20’s Boudoir Cocktail Adventures: Très Honoré Bar

x 647Très Honoré Bar
35 Place du Marché Saint-Honoré
Paris 75001

Two of my favorite things: catching up with good friends and checking out new venues. So, when Dec and Cliodhna were back in town briefly after a few years’ stint in Abu Dhabi, I was more than happy to do both. Considering their time in a region not particularly known for bars, I was looking for a location with wow factor. I settled on the Très Honoré Bar after hearing about its 20’s boudoir glam and checking out some online pics. Yet, when we arrived, I wondered if we were in the right place. Outside is a pretty basic terrace and inside is a hyper-designed restaurant, which feels somewhat dated.  We caught up over so so steaks and wine and I still wondered what the fuss was all about.

x 660That was until after dinner when made our way to the downstairs bar, which was much more in line with my expectations. While this large lounge can easily hold a hundred, it still offers an air of intimacy with nooks and alcoves packed with comfortable arm chairs, candlelit coffee tables and heavy drapes. The ladies’ offers up two loos in the same room, so you can gossip with the girls literally nonstop. Dim lighting and an eclectic assortment of choice pieces like the grand piano, vintage prints and framed insects give it a bit of elegance with attitude. Sexy wait staff with just a pinch of the expected attitude themselves make the rounds with menus.

x 642Twelve cocktails are divided between classics (like the bijou or pisco sour) and house creations at 12 to 15 Euros.  Cliodhna and I went off menu with a nicely done martini and old fashioned. There was a bit too much sugar in the bottom of her glass for her taste, but I don’t mind a bit of sweet grit in my old fashioned. I couldn’t place the gin and later found out it was Seagram’s, which I haven’t had for years. Although it’s owned by French company Pernod-Ricard, it doesn’t seem to show up in most of the bars I frequent here, and I associate it much more with US gin drinking habits. (Seagram’s 7 and 7, anyone?) Otherwise, nothing too unusual with the other gins on offer of Bombay Sapphire, Hendrick’s and Tanqueray. I followed up with a Très Honoré (Jack Daniels, Chambord, white peach puree, fresh mint, and lime juice.)  With its very particular taste, Jack can be a touchy spirit to mix with. However, peach seems a natural pairing for it and the Jack came through nicely without being masked by too much sweetness. We tried a few more, but I must admit that note taking fell by the wayside as Cliodhna and I caught up. But, in general it seems they are making a decent drinks effort.

x 652The night of our visit was pleasantly quiet with just a few other patrons having hushed conversations in other corners. However, its past associations (previous location for the George V group’s Barlotti as well as for last year’s Cointreau Privé pop up), the large floor space and its fashionable address, make it prime real estate for larger and busier events and evenings. And, indeed they were (are?) hosting the Trenty’s soirees and a few weeks after my first visit I returned again for a magazine launch.  The x 653night of the launch was not as enjoyable: it was hot, crowded and a twenty minute wait at a bar that wasn’t serving cocktails. But, based on my prior pleasant enough experience, I’m going to hope that was a due to the event organizers rather than the bar itself.

In short, the space is glamorous and they’re making an effort with the cocktails.  It’s the type of place that has the potential to pull in everyone from the fashionably understated to the fashion victims, so probably best to time your visit accordingly. But, on my visit with Dec and Cli, I had an enjoyable night.  Was it the company or the cocktails? Probably a bit of both, so I wouldn’t hesitate head back and see how things shake out here.

Discrete Cocktail Adventures: Baudelaire Bar at Le Burgundy

Le Baudelaire at Le Burgundy Hotel
6/8, rue Duphot
75001 Paris
Tél. 01 42 60 34 12

As an ex-pat in Paris, it’s easy to drop into Anglophone life. But I didn’t move here to live in an artificial bubble of Americana. I like speaking the language and hanging out with Frenchie friends.  But, my writing skills en français are another matter and 52 Martinis comes to you only in English.  So, when Alambic approached me about translating my posts into French for their online magazine, my reaction was: Right on! I’m not sure how they will deal with some of my more creative words or flippant phrases, but it’s cool 52 will be coming at you in French. And to seal the deal, their main man, Sébastien Foulard, and I met to sign the contract over a drink at le Baudelaire bar of l’Hotel Burgundy.

