Articles abound on the ‘speakeasy’ bar trend; some proclaimings it’s in, others proclaiming it’s over. I think it’s over. That’s not to say I don’t highly enjoy many of the places touted as modern day speakeasies. But, a little variety is good and I don’t think a bar need necessarily employ faux-prohibition tactics to prove their cocktail cred. However, a bar with the name ‘Speakeasy’ is going to catch my attention.
I think it’s important to (at least try to) be aware of our faults and to correct them. One of my current personal fault projects: I’m a little bit of a grudge holder. So, when the restaurant atop the Terrass Hotel started fluctuating too much in service and quality for the price, I stopped indulging in their rooftop dining and mentally crossed them off my list of possible eats. That doesn’t mean I wasn’t longing for a bit of terrace time with them, but I was loath to pay full whack for a meal or talk my way into one of the very few spots for a drink to get it. And, then like an ex strolling back into my life with promise of change, they came up with their latest summer scheme.
No longer are reservations or long meal commitments necessary to enjoy the expansive view. The Terrass Hotel was now teasing me back with its latest rooftop transformation: le 7th. All summer, the rooftop terrace serves exclusively as a no reservations cocktail bar and lounge with the option of finger foods, burgers, salads and pasta should you feel peckish. Maybe we could get back together after all? I met up there with Wednesday regulars Matt, Vio and Mel as well as visiting style-meister cocktillians (and more) Howie and Tawny, to find out.
Once I made it past the multiple lobby staff and onto the roof, I immediately remembered what brought us together in the first place. The view is special. The faux-grass green matting gives the impression of stepping onto a healthy (but well manicured) lawn and the space is open, airy and relaxed. And, clearly this place has caught more than just my eye. The night of our reunion was a busy one with an abundance of the suit and earpiece crowd.
The drinks menu features 17 classics such as martini, manhattan and negroni and 9 house creations including three mojito riffs, all at 14 Euros each. My usual first order was a disappointment of proportions. While, I like a bit of vermouth in my martini, this was too much. Of the three gins on offer (Bombay, Gordon’s and Tanqueray) my guess is they’re using Gordon’s for the martinis. Opinions varied on the other drinks. In the surprisingly good category were the gin fizz, manhattan and strawberry basil mojito. The caipi was another overly sweet disappointment and the planter’s punch tasted of spiked juicebox.
Like many places, pretty garnishes can initially distract from the actual quality of the drink. The attention to visual details and fluctuation in cocktail quality says to me that there are some good intentions behind the bar, but maybe a lack of range and/or knowledge when it comes to serious cocktail skills. Warm weather clients looking for a bit of summer fun without high end cocktail expectations, will enjoy perching above Paris with something cold in hand. But, I would personally love to see a bit more consistency and attention to some of the mixers.
A flute of Lanson Black Label champagne goes for 15 (white) or 16 (Rose), and wines by the glass at 5 to 7 Euros seem a steal when you take into account the view. But, if you want to stick with the cocktails, I’d recommend either a Basil Strawberry Mojito when warm summer evenings call for something with plenty of refreshing crushed ice or a Manhattan once the temp drops with the setting sun.
Opinions on service fluctuated as well. I found the servers helpful in getting us all situated around the table with everyone arriving at different times and attentive about taking orders. However, there were a couple of glitches with Matt’s final beer order and everyone found the pseudo-seriousness of the downstairs staff a bit daunting. Fluctuations aside, we had – as usual – a great time together testing and tasting. And, while I snapped the usual pics, Howie captured the moments on paper.
So, Hotel Terrace, I’m no longer holding a grudge. You seem to be making an effort to change. And, while I don’t know what our future together holds, I could maybe be down with a summer fling.
39 Rue des Petites Ecuries
Tel: 01 53 34 60 85
I’d heard rumors about reputable bar and design talent either potentially, marginally, temporarily or fully involved in le Pompon for some time before its opening a few months ago. So, I was looking forward to checking up on it with Matt, Vio and Kim.
When we arrived at this up and coming newbie in the 10th, it was quickly filling up with a motley after-work crowd. Kim noted that it’s a nightspot which can easily draw a varied customer base. I agree and like that aspect. But, perhaps they’re drawing crowds too successfully as it took quite a bit of time to actually place a drink order while standing directly at the bar.
Your first impression of le Pompon is the relatively spacious main room, packed with lively tables of patrons, large windows, high wooden walls and impressive chandeliers: cosy and updated pub-chic.
When I finally got a chance to order, I asked for a dry gin martini (not on the menu). When the barman grabbed a bottle of sweet vermouth from the shelf, I prepared to address the usual French martini dilemma (i.e. I wanted a dry gin martini not a glass of Martini sweet vermouth.) But, he explained that he knew what I wanted, but they were out of dry vermouth so he was using sweet instead.
