Echelle de Jacob
10-12 rue Jacob
tel: 01 46 34 00 29
Echelle de Jacob means Jacob’s Ladder in English. So, what is Jacob’s Ladder? It’s a biblical stairway to heaven. It’s a children’s game played with string. It’s a disturbing movie circa 1990. And, it’s also a cocktail bar found on rue Jacob in Paris’ Saint-Germain-des-Prés quarter where “toutes les nuits deviennent un autre jour où tout est possible.”* How to resist the lure of such a romantic claim?
In addition to the promise of possibility, Echelle de Jacob is oft referred to as a New York style ‘private club’ with an impressive cocktail list. Not knowing exactly what was meant by ‘private club’ I emailed to reserve and was told they’d be happy to receive us at 7pm on the appointed day. Arriving on time, I was surprised to find it closed. Fortunately, the convivial barman allowed me to cozy up in a corner and wait for Matt and Vio while the evening’s entertainment did their sound check. Back in the 50’s, this locale was a popular cabaret, serving as a starting point for iconic french lyrical talent such as Brel and Brassens. Staying true to their musical beginnings, Echelle de Jacob still pulls in bands and musicians for a night crawling crowd of regulars.
The cocktail menu features 12 ‘martinis’ including a chocolate martini, velvet martini and ginger martini. Three drinks veer from the martini theme: cosmo, sex on the beach and the eponymous Jacob (cranberry, citrus, strawberry, mint and your choice of rum, gin or vodka – or virgin). They also note on the menu that you can ask for whatever that suits your fancy. Cocktails are mainly vodka based with a few bubblies thrown into the mix. Spirits are heavily weighted towards whiskies (with 10+ on offer). For gin we have the choice of either Tanqueray or Hayman’s Old Tom
Order any cocktail on the menu and it will set you back 12 Euros. Unless….you order the most expensive drink on the menu (which of course I did) at 15 Euros: a Dry Martini. My Tanqueray martini looked okay on arrival, but on tasting, i realized it was made with sweet rather than dry vermouth. When the barman came around to ask how I liked it, i hesitated. My pause caused him to press. i hate know-it-all customers and i don’t want to be one, but at that moment i decided if someone asks your opinion, let’s assume they want to hear it. So…
I suggested that dry martinis are normally made with dry vermouth. And (not for the first time) i got schooled by a french barman telling me that a dry martini is gin and sweet vermouth. He explained that in America ‘where martinis were invented’ that’s how they drink them. At the end of his explanation on how Americans drink cocktails, he asked me where i was from. Oh, the irony.
Cocktails aside, I like this spot. It’s dim, dark, candlelit and heavy on the velour. The small space is intimate without being cloying. The service is pleasant without being kiss-ass. In the bigger scheme of things they’ll be hard pressed to compete with other bars in the area that either make stand out cocktails (Prescription, L’Hotel) or cater to an American audience (Ralph’s).
In general, Echelle de Jacob feels like it’s past its prime. And, i bet that’s a big draw for loyal regulars, whether they realize it or not. With their pseudo strict door policy, unapologetic cocktail list and hints at former glory, there’s something appealing here. Not necessarily the cocktails. But, maybe a coupe de champagne at 10 Euros and a bit of fun music. And, i just love the promise of the possibilities that a new day brings.
*every night becomes another day and anything is possible.