Expat Bars in Lyon - France Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

Expat Bars in Lyon - France

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After Paris, Lyon has the second largest population of anglophones (English speakers) in France, with some 14,000 people from either the UK or Ireland, and another 9000 Americans (excluding students). As such, it has some excellent, and some not so good, theme pubs.

Most of the bars are situated in one of two small area, both are easily to get to on foot from the city centre.

Vieux Lyon

As the name (which translates as 'Old Lyon') suggests , this is the old quarter of the city, with its narrow cobbled streets and medieval buildings, it makes the ideal setting for pubs, restaurants and some strange and wonderful little shops.

The area is located to the west of the city centre, on the far bank of the River Saone. But is still within easy walking distance of the centre.

Johnny Walsh's

The quintessential Irish Pub which is owned and run by an ex-pat Irishman, who is often to be found performing live Irish Folk Music and playing the guitar in his own pub. Johnny Walsh's is probably the most popular bar with the anglophone population of Lyon. If you're hankering for the sound of the English language, this is where you'll find it. All the staff are either British or Irish, as are a good percentage of the customers. The Guinness is probably the best you'll find outside of Ireland and the pub has the atmosphere of a real 'local'. There are frequent live music concerts, with Irish Folk being predominant. The staff organise many events for their clientele. Ski-trips in winter, a cricket team in the summer, and many others.

The Antidote

Just down the road from Johnny Walsh's, this is another Irish Pub, again with frequent live music, but in this case, the music is aimed towards a younger audience with many more students present. The bar staff are once again mostly anglophone, and if the music gets too loud for you, there is an excellent little bar, downstairs in the cellar. However, the stairs down to the cellar are not for the faint hearted, and should not be taken lightly after an evening's drinking.

The St James Tavern

Decorated in the style of a Late Victorian English Pub, a pleasant site awaits you on entering, a row of beer engines, on the bar. Unfortunately, these are just for decoration, as 'Real Ale' is virtually unknown in France. Complete with dartboard, and tables set up outside on the pedestrian street, the St James is the ideal place to rest a while after a busy afternoon's sight-seeing.

The Smoking Dog

'Beer 'n' Books' is the catchphrase on all their advertising; the pub resembles a library, with rows of book cases along one wall, full of all sorts of literature in English. If you come in when it's quiet, and bring books in with you, they'll let you swap them for some of theirs. Clientele is mainly students, and the bar can be packed to the limit on Friday and Saturday nights.

Le Presq'ile ('The Peninsular')

This is the very centre of the City of Lyon, located between the two large rivers, The Saone and The Rhone. Most of the pubs are situated around the imposing Opera House.

The Barrel House

The most well known of Lyon's 'English Style' pubs, but not necessarily the most authentic, when entering the bar, the first thing one notices is the glass rear wall, protecting a micro-brewery. By this stage, the average Real-Ale fanatic will be in ecstasy. However, all is not as it seems. The story goes something like this. The bar was opened around 12 years ago by a group of Englishmen, one of whom was going to be the brewer. Unfortunately this didn't work out, and the bar was later sold. It is now owned by a French company, and there is very little real 'English' connection. As no-one knows how to use the micro-brewery, it now stands idle. A real sin!

The clientele is almost exclusively young French students and finding an English speaking barman can be difficult at times.

The Albion

Originally owned by the same French company as The Barrel House. The Albion is literally, just across the road from its sister bar. With a similar clientele, similar beers and similar decor. However, there does seem to be more live music and English speaking staff.

The Charles Inn

Located on the Rue Mercier, in the very heart of the restaurant quarter of Lyon, this bar is surrounded by a variety of restaurants. The bar itself is one of the few bars in Lyon to sell a decent variety of Single Malt Scotch Whiskies. But beware the restaurants around about. They are mostly over-expensive and are avoided by the local population.

The Ramblers

An Irish Theme Pub, originally set up by a French company, who had the common sense to employ the owner of Johnny Walsh's Bar to help with the launch. Serves quite reasonable 'Pub Grub' at lunchtime, and has the added advantage in that there is a small shop attached to the bar, selling Irish products. An excellent place to spend a few hours at lunchtime, recovering from a morning's touristing.

Other Establishments

There are a few other establishments worthy of note, even if they don't really come under the classification of 'Ex-pat' bars.

Le Chanteclair

Situated on the summit of the hill overlooking the city in an area known as the 'Croix Rousse', Le Chanteclair, despite its French sounding name is actually run by a Englishman, and, even more surprising and incredible, he brews his own beer...


Pandering to the new fashion of Theme Pubs, the French company operating the franchise for bars on French Railway Stations have recently renovated all their bars with an Irish Theme. There are several 'O'Gormans' scattered around the country and although they are a definite improvement on most Railway Station bars, no expense has been spared on the decor. Don't expect to find many anglophones.

In Lyon, O'Gormans is situated in the Part Dieu railway station, they do serve a decent pint of Guinness - for France - and also serve food, unfortunately the menu is exclusively French.

Ninkasi Ale House

Great for live music and beer, not a Theme Pub as such, more an industrial brewery with a large open space for a bar. The Ninkasi brew a range of beers on site. The bar itself is huge and there is live music most nights. It's not too far from the home ground of the world-famous Olympique Lyonnaise football team and is well worth a visit on a Saturday night.

Whisky, Taboulet et Ping-Pong

A small bar in the Croix Rousse, the food is cheap and plentiful, the atmosphere is typically French and the owner is French too... so why is it included in a guide to Ex-pat bars? Simple, they stock a wonderful range of Single Malt Scotches.

The Whisky Lodge

Finally, The Whisky Lodge isn't even a bar, its a shop, however, they do stock an incredible range of whiskies, over 1000 varieties of single malt - ranging from Edradour, the smallest distillery in Scotland through to bottles of 1938 Macallan. The owner is a Frenchman who, unfortunately, doesn't speak more than two words of English. However, if you speak French and have an afternoon free he's always ready to spend hours talking about his stock.

In Conclusion

As can be seen here, there are a great number of theme pubs in this, the second city of France. However, this could be said to be the result of current fashion and not all of them are genuine. Nevertheless, even some of the French-run bars have their good points and just because the guy behind the bar is French, it doesn't necessarily follow that the beer isn't going to be drinkable. There is only one way to find out if you like a pub and that's to try it out... so... à votre santé and cheers.

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