I’m laughing to myself in an ‘are you kidding?’ kind of way. It’s basically a case of “We don’t really have what you want, but we’re just going to make what we feel like and give it to you anyway.” I got a highball of gin and sweet vermouth with a straw. Mine wasn’t the only adlib-recipe. I’m still working on my backlog of bars for which I lost photos and notes, but if I remember correctly, Kim ordered something without tonic that arrived blatantly boasting tonic. I believe this lack of attention to detail will set you back about 10 Euros a drink. The barman did show follow-through in coming over to ask how I liked my drink and was sincerely curious and non-defensive when I explained how I would have done it differently.
After our first round, we went for a quick peak at the lower level before leaving. Slipping through the somewhat discreet door at the foot of the stairs, provides a completely different level of ambiance where a small bar oversees a dim dance floor with DJ. I love the juxtaposition of these two rooms and wish Paris would offer up more varied venues like this. Happy with this discovery, we settled in for an impromptu second round. In the basement, drink options are limited to a handful of spirits and mixers for basic well drinks. I had a rum and coke. No comment.
Overall, the place is fun, nicely designed and promises to be a sure-thing address for a majority of both the after-work and night-crawling crowd. While not every bar in town is obligated to make a decent martini, that’s my thing. So even if I really like the space, I gotta call them out on their cocktails. With the vague rumors I continue to hear about behind the scene decisions here, I believe it will take a little time before le Pompon works out the drink kinks and hits full stride as either a place serving really good cocktails or your basic beer and well drinks. In the meantime, they’re worth a visit for a pint and some good music.
PHOTO NOTE: I finally replaced my camera, so this is my second to last post without my usual photos. Kim gets credit for those on today’s post and you can check out even more on her Pompon post at I Heart Paris.
Russian sounds irresistibly sexy to me. I’ve always been fascinated by the language and its unfamiliar alphabet. I took a Russian class once, but never got much further than learning the meaning of babushka. Contrary to its appealing sound, I discovered it’s not necessarily a word I want whispered in my ear. Many years ago, we went to St Petersburg for our annual NYE trip and stopped into Zov Ilicha, a Soviet-themed bar/resto jam-packed with Lenin busts, quasi-porn, and wait staff in scanty communist era inspired uniforms. I’m American and I’m old enough to remember the whole ‘Tear Down the Wall’ business. But even though I recall it, I’m young enough that at the time I wasn’t totally clued in and found it all vaguely frightening, appealing, exciting and confusing. So I begrudgingly own up to my fascination with CCCP kitsch at various points in my life. But, as a theme, it’s a bit passé now, no?
This week, Kim, Heather and I decided to lift the fanciful iron curtain that separates the recently opened le Molotov from modern day Paris and find out. Beyond the barely marked entrance and blacked-out windows, lies a small, dark and somewhat claustrophobic bar space decked out in typical retro-Ruskie decor. A steep, skinny, candlelit staircase in the corner leads to a small restaurant area where ‘clandestine’ law breakers are smoking in public spaces.
A Communist theme is reflected in menu procurement as well. I believe there is only one in the whole building and we had to wait for the restaurant to finish with it first. When it came, I realized why our upstairs comrades may have taken so long with it. Incredibly dim lighting combined with a handwritten (in cursive) menu in fine ballpoint pin on grid paper takes a while to see clearly. From what I could decipher, various vodka based drinks are on offer.
I tried – unsuccessfully – for a martini and ended up with a ginger, basil, vodka combo. Kim & Heather ordered white and black Russians. By then I had given up on any serious cocktail recon and I don’t even ask what kind of vodka was in my mediocre mixture. Kim’s white Russian, was basically undrinkable. I’m not a white Russian fan myself, but even so, I can tell on tasting one if it’s decent or not. This tasted like powdered milk mixed with water and cheap coffee liqueur. (even though the bottle’s on the shelf, I really don’t think they’re using Kahlua)
We decided to call it good after that round and asked for the bill. For drinks and service of this quality we were shocked to pay 15 Euros each.
It’s no secret that I’m not averse to divey bars or sketchily run places and kind of get a certain kick out of them. But, I AM averse to paying cocktail prices way beyond what the experience merits. While the sneaky smoking area might pull in a certain clientele, the cocktails here will not. I can see it drawing a crowd of ironic hipster wanna-be’s and patrons who are impressed enough by a change of pace from the common Parisian bar decor to be fooled into thinking it’s something more than it is. But, for me, I’d rather have the Zov Ilicha in Russia. At least they had naughty pictures on the wall for entertainment!
