On a nascent wave of gentrification, the multicultural, working class neighborhood of Saint Denis retains enough of its cred-establishing edge to pull in the cool new spots. One of the latest to turn up on this blue-collar-turning-bobo real estate is Baranaan.
From the outside, Baranaan passes for a brightly lit café with an Indian bent that belies the liquor lair hidden within. Tell the staff that you’re here for the stronger stuff, and they’ll lead you through the incent-smelling, tiger hallway back to the lounge. But first they’ll offer you a bindi. After a fleeting concern about feeling like an asshole for co-opting another culture as cocktail amusement, I popped a dainty red dot on my forehead and got my Hindu alter ego back to the bar.
The backroom lounge is dark and long and tricked out like a train, complete with windows showing the passing scenery. Sparkling tiles provide some Bollywood glitz and Indian words on the wall give it some “authenticity.” The rest of the décor is cool and comfortable with simple stools and booths that work well both in terms of form and function.
The menu includes about fourteen India-influenced cocktails at 12 to 14 Euros (a bit pricey for this area.) Their descriptions include ingredients but also give an idea of what the customer is in for (fresh, bitter, sweet, floral, etc.) This is always helpful – especially in a space like this, which I suspect will pull in less seasoned (i.e. slightly younger) drinkers who might not be as familiar with all the boozy options and what they offer.
The choice includes house creations or Eastern interpretations of classics like their riff on a Bloody Mary or the Nayanti, which is a Boulevardier made with an Indian Single Malt. What I appreciate about the menu is the wide range of options. There are beginner-friendly choices like the Indira’s Affaire (vodka, rose) or more gateway options like the Dura Dura in which the familiar cucumber ushers in a smoky mezcal.
And there are the more ballsy alternatives. The Gandà Maritni is a martini made dirty with the addition of fennel brine. It has a surprising and almost off-putting taste at first, which slowly turns to something quite addictive and moreish after a few sips. When I ordered it, the server asked me if I was okay with bitter. I let her know that I am – and I appreciate the concern as my guess is this one is an acquired taste that might surprise the unsuspecting.
They also have a punchbowl that serves several drinkers for a cool 50. And they have a rotating punch by the glass (based on the season and the bartender’s whims) at 8.50 (now that’s a nice price). The punch was refreshing and I like it as an affordable and ever-changing option on the menu, so I give that a thumbs up.
Baranaan is yet another sure sign that Paris is picking up on some positive cocktail techniques. What I’m saying is that while I may not have personally loved every cocktail I tried, I’m a cocktail snob with very specific tastes. And what we do have going on here is some adventure and thought and good practices. Gone are the days when every new, trendy bar had crap brands for gin (or other spirits.) Just a few that I noticed on the shelf here were Death’s Door, Monkey 47, Beefeater 24, Citadelle, and Sipsmith. So, it’s worth a go at least once. And, of course, many more times if it tickles your fancy.
In addition to the mixed drinks, they have a few artisanal beers, bubbles and various wines, including an Indian white and red. Raise your hand if you’ve ever tasted an indian wine. I haven’t, but may just go back and try to sate my curiosity. They serve up munchies like brochettes and naan. And the toilets have an interesting aspect, which I’ll leave you to discover (it’s no fun if the blog is all spoilers, right?)
We arrived at opening and it was quiet for a short while and got progressively busier with a young, fun crowd. So, go early if you want to grab a seat. And if you want to finish with dinner, they’re right across the street from another spot that’s adding to the gentrification of the ‘hood: Distrito Frances. And, I’m digging the tacos and fun vibe there (yet to try their cocktails, but it’s on the list.)
7 Rue du Faubourg Saint-Martin