Le Burgundy, a discretely under-the-radar five star hotel, is home to the modern and comfortable Baudelaire Bar – and also the location where the poet’s affects were auctioned off after his death. As part of the hotel’s Michelin-starred restaurant, the bar takes up two rooms with heavy curtains, sophisticated furnishings and a red and gold ceiling fresco inspired by Baudelaire’s “Fleurs du Mal”, which pops against the dramatic blue walls.

While, le Burgundy bills itself as a cognac bar with at least 60 references on hand, cocktail-seekers should find some sipping alternatives off the mixed drinks menu that range from 19 to 21 Euros. I passed over the Skyy Martini section of seven, paused a little longer over the six Champagne cocktails, toyed with the Signatures and eventually went for something in the Old’s Cool.  This selection of classics includes a Vieux Carré, Brandy Crusta, Champs Elysées and the happy addition of a lesser-referenced oldie, the Japanese.

My Brandy Crusta was nicely presented in a sugar rimmed wine glass and conformed to a classic recipe, and you can’t go wrong with that.  Sébastien went for the Japanese, which varied slightly from the original Jerry Thomas’ guide recipe with the addition of lemon juice and – I suspect – a slight reduction in the amount of Angostura bitters (which seems to be the general adaptation for this drink).  This made for a well-balanced drink and probably also conforms better to current palates.

In an unusual move, I had skipped my usual martini order because head barman, Christopher, had previously worked at the Royal Monceau and my thought was I was already familiar with his solid skills so wouldn’t be surprised by a martini he made elsewhere.  However, Sebastian convinced me otherwise, and I reverted to a martini for my second order, which was a good call.  Christopher suggested a rather classic recipe of half and half proportions with a few dashes of orange bitters or a martini to my specification.  I took a wet (but not 50/50) Tanqueray martini, with orange bitters and a twist.  It arrived, icy cold, on a slate tray with the elegant touch of a side of vermouth wash and extra zest.  Of course, I also had a taste of Sebastian’s julep, which went down easily.

All ingredients are fresh and Christopher has the background and skills to pull off the cocktails as well as provide the excellent service.  He tells us they are looking at running some Prohibition themed evenings.  While I always like the idea of reaching ever further with cocktail programs, I would love to see themed evenings that branch out into something beyond an already established aspect of cocktail culture.  However, I believe this is generally indicative of the workings a hotel bar, in which visiting guests are more likely to expect menus to reflect current trends rather than break them.

That said, sometimes nothing beats an elegant hotel bar and all the niceties that come with it.  In addition to the soothing environment, refined service and stylish surroundings, the Burgundy puts out some sophisticated bar snacks and adds more personalized touches such as heavy ice balls in the water glasses (often reserved in bars just for whiskies or certain cocktails.) Another addition they’re making to the 5 star bar experience is bringing in the DJ’s. So, the crowd that previously did their lux lounging at the Ritz before its closing is making a new home here for a bit of music and mixology.

So, not only was I happy to be meeting up with Sebastian for a drink to celebrate collaboration with Alambic, I was happy to discover this intimate hotel bar with its understated elegance instead of oversaturated hype. And that, I did all in French.

Happy Hour Cocktail Adventures: l’Empire

L’Empire
48, rue de l’Arbre sec
75001 Paris

Life gets busy. I’m lucky to have lots of fun things to do and – even better – lots of even funner people to hang with. But, recently I’ve been a bit all over the place and realized I’m missing out on some of my nearest and dearests.  So, Jodie and I made a point to have a girlie catch up over some nibbles and drinks at the l’Empire Hotel.

L’Empire is a 4 star hotel steps away from the Louvre that offers up a generous happy hour from 19h to 22h. Jod and I arrived at the start of this happy hour to find the place packed with other partakers. While nice enough, it seems to try a bit too hard to be elegant. There was a whiff of 80’s – which can be retro-cool – but this smelled of budget for a hotel that commands 400 to 1,000 Euros per night. I love the comfy, faux-suede arm chairs, but the light blue ambient lighting, big screen TV and black ceramic vases take it down a notch for me.  But, they do have a small terrace, which is a bonus.