(NOTE: I’m having camera issues, so recent post pics will be a bit off and on. The 1st picture used here of Molotov was on both Cityvox and Do it in Paris, so I’m not sure where to credit. And, the 2nd picture us at Zov Ilicha in St Petersburg)
Bacardi Mojito Lab
28 rue Keller
Tel : (+33) 1 75 77 23 95
Forest fact: I should probably be ashamed to admit the following, but I’m kind of fascinated by living statue buskers. I always wonder what they do at the end of a shift. Do they take the metro home in full get-up? Do they sit still as a statue on the ride? It seems that I secretly like to watch these spectacles that everyone mocks. I get a kick out of mimes. I own contact juggling balls that I will learn to use some day and wow you with my skills. So, it might not surprise you to hear that I’m also a little fascinated by flair. But that’s between me and YouTube….in the privacy of my own home.
However, when it comes to cocktails, I don’t need or want living statues, mimes, flair or even contact juggling balls involved, so let’s chat a bit about the recently opened flair-o-rific Bacardi/Laurent Greco project: the Bacardi Mojito Lab. Allen and I popped in and found that Wednesdays are “afterworks.” From 19h00 to 21h00 it’s 25 Euros to get in the door, which gets you two drinks and buffet table grazing.
50 Euros lighter, in we go. Hello, circa 1980′s all-inclusive spring break destination dance club! Dim lighting, acid green touches, pumping dance music…you get the picture. The buffet tables were classed up (I use that lightly) with single red roses in tall vases and scattered petals. Flair videos loop on screens from wall to wall. While, I’ve been told flair bartending is still quite big in France, this is the first place I’ve actually seen it.
The food was nice little bite-sized nibblies for a buffet, but the set up was annoying. No plates, no napkins – so you either sat directly at the buffet table to pop bites in your mouth while others reached around you to grab said bites, or you reached around the people sitting at the buffet tables. For drinks, you go downstairs.
And downstairs it’s all Bacardi and all mojito, mojito or mojito, but with a bit of flair. Sexy barboys toss around shakers and take your order for one of the three mojito variations on offer during the afterworks. This is also a point of contention with me because when the doorman explained the Afterwork concept at 25 Euros, I specifically asked if it applied to the whole menu – because that’s what I was here to check out. He said ‘yes.’ But, no – you get classic, souped up or raspberry mojito. All the other gimmicky, tricked out mojitos are only on offer after the afterworks. On the normal menu, drinks range from 8 to 14 Euros and include things like cotton candy or caviar (cocktail kind, not fish kind)
In an attempt to not be a complete crank, there were a few things I liked. The staff – though a bit spacey – were friendly. I really liked the mint wall and the mint window. I think the boutique, which sells various types of mint and kaffir limes (although not the night we were there) was a fun touch. They also have a smoking room for those who don’t want to brave the cold winter months (although it was closed the night we were there.)
I’m not sure what kind of a crowd they expect to draw. They’re at Bastille with so many competing (and probably cheaper) bars nearby. You can’t spit without hitting a bar in Paris that serve mojitos, so I’m curious as to what they think the attraction will be. I’ve been told this is a popup – so perhaps they’re banking on their ephemeral status for interest. They also offer classes if you want to learn to flair up a mojito at home.
As for me, the only time I want a mojito is if it’s being made by old and stoic Felix at dodgy local Bar Castillo de Farnes in Havana where Che and Fidel toasted the revolution (true story – there he is in he picutre). And, he definitely doesn’t do flair. Otherwise, Paris, you can keep your mojito trend and I’ll stick with the martini search.
Ages ago I went to NYC with a friend and we went to some new in spot – the kind of club where you stand outside and the doorman picks and chooses among the hopefuls, granting access to the lucky few. I won’t say just how many ages ago that was, but it’s been a very long time since I’ve stood outside a door waiting for someone else to decide if I was cool enough to give them money. When we buzzed at the locked door of le Magnifique and were told by the doorman that we could not come in, it momentarily took me back to those times. Fortunately they were not being intentionally exclusive. They changed their opening time from 7pm to 8pm, but didn’t update their website. So, an hour later, we had no problem gaining entry through the imposing big black door (still locked during opening hours) of this self-proclaimed Cocktail Club and Sushi Bar.
I don’t necessarily think of sushi bars and cocktails as going hand in hand (well, except for that one night in Japan….) However, with a cocktail menu created with input from Colin Field of Hemingway Bar fame, you know from the git-go that someone had some serious cocktail ambition. The menu is vast, including a section of classics at 16 Euros and a section of Colin Field inspired drinks at 20 Euros.
