climbed out just to dive back in.
I went to investigate the beer list.
Five seconds later I made up my mind after spotting Vedett Extra Ordinary IPA – hoppy beers are my absolute favorite. It was the first IPA I had seen in Europe so far. I would soon find out it would also be the last.
We ordered our drinks and sat outside with the rest of the crowd.
After a little while, we ventured back inside to get another round, and spotted the beer pong tables.
No one else was inside, so we decided to buy a pitcher of beer and play against each other.
When in Rome, right?
By the time our double-overtime game was finished, it was closing time.
We finished our drinks, paid the tab and walked outside. I reached in my purse and pulled out my phone to check the time. 1:30 a.m.
Normally 1:30 in the morning is plenty late for me, but since we only got to visit one bar, (and it’s not like I visit France often) I wanted to try and stop at another before calling it a night. Luckily, Caitlin felt the same and we ran into a tiny pub next door to ask one of the bartenders if he knew of any late-night spots.
Bartenders, at least in America, always have a place or two where they can grab a brew to wind down after a long night at work.
I explained what we were looking for and, thankfully, he spoke English.
Success! He knew exactly what I was talking about and pointed us in the direction of Pub Nelson, a popular late-night spot that was about a 10-minute walk away.
The route was simple enough and we found it without any trouble.
When we stepped inside it was exactly what I hoped it would be: Dark, noisy, crowded. It smelled of stale pretzels, liquor and beer.
It was just like home. It was fantastic.