Atiny sign above an anonymous-looking doorway marks the entrance to Ground Control. So it comes as something of shock after climbing a steep flight of steps to emerge onto a vast terrace, filled with plants and herbs, old buses and train carriages converted into street-food stalls, friends relaxing in deckchairs over a bottle of wine, Brittany oysters, chargrilled Argentine beef and pizzas.
This is Paris’s Ground Control, which opened in a former rail depot for a few months last summer as an under-the-radar pop-up, disappearing as soon as colder weather ended the open-air entertainment. Over the winter, on one side of the courtyard, the Halle Charolais (a former goods warehouse) was renovated, with heating and sound-proofing installed to accommodate a host of indoor venues, ensuring that Ground Control becomes a year-round attraction, and a big one. The venue, all 560 square metres of it, encompasses food trucks, biodynamic wine, craft beer and cocktail bars, galleries, boutiques, an organic food market (Sundays) and its own radio station. It also puts on book festivals, live music and DJ sets plus.
It is part of French rail company SNCF’s ongoing cultural programme, Sites Artisque Temporaires, to transform abandoned industrial sites into creative, vibrant community-minded venues for theatre, music, cinema and dance projects. This latest, between Gare de Lyon and the popular elevated Promenade Plantee, is its biggest yet.
Behind Ground Control is La Lune Rousse, an experimental events organisation that launched the project in 2014, with temporary pop-ups in the Cité de la Mode and another SNCF space, an old locomotive depot in Montmartre. It hopes to have now found a permanent home and although the new Ground Control is bound initially to attract a fashionable following of French hipsters, Denis Legat of La Lune Rousse insists that “Our long-term success has to be founded on the local community, attracting visitors of all ages, from kids to grandparents, living in the surrounding neighbourhoods.”
While Ground Control reopened (without fanfare) in mid-February, the arrival of summer means it’s buzzing. Inside the covered hangar, people eat at long wooden tables, choosing between traditional African cuisine, Mexican home cooking, contemporary Chinese and the ever-changing dishes of La Résidence, a kitchen that aims to give refugees in Paris the chance to present their ethnic cuisine.
The covered hangar also has an organic grocery, coffee shop, a speakeasy-style cocktail bar inside the cockpit of a mock-up plane, as well as simpler pleasures such as pinball, table tennis and table football. The boutique section showcases young Parisian designers, designer furniture and vinyl, with art exhibitions alongside vintage collections of SNCF model trains and nostalgic tourism posters. There is also a dedicated kids’ corner.
And, while the terrace is the perfect place to hang out on a sunny weekend, it is also worth checking the website for details of courses and workshops that offer everything from cooking and gardening to upcycling and yoga, as long as you think your French is up to it.