Rather than giant super clubs, Paris is home to a mass of small bars and music venues, ranging from beautiful belle époque cafés and cellar dives to converted factories, barges and even a bridge. Every area has its local drinking haunts, with a scene that can surprise by its variety, whether you're after a sophisticated cocktail, live jam session or pulsing electro beats.
Parisians themselves are often likened to a series of tribus or tribes. It's up to you to find yours – or to flit between them – be it the jeunesse dorée (gilded youth) of western Paris or the grungier style of rue Oberkampf and Belleville in the northeast.
Many places mutate from relaxed café-brasserie by day to pulsing DJ bar by night (usually open until 2am). Among the best are the grungy chic De la Ville Café (34 boulevard Bonne-Nouvelle, 9th; www.delavillecafe.com), with pavement terrace, a splendidly decadent interior recalling its old brothel past and a modern chillout section, hopping-off point for the Rex Club across the boulevard, and Pigalle's La Fourmi (74 rue des Martyrs, 18th) laidback drinking haunt and pre-club rendezvous for Le Divan du Monde, while La Perle (78 rue Vieille-du-Temple, 3rd), a seemingly ordinary corner café, is the Marais's indisputed hipster haunt of the moment.
True nightclubbing only gets going after midnight and continues until 5 or 6am. Some clubs pride themselves on being exclusive, with physionomistes (read bouncers) on the door determined to keep all out who don't have the right look or wallet, others are democratic free for alls.
Sought-after DJs lead a peripatetic existence, moving from one venue to another and are best tracked down by flyers, mailing lists and websites, such as www.lemonsound.com, www.tribudenuit.com, www.lajeunessedoree.com and www.parisnightlife.fr.
Cocktails are definitely back in fashion. If money is no object then luxurious hotel bar, the Bar du Plaza Athénée (25 avenue Montaigne, 8th; www.plaza-athenee-paris.com) is dressed-up, pricey and glamorous, with Champagne cocktails, illuminated glass bar and electronic menus.
There's a more underground, insider vibe at recent arrival the Experimental Cocktail Club (37 rue St-Sauveur, 2nd), with expertly mixed drinks and DJs, and its two Left Bank siblings, secretive Curio Parlor (16 rue des Bernardins, 5th; www.curioparlor.com), where velvet sofas and stuffed animals provide a quirky backdrop for great cocktails and Japanese whiskies, and the more recent Prescription Cocktail Club (23 rue Mazarine, 6th, www.prescriptioncocktailclub.com).
Old favourite Le China (50 rue de Charenton, 12th; www.lechina.eu), near the Bastille, is the place to sip sophisticated martinis in a Shanghai speakeasy-style decor.
The Lizard Lounge (18 rue du Bourg-Tibourg, 4th; www.cheapblonde.com) has very friendly bar staff and is a popular Anglophone haunt for cocktails in the early evening and DJs in the cellar later on.
La Closerie des Lilas (171 boulevard du Montparnasse, 6th; www.closeriedeslilas.fr) is a Montparnasse institution – Trotsky, Picasso, Hemingway and Fitzgerald all came here in the past – and still a classy place for classic cocktails and malt whiskies in a piano bar setting.
The lively Oberkampf bar scene centres around Café Charbon (109 rue Oberkamp, 11th), the picturesque belle époque café that started the street's revival in the 1990s and its funky modern club/concert annexe Nouveau Casino (www.nouveaucasino.net).
Even if the street is not as trendy as a decade ago it still buzzes at weekends with a relaxed young crowd of bar-hoppers. However, the most interesting things are now happening in nearby side streets.
L'International (5-7 rue Moret, 11th, www.linternational.fr) is a friendly, informal music bar putting on free concerts of up-and-coming indie bands every night, while artfully scruffy bar L'Alimentation Générale (64 rue Jean-Pierre-Timbaud, 11th, www.alimentation-generale.net) programmes all sorts of rock, jazz, DJs and other eclectic musical acts, often free, on its tiny stage.
La Maroquinerie (23 rue Boyer, 20th; www.lamaroquinerie.fr), further up the hill in Ménilmontant, combines bar, restaurant and a music venue where you may actually have heard of the bands.
A more grown-up, boho bar scene gravitates around the Canal Saint-Martin.
Chez Prune, on the corner of rue de Beaurepaire and quai de Valmy, is the trendiest place for drinks and conversation.
Point Ephémère (200 quai de Valmy, 10th; www.pointephemere.org) is an old waterside warehouse converted into a streetwise bar, restaurant, art gallery, live music and performance space, with terrace just by the Stalingrad locks.