The menu features thirty-some-odd choices and includes classics like a Sazarac, non-classics like the Killer Vacation, and house creations, which all ring in at half price during happy hour (meaning around 6 Euros a glass.)  The barman was working the room solo, so I cut him some slack for the fact that it took over thirty minutes to get some drinks in front of us. When it did arrive, my Bombay Sapphire/Noilly Pratt martini came shaken in a chilled glass with an olive and I suspect a bit of olive juice as it tasted a bit dirty.  While it wasn’t the best martini I’ve had, it was a welcome sip for the price and given my crazy week.

Jodie’s Maria du Maquis (a tequila based bloody mary version) didn’t sing, but went down nicely enough.  I followed with a Troya in which I liked the grapefruit juice bite. Jodie’s Sazarac was good, but absinthe heavy. Being a girlie gossip night, we went all out with a third order and my breakfast martini had an appreciable balance of sweet and sour. Jodie’s Tipperary followed the standard recipe as far as ingredients, but I’m not sure on proportions. It wasn’t my favorite of the bunch. Chartreuse is a great addition to many a cocktail, but it can sometimes overpower, as it seemed to in this one.

In short, I find the menu (like me at the moment) a bit all over the place.  It’s a mix of standard cocktails and off the beaten paths with no discernable underlying connection between them all. I also find pricing for their three gins a bit topsy-turvy: Hendrick’s: 11 Euros; Beefeater: 12 Euros; Bombay Sapphire: 13 Euros.

Tasty tapenade toasts came with the drinks. But, given our three drink night, we opted for an additional plate of fries.  Although we ordered one, two plates of crispy delicious chips came out with tiny condiment jars of mustard, mayo and ketchup that tickled me – I do love miniatures.

While we found some of the drinks hit and miss, we adored the barman, Simon. I must give him props for manning the entire operation alone: shaking, stirring, spinning, socializing and overseeing.

He even brought us out a little sample of another drink the London Bramble.  Big up to Simon.

In general, would I go there as a cocktail destination? No. But, I had a long overdue chatty, girlie night at a great price, and it’s a sweet spot to have in your back pocket for something better than average around the Louvre. Drink demands aside, the two of us had one of our best nights in a long time. While it won’t be one of my recs for the best cocktails, it will be one of my recs for an above-average cocktail happy hour that includes service with a cute smile to boot.

Last Call Cocktail Adventures: Ritz Hemingway Bar

Bar Hemingway, the Ritz
15 Place Vendôme
75001 Paris

As I’ve mentioned in prior posts, every Easter my good friend, Kate, comes up from Geneva for a long weekend devoted to indulgent drinks and dinners, which always includes a visit to a swank hotel bar. This year we took our tradition to the Ritz for one last drink from world-renowned barman, Colin Field, before it closes for a 2+ year renovation on April 16.

It’s difficult to separate the bar Hemingway from the man who’s been at its helm for the past 18 years.  Always the consummate gentlemen, Colin’s charisma and charm are legendary.  A few years ago, I took a Ritz cocktail course and learned more than I expected. Ironically in such a chi chi locale, I was reminded of how detrimental cocktail snobbery can be.  In today’s craft cocktail network, it’s easy to fall into group think. “We hate vodka.” “We drink shots of Fernet.” “We wouldn’t deign to make a mojito.” But, Colin’s been in the business since before many of today’s cocktail rock stars were of legal drinking age. And, over the past decades, he’s developed his own approach to the profession, incorporating his beliefs about what a cocktail experience should be for the customer.

So what I learned from him was not to start loving vodka. Instead, I learned to stop hating it just because every other cocktaillian did. In an era when prohibition style bars are de rigor and bartenders sometimes fall prey to seeking out hard to source ingredients just because every one else does, my interactions with him reminded me that to have a more comprehensive understanding of the world of cocktails, it must be examined through its history and future possibilities as well as the current cocktail trends.

