It’s time to address the big Buddha in the room. For a good part of the past decade the Buddha bar has barely bleeped my radar. I considered it a past its sell-by date hub for expense account-wielding wanna-be hipsters more interested in where they are drinking than what (with a bit of electro mood music in the background.) However, over the past couple of years, I began to suspect that just maybe the Buddha was going to have a renewal of cocktail cred. Cocktail acquaintances were mentioning the Buddha Bar, they showed up at the Bar Rouge at this year’s Cocktails Spirit and I heard talk of talent behind the bar. I thought, maybe I should give this place another look.
Buddha belongs to the George V Eatertainment Group, along with other hyper-designed Paris venues like Barlotti, Barrio Latino and Bound. All of their ventures are bold, conceptual spaces that can only be kitted out like that with loads of cash. And, for me, that pays off with the Buddha. I am admittedly smitten with the decor, which many might consider a bit out-of-date in a been-there-done-that kind of way. My attraction has to do with the (hyperbolically) world’s largest Buddha that literally fills the room. That Buddha is fantastically huge. I am both fascinated and frightened by the big Buddha.
We arrived on a Monday in August, an ordinarily quiet month for Paris, but the bar was bursting. Notwithstanding the heaving crowds, the cute, qipao-attired waitress seated and served us very quickly. My Martini was fine, but Wendy found her Last Word too tart. Nice job that the waitress came through the throngs to ask me if I wanted an olive or twist before placing the final order with the bar. The place was so busy I couldn’t see the bar, bartenders or booze, and had nothing to observe but the menu. Amongst copious sake choices, the menu offers a couple of pages of 17+ E cocktails and my observations on each section are such:
Tiki: You don’t see a lot of Paris bars doing a range of tiki, including some of the more convivial options like the group-intended (200 Euros!) 3 litre Tresor Secret du Temple.
Classics: I’m kind of perplexed by their choice of these four: Icebreaker (?), Pineapple Julep, Last Word, Pisco Sour.
Modern Classics: a mix of some sure-fire Stoli-based sellers, alongside a few more interesting and unusual choices, involving eucalyptus-infused shochu. There could be something interesting here.
World BB creations: various drinks, including one “by Marie Claire” which I don’t really understand the reasoning behind.
Voyage in Asia: all involving either shochu, some form of sake or Japanese whisky. Makes sense given the venue.
Goody! three creations from cocktail and spirits notables, which could be considered more challenging than usual for Paris palettes with spicy chili infusions or bitter campari.
Shooters: Three choices. The standard tequila and vodka shots, as well as one diluted with a cordial. Meh.
So, in general it’s a menu with both a few redeemable cocktails qualities as well as obvious profitable choices. I can’t really knock a business for trying to make cash – you gotta bankroll those ginormous Buddhas somehow. Plus perhaps we would have stayed to explore the more interesting potentials, but it was so incredibly hot that I could hardly finish my first drink. And at those prices, with those massive crowds, I’d say a bit of aircon is in order.
So Buddha Bar: has-been or come-back? Anybody’s guess. It will remain in limbo-land for me until I get back in to explore the bar action more seriously. And, given the crowds, I’m not sure that’s going to happen anytime soon. So, got an opinion on the Buddha? Feel free to share. I’ve been getting mails from Buddha-curious readers who want to know.
Cocktail Expert Forest Collins is the creator of 52martinis, an online guide to the best cocktail bars in Paris and other small batch spirits news from France. We've also recently launched an app so you can keep all that bar info in your pocket!