Further up the canal on the Bassin de la Villette, turquoise-painted Bar Ourcq (68 quai de la Loire, 19th; http://barourcq.free.fr) - open only at weekends in winter for drinks and DJs - comes into its own in summer with deckchairs and pétanque on the quayside.
Further west, is another fast-evolving nightlife hub around the long-seedy Faubourg St-Denis, as vintage café Chez Jeannette (47 rue du Fbg-St-Denis) has become a hipster hangout for the creative types from nearby ad agencies and design studios, joined by belle époque late-night brasserie La Fidelité (12 rue de la Fidélité) resurrected by André and the crew from Le Baron, unfortunately named Swinging Londress (97 rue du Fbg-St-Denis) and new bistros like Playtime and the 31. The latest arrival, opened in October 2010, is Le Pompon (39 rue des Petites-Ecuries), a casual, buzzy bar with a London pub atmosphere that is already full of young dandies and pretty young things in a beautifully converted synagogue, with mini club/live music venue and cosy fumoir in the basement.
St-Germain's cafés and bars are legendary for people watching and the area is once again drawing the fashion and film set thanks to the resurrected Le Montana (28 rue St-Benoît, 6th), relaunched by nightlife entrepreneur and artist André and Purple photographer Olivier Zahm, into a new destination for St-Germain's beautiful people, with a tough door policy.
Other recent arrivals include Costes brothers' restaurant La Société and the raspberry-pink, would-be-naughty late-night restaurant Le Lup (2 rue du Sabot, 6th; www.lelup.com), where floor acts range from live music to cabaret and striptease.
Mezzanine de l'Alcazar (62 rue Mazarine; www.alcazar.fr), the bar at Terence Conran's Alcazar brasserie, draws well-dressed 30-somethings for cocktails and easy listening DJs, while rugby types and Germanopratin dandies head for the bars of rue Guisarde, rue des Canettes and rue Princesse.
Further east, the Latin Quarter is refreshingly un-cool and occasionally eccentric. An unpretentious mix of students, locals and tourists crowd the terraces of place de la Contrescarpe, with students and studious drinkers thronging Le Requin Chagrin or trying out strange cocktails at Teddy's Bar (3 rue Thouin).
A little down the hill, real students flirt over dinner and cocktails in candlelit stone-walled Le Petit Café (6 rue Descartes, 5th) or dance to live jazz in the Caveau des Oubliettes, (52 rue Galande, 5th; www.caveaudesoubliettes.com) in a series of vaulted medieval cellars, complete with oubliette (prison cell) and a guillotine. Stalwart Le Piano Vache (8 rue Leplace, 5th; www.lepianovache.com) opened in the aftermath of May 68 and has been packing in students and lycéens ever since for a diet of cheap beer and rock music against a backdrop of peeling posters that appears to have been there for ever.
Top of the small and exclusive stakes is Le Baron (6 avenue Marceau; www.clublebaron.com), a former hostess bar off the Champs-Elysées transformed into a seductive den of red velvet with great music. It is one of the capital's hardest places to get into especially during fashion week.
For serious techno and dancehall sounds, the long-running Rex Club (5 boulevard Poissonnière, 2nd; www.rexclub.com) draws hardcore clubbers for its quality sound system. For house, RNB and soul, it is rivalled by Djoon (22 boulevard Vincent-Auriol, 13th, www.djoon.fr), a big loft-style bar and restaurant at the foot of a modern office block in the 13th arrondissement development zone, whose weekend club programmes an impressive list of high-profile international DJs.
Nearby, Batofar (facing 11 quai François Mauriac, 13th; www.batofar.org) is one of Paris's most striking venues, a red steel lighthouse ship moored on the Seine in front of the national library. Although it's gone through a series of management teams, it's still a great place to party with live bands, DJs and a bar-restaurant that spreads onto the quayside in summer.
Well-bred moneyed young Parisians flock to Le Cab (2 place du Palais-Royal, 1st, www.cabaret.fr), home to pretty young things, models and sugar daddies in a futuristic basement labyrinth complete with tropical fish and slinky white seating.
Recently moved to the old Scala discothèque, VIP Theatre (188 rue de Rivoli, 1st; www.viproom.fr) makes no bones about its intended jetset clientele and has an offshoot in St-Tropez.
The former Paris has remerged as Scopitone (5 avenue de l'Opéra,1st, www.scopitoneclub.com), a fun new live music venue, promising snacks, cocktails and free concerts (mainly indie rock) every night.
On Fridays and Saturdays, Showcase (Pont Alexandre III, Port des Champs-Elysées, 8th; www.showcase.fr) is a spectacular setting for live bands and DJs, with concert hall and a brilliantly-lit long bar stretching along the arches inside the ornate Pont Alexandre III bridge.