If the aperitif is “la prière du soir des Français,” (“the evening prayer of the French”), as writer Paul Morand famously quipped, the Marseillais are the most devout worshippers. Shortened to apéro here and across the south, the ritual of gathering with friends over drinks and food embodies our joie de vivre and laid-back lifestyle.
The city’s temperate climate and abundant terrasses mean that our socializing often happens outdoors. But, since the Covid-19 epidemic began in March 2020, in-person dining and drinking has been severely curtailed. France’s restaurants and bars were shuttered in January 2021, and were only finally able to reopen for outdoor dining on May 19, the same day that our national curfew was extended from 7 to 9 p.m. Marseille is humming again, the soundtrack of clinking glasses and laughter filling the patios and sidewalk tables. We’ve never seen waiters in such a good mood.
To honor our city’s return to our nightly worship, we’ve picked our favorite alfresco apéro spots. Places that serve up views alongside a healthy pour of conviviality.
Bar Sur La Mer
After past stints as a North Sea fishing boat, a conveyor of contraband cigarettes and a dive boat in the Calanques, the Noctilio, a 1930s schooner, has dropped anchor in Marseille’s Vieux-Port to host apéros. Board the skinny plank to embark on a night to remember. You can sip wines, spritzes and craft beers at wooden tables and banquettes covered in sailcloth and stood beneath seafaring shell lamps. If you feel the boat rocking, it’s the wind – which can trick you into thinking you’ve had one too many.
Currently in the galley, a local traiteur Piel makes fantastic food from the land and sea: sardines rillettes, vitello tonnato, luscious burrata, and homemade focaccia stuffed with peppers and cheese. With its prime perch at the foot of Fort St. Jean, a drink at Bar Sur La Mer comes with views of boats heading out to sea, the Bonne Mére, the Palais du Pharo and the majestic medieval fort. Made even more magical as the setting sun tints the stone and sky pink. Call in advance to reserve a spot, and be ready to pay a €2 entrance fee per person.
This rooftop used to be the city’s best-kept secret. Locals in the know would enter the hotel, order a café or a Cagole (the local beer named for the Marseille slang for “bimbo”) at the front desk, take the elevator to the fifth floor, and walk up a staircase to a tiny terrasse hidden above the bustling Vieux-Port. There were neither seats nor décor – just one of the most breathtaking views above the port.
Realizing they had a diamond in the sky, the Hotel Hermès transformed the raw space in 2018. A wrap-around counter for birds-eye views, a corner space with cushions for lounging, Astroturf for a “garden party” feel and a central bar for shaking up mojitos, Moscow Mules, and the ubiquitous spritz. Bites include fried fish (mange tout), anchoïade and charcuterie boards. Plan to arrive early to score a spot. With no reservations and limited capacity, this gem fills up fast.
Café de l’Abbaye
Thanks to its killer location and sociable owners, this swinging spot is always packed. Hipsters fill tables on the triangular patio, then spill onto the sidewalk to soak up the plunging view: a panorama that sweeps from the two medieval forts standing proud at Marseille’s harbor to the Abbaye Saint-Victor up the road, for which the bar is named.
To order, belly up to the counter inside. The simple menu has all the essentials: pastis, pression (draft beer) and wine by the glass or bottle. Munch on panisses, the chickpea fritters that are Marseille’s signature snack. Café de l’Abbaye is first-come, first-serve, so we recommend arriving early if you prefer to sit. We like standing for the best views. Try to time your visit with sunset hour – the pink and coral sky pairs perfectly with rosé.
Tucked away in the Quartier des Antiquaires in Marseille’s 6th arrondissement, this beloved bar is known for its cocktails and warm atmosphere. Owner Jean-Christophe Meunier is the brains behind the bar. After honing his skills at Vieux-Port stalwart La Caravelle, he opened Le Directoire in 2017 as Marseillais’ taste was expanding beyond sugary Mai Tais. His craft cocktails put the spirits first: including local distiller Ferroni’s small batch booze, U Massicu Corsican gin and Italicus liqueur made with Italian bergamot. Fresh herbs, citrus and house-made ginger beer make them sing.
A rotating tapas menu goes beyond cheese and charcuterie. Find kefta (spiced meatballs) and hummus to croque monsieurs or grilled sausages. La Directoire has a few sidewalk tables in front of its stone façade. Many revelers gather around the tables in the spacious courtyard lit with string lights. Neighbors Trois Coups, a natural wine bar, and Brasserie Louis XIV, a bar du quartier, share the square. Together, they host live music, football matches, and other events. Check their Facebook page or Instagram for updates.
Viaghji di Fonfon
Since 1952, Chez Fonfon has lured locals and tourists alike for its legendary bouillabaisse, freshly caught fish and locale amongst the colorful cabanons in the fishing village of Vallon des Auffes. Eager to share his quartier’s charms in a more relaxed ambiance, the current owner Alexandre Pinna – son of the original owner’s nephew – opened Viaghji di Fonfon in 2013. Located below the famed restaurant, the tapas bar is inspired by viaghji (Corsican for voyages) through the terroirs of Corsica, Provence, Sardinia and Greece.
Savor briny plates of anchovies, bruschetta and olives, sautéed seiche (squid), and platters of artisanal charcuterie paired with Provence and Corsican wines. We’re drawn to the crisp whites and rosés made by Corsica’s Domaine Fiumiccicolli. Gathered around white Lillet-stamped barrels under twinkling lights, the setting beside a string of boats and the Mediterranean encourages dreams of setting sail. Call in advance to reserve – be warned the busy spot doesn’t always answer – or simply show up early. In the summer, the neighborhood association organizes art shows every Thursday along the stone jetty besides the sea.