Along with the Ritz, Colin has built himself into a brand that goes beyond just the business of building a cocktail. Soon we’ll be able to buy the Colin Field watch, complete with his signature on the face for a cool 2,000 Euros. Bringing out his iPad, he showed Kate and I a picture of the time-piece and then signed a coaster and held it up next to the photo to compare. And this is the essence of Colin.  He doesn’t just make a drink.  He makes an effort to interact with his clientele. By the time I left, I also had the name and number of his dentist.

 

In keeping with this interactive tradition, he’s known for creating concoctions that fit the mood, style and needs of a customer. So, instead of my usual martini, I asked him to create something for me.  What I got was a Colin Field special: Grey Goose Poire, apple juice, a bit of citrus and a single red rose as a garnish. Even with an open mind, vodka is one of the last spirits I’d pick from the shelf, so I was much more interested in Kate’s drink: the Ciboulette cocktail (cognac, apple liqueur, lemon juice, and griotte cherries with a champagne topper)  Why would this drink that has nothing to do with chives be called ciboulette (French for chives)? Before I even wondered myself, Colin told us that it was the name of the pet bunny belonging to the man who created it.

I’ve never been shy about stating my opinion that many luxury hotels charge unjustifiably high prices for a drink. But I was happy to pay the price last night to raise a glass to a venerable barman. Because even though vodka is not my spirit of choice, a lot more went into my drink than just the booze.  And if you want to partake in a bit of the history that is the Ritz, make haste because they close next week.

 

Four Years Later Cocktail Adventures: Beef Club Ballroom

Beef Club Ballroom
58, rue Jean Jacques Rousseau
Paris 75001

52 Martinis began four years ago, a fortuitous time. While my interest in cocktails goes back further, it was then that I found France’s wine culture alone wasn’t enough for me.  I wanted the option to occasionally indulge my cocktail cravings formed in the US and fed by frequent travel.  Around the same time, a French trio was looking to indulge as well and had recently opened the Experimental Cocktail Club, kick starting Paris’ cocktail resurgence and providing the venue for my first Wednesday Cocktail Adventure. Since then, I’ve got over a hundred bar reviews under my belt, and the trio has just opened their fifth Paris location: the Beef Club.

The day after their opening, Kim and I made our way down the long, dark spiral staircase that leads to the below ground bar to see if it maintains their cocktail momentum.  My first impression is that this seems a more ambitious venture than their Paris priors with its soon to open restaurant and notable involvement of butcher Yves-Marie Le Bourdonnec and Tim Wilson of London’s Hawksmore.

My next impression is that the cocktail menu of 8 choices is small but solid.  This family of bars has always showcased quality ingredients and superior drinks inline with the latest of cocktail trends. And while I have the impression that this establishment is geared slightly more to the club crowd than the cocktail loungers, they haven’t pandered with the menu.

As with their other bars, there are a couple of more easy-going options for the casual consumer that may end up being the most often ordered off the menu. My money’s on their cardamom infused Fair Vodka based Pondichery Mule – unless the clientele embraces the absinthe aspect of the Marilou along with its sloe gin and champagne.

But, also like their other bars, they take it further. They confidently incorporate interesting ingredients into their short but sweet menu without shying away from those that might require a more acquired taste. I like seeing a French gentian based beverage brought into play with the Salers Smash, which is balanced in a way that lets the bitterness surprise without taking over. The egg white in the Concombre fumant gives this tequila based cocktail a consistency that compliments its smoky side but also provides a nice playground for the piment. And, prices remain in a range of 12 – 14 Euros.

This team is diligently sticking with the formula that’s made their successful reputation: quality ingredients, knowledgeable staff and a stylish décor in which to linger over lovely creations. Considering the place was packed within minutes of opening its doors the night we arrived, I’d say it’s a formula that’s working for them.

Note: Kim also posted more pics and thoughts from the evening that you can read on her post at I Heart Paris.

