I had a quick 2-night visit to Paris, last week. My main goal was to visit my sister, Amy, who has lived there for the last 14 years. My additional goal was to visit as many new cocktail bars as possible.
I’ve been on the jury for CocktailSpirits Paris Bar Show’s “Best Bars in Europe” competition for the last 2 years. I take that responsibility seriously. I had to see what’s new in the City of Lights for next year’s nominations…
In 2011, I visited some “new mixology bars” at that time – Curio Parlor, Experimental Cocktail Club – which were both impressive though still finding their sea legs. Today, both have exploded into huge successes and the owners and employees have opened new bars both in the Paris, and beyond. Bravo, les mecs!
In years past, I’d also visited Hemingway Bar at the Ritz (read that 2007 review here) and Plaza Athenee’s hotel bar. Both are elegant and have nice drinks. But to be honest, unless you have a fat expense account or an elderly sugar-daddy who likes cocktails, they are ridiculously expensive and a bit stuffy. Nowadays in Paris, equal or superior cocktails can be found elsewhere in a more festive environment.
Last week’s whirlwind bar tour was beyond delightful and full of surprises. Here are my top picks in Paris, and the reasons why:
#1) Little Red Door – The first thing that struck me when we walked in this bar – not through the “little red door” incidentally, but through the wall – was that the bartenders were friendly & fun, welcoming us with smiles and good cheer. Hold on, this is Paris… the city where everyone is rude and waiters take pleasure in sneering and saying “no” to any request? Well, folks, that is changing. And, a welcome change it is!
Another surprise at Little Red Door was a drink called L’eauD’Antan which featured Laphroaig, mint, some other things, and a spicy kick from ‘Jamaican Jerk’ Bitter End Bitters made in our hometown of Santa Fe, NM! Not only is it small-batch but my dear friends Bill York and Laurel Gladden are the owners. It was exciting to see this small New Mexican micro-bitters make its way onto the menu in one of my favorite cocktail bars across the Atlantic. Woot!
Amy and I were on a mission to visit as many bars as possible. This was our third one of the night. We had more to go. But, to be honest, we enjoyed it so much, we didn’t move. We ended the night here. That makes it my Number One Pick in Paris in the Springtime 2013.
#2) Le Coq – The neighborhood may seem a bit sketchy, but don’t let that put you off. And, after all, that is often the case with some of the world’s most acclaimed bars – The Varnish in downtown LA, the former location of Milk & Honey in New York. Sidewalks lined with stale piss and creepy nightwalkers is not unusual for up-and-coming hot spots. And, once you get inside, it is worth the journey.
Le Coq is Thierry Daniel’s baby, and given that he is the mind behind CocktailSpirits, I did have high expectations. They were met, and surpassed. Once again, the friendliness of Le Coq’s staff almost takes you off guard. Their graciousness, and willingness to guide the guest through their lovely array of liquid offerings makes one feel at home right away. And, the sign of any great barman or woman, is the ability to ask your spirit of choice, and the concoct a unique offering on the spot. Which was the case with my drink. A wonderful mix of mescal, tequila, sherry and bitters. Very classic. Very much what I requested, delivered perfectly. My only regret was that is was the first bar of Night #2, I could have easily stayed longer but I had several more places to visit.
#3) Dirty Dick – I owe this visit to my sister. When she insisted we visit a “tiki bar” my first impulse was to resist. When not done well, tiki drinks are cloying, syrupy, undrinkable. I didn’t want to waste a bar visit. Obviously, I had not done my homework on this place! Dirty Dick was just nominated for best bar in Paris at the CocktailSpirits bar show the week before. (Amy has good taste.)
We took a cab to Paris’ Red Light district called Pigalle, past the sex shops and hooker hangouts, andpulled up to the particularly appropriately named bar, given its locale. Inside, we were transported to a tropical paradise where the American owner (Victorville, California-native Scott Schuder) and his crew wear appropriately tacky island shirts, big smiles and the bustling hipster crowd is bursting with excitement. Murals of exotic ladies, large tiki god statues, blue lighting, bamboo all around, its exactly what a tiki bar should look like. And, the drinks were perfection. Fresh juices, homemade syrups. I can’t say I’ve had a better Zombie or Painkiller anywhere else in the world. Scott’s Dirty Dick is on my must-do-every-time-in-Paris list. (Wait, that sounded weird…)
#4) Candelaria – Finally, I was able to pop my head inside this now very established Paris hot-spot. It had just opened last time I was in Paris for CocktailSpirits 2011, but I didn’t get there then. I had missed out!
I indulged in El Cuco Cocktail (12 Euros) which featured Sotol, Mezcal, Sweet Vermouth, Lillet and a house-made habanero shrub. Anyone who knows me, knows I’m an agave girl. This cocktail was amazing. I wish I could go back this weekend.
And, its fun! Just like one of my favorite New York bars, PDT where the hotdog joint gives way to acocktailian heaven, one enters Candelaria through an unobtrusive tiny taco shop, pushes the back door and –bam- arrives in a dimly-lit bustling room, 3-deep at the bar, with cocktail shakers and great music providing a backdrop for shimming hips and laughing guests. Despite being busy, once again, the barman was friendly and attentive. It was almost freaking me out how much Paris customer service has come. I love the new regime.
Oh yeah, and its nominated for BEST COCKTAIL BAR IN THE WORLD at Tales of the Cocktail this year. The nod is well deserved, but I also have to note that perhaps enough of the New York-based judges have had a chance to visit this one…
#5) Sherry Butt – It seems like all the original bartenders from the first ‘modern mixology’ cocktail bars in Paris (circa 2010 / 2011) are already branching off to open their own joints. Sherry Butt, located in the hip Marais area, is co-owned by former Curio Parlor and Prescription Cocktail Club bartenders. It has a wonderful atmosphere with stone walls, fun bartenders, great music, groovy crowd and fabulous drinks. Whiskey lovers, take note that this is your bar.
And, the drink I enjoyed the most might sound funky – and it was – but in a good way. It had tobacco liqueur and gold dust, and some other stuff… forgot the other stuff… but who cares when you have tobacco liqueur and gold dust. I know it sounds gimmicky but it tasted both unique and delicious.
Quarante Trois – Some people are hard-core mixology fans, and that’s cool. But, some bars offer something that the others just can’t compete with, and in this case it’s sipping a cocktail while drinking in the best 360-degree view in Paris at sunset, with every single monument at your feet. For that, Quarante Trois is absolutely breathtaking.
We sat at a small table at the railing looking out at the sparkling Eiffel Tower in front of us, Sacre Coeur majestically holding court off to the right, the Arc de Triomphe behind, and the sky lit up with brilliant color behind one of the most enchanting vistas in the entire planet.
I admit that if the G’Vine GCP 2013 finalist Matthieu LeFeuvrier didn’t work at Quarante Trois, therooftop bar atop the Holiday Inn at Notre Dame, it wouldn’t have entered my head to go. I try to avoid anything American while abroad. However, Mathieu made me a delicious Excellia tequila cocktail topped with a splash of champagne, which was indeed the perfect accompaniment to the visual symphony before my eyes. I will return every time I’m in Paris.