My Hendrick’s martini was spot on. The gin selection comprises Tanqueray, Bombay Sapphire, Hendricks, Martin Miller’s (which I’ve not seen in Paris!), Bulldog and Tanqueray 10. Nicky’s Serindipity (Calvados, mint, apple juice, champagne) was refreshing. Wendy, visiting from Seattle, had a Merinquin Fiz (if I remember correctly?) which was topped off with thick egg whites and sprinkled with poppy seeds. A suspiciously hard-shake sounding ‘ticka-ticka-ticka” emanated from the bar area behind us. And, our server he told me they try and keep an eye on seasonal ingredients for the cocktails, which hopefully means fresher and better drinks.
Delicate looking glassware twinkles in the candlelight and dark corners and closed doors flirt suggestively with patrons leaving them to wonder just what this saucy little drinkery might offer. The extremely dim lighting, viewing box at the door, and the overall decor give this relatively large space a serious speakeasy feel. However, gaining entrance is easier than for elusive speakeasys. By simply filling out a form online you can become a “member” of le Magnifique. (which is not necessary to drop by, but apparently puts you on a mailing list for new information about the bar)
Another thing I noticed is that for such a large space, they’ve got the music at just the right level so that it doesn’t overpower conversations at your own table, but blocks out the buzz of those around you. I expected something more along the lines of a Costes like playlist, but instead the night we were there, solid classics were playing (think U2). Once a member via the online registration, you can listen to their playlist for yourself on Deezer.
A few final things of note: they have a fumoir (smoking area), which you find rarely now that France has gone no smoking and the service was pleasant and accommodating. However, we did wish they would have put out a few little bar snacks to nibble while sipping on 20 Euros cocktails!
Le Magnifique is a large and minimalistically plush hideaway for modern day hepcats with dosh to spare. Fortunately, while it seems to take its drinks seriously, it doesn’t take itself too seriously just yet. The only drawback here is that there’s nothing less expensive on the menu for those who might want to check out the space without spending. With softs at 10 Euros and a simple glass of wine at 16 Euros, coming here is a commitment. But as long as they maintain the laid-back attitude of this week’s visit and ‘exclusivity’ remains tongue in cheek, it’s a committment I’m willing to make from time to time.
In search of something positive from last Wednesday’s Cocktail Adventures, I’m posting on our follow up bar to Hotel du Nord. After our hasty and coerced departure, we followed Jodie to a place recently opened by friends of hers.
Not surprisingly, considering one of our group knows the owners, the atmosphere at 4 Elements was more welcoming and the bar staff friendlier. Even better – they seemed to be upbeat and friendly with all of the clientele, friends or not. The deco at 4 Elements is affordable-modern stippled with brightly colored illuminated plastic bits and pieces & video screens. I had a potently drinkable ti punch. While not the best of the cocktails I’ve sampled in Paris, their drinks are acceptable and affordable at 8 – 9 Euros/drink. In addition to the drinks, 4 Elements has a few offerings which might be of interest to Parisian barflys.
The concept here is – not surprisingly – the four elements. We were given a tour of the place and shown each section corresponding with an element. “Fire” is represented by the main part of the bar, where DJ’s play different types of music each night, hot dogs are occasionally served (but not this night), and a small bar is lined with what appeared to be friendly regulars. Presumably things get hot here. Beyond the bar, you enter a calm, cool and quiet room with comfy chairs with a spot to rest your drink. This is the “Earth” space and serves as their “chill out” room. If this bar got a bit too hectic, I’d happily kick back in this space and enjoy the zen atmosphere. Water was represented by the restrooms, but the only really outstanding part about this “element” was the communal wash basin. And, finally, which may be of some interest to a few, we checked out “Air.” Since the smoking ban, 4 Elements is one of the few bars in Paris which has an actual authorized indoor smoking area. This small space is decorated in light blues and invokes a bit of a fairy tale feeling. For a smoking space, it wasn’t overwhelmingly smokey, however with only a handful of people in there, it was hard to know what it’s like when it gets busier.
Overall, the drinks were average at around 8 – 9 Euros a piece. However, the chill out space & the smoking area do give 4 Elements a bit of a something extra over the average Paris bar. If you’re thinking about stopping by, you might want to check out what music night it is beforehand. I probably wouldn’t make a trip back here for just the drinks, but I think this nice bunch deserves a shout out for their interesting concept and friendly vibe.
A few months back, I embarked on a personal project to find the best cocktails in Paris. Every Wednesday, I visit a different cocktail bar early evening and order two drinks. I start with a Martini and then follow with something different (the house ”specialty” if there is one). I’ve been posting reviews on my Wednesday Cocktail Adventures over on eGullet (where you can find my comments on Harry’s, Experimental Cocktail Club, Flute, Murano, & le Fumoir). Expanding on that, I’ve created “52 Martinis” to document my Parisian tipples and sips on Wednesdays and occassionally other days, if motivated!