Traditional Cocktal Adventures: le Meurice

Le Meurice
228 rue de Rivoli
Paris 75001
Tel: +33 1 44 58 10 10

While spontaneity is good, I also have a thing for establishing tradition (most of mine involve food, drink or travel.) For example, for the past several years, Kate comes up from Geneva for our annual Easter weekend visit. The itinerary always includes: indulgent restaurant meals, cocktail explorations, pampering pedicures, downtime with popcorn and scary movies, and a typical Easter Sunday lunch. Last year we added a new tradition to these long weekends: a swish pre-Easter lunch cocktail. For this one I thought: what better place to practice a new tradition than at a long-standing Paris institution? So, Kate and I stopped into the beautiful Bar 228 of the 200+ year old le Meurice Hotel.

My last visit to the elegantly posh Meurice was a few years back for dinner with my good friends, Wendy and Dayne. But, this was my first visit to the bar area and – as might be expected at noon on Easter Sunday – we had the place to ourselves. Warm tones, dark wood accents, deep leather chairs, lovely lamps, and a hushed atmosphere recall a lux library worthy of elbow patches, cigars and cognac. But, there’s also a clean, updated feel (perhaps thanks to the Starck revamp in 2007?) that saves it from too-stuffy territory.

Barstaff maintain the same level of polished, professional, perfected service found throughout the rest of the hotel and bring out bowls of nuts, olives and creamy, garlicky dip with delicate bread sticks while guests peruse the extensive cocktail menu. Clientele can choose from dozens of long and short classics, champagne cocktails and a smaller selection of house creations ranging in price from 24 – 28 Euros. Of particular note is the warm cocktail selection which seems especially appropriate in this cozy environment just perfect for escape from biting winter nights.

I was initially confused by my martini and couldn’t guess which of their brands (Gordon’s, Tanqueray, Tanqueray Ten, Bombay Sapphire, Beefeater, Hendrick’s and Magellan) was used. I was getting conflicting messages from the flavor and what I perceived as a higher ABV than I would have expected. It happens that le Meurice serves their martinis the same way as a few other old school Parisian establishments: poured directly from a freezer-chilled bottle of gin rather than stirred or shaken with ice. According to the barman this ensured that “nothing was lost” and it also ensured that my Bombay Sapphire martini tasted stronger than it normally would to me. I personally feel that a bit of dilution is a good thing. Kate’s choice was a house creation with red fruit, that was refreshing and fruity without being too sweet.

Le Meurice is more than just the cocktails. It’s an entire experience. And if this is the kind of experience that does it for you stop in early evening when you can enjoy it with the light sounds of live jazz in the background. Or take it a step further with the 228 Nocturnes when the head sommelier takes participants through an “apéritif dînatoire”with a wine tasting paired with canapés. (90€)

While the high-end hotel bars of Georges V, Royal Monceau or Park Hyatt might be better prepared for my personal cocktail preferences, there is no denying that le Meurice is a class act. This establishment excels in all the elegant extras one should expect from a five star. So I may not stop back in for a martini but I will definitely stop back in for a bit of traditionally posh pampering and further research.

Mini-Shoutout: Ferdi

Ferdi
32, Rue du Mont-Thabor
75001 Paris
Tel : 01 42 60 82 52

This year I was rather lucky & had a weeks long drawn out birthday with many mini-gettogethers & surprises. A few weeks after the actual day, fellow food-loving friends, Fred & Lauren, invited me to dinner at Pinxo for more belated celebration. While there are a good number of spendy bars to stop in for a pre-dinner sip in this area, I was trying to find something more reasonable in price range. Fortunately Fred had the foresight to make ressies for an apero at Ferdi.

Ferdi is a buzzing, cozy tapas joint with a long and varied menu & favored by fasionistas and fasionista wanna-bes. I love their fun & whimsical decor with the Playmobil figurines lining the walls. And, I’m impressed that they can turn out such a range of nosh yet still maintain a certain quality level. But, can they knock out a decent cocktail as well? I’d say yes.

I had a very satisfying stirred Tanqueray martini, served in a chilled glass and topped with an olive. Nicky gave her margarita a thumbs up. Of the 16 or so choices on their cocktail menu there are few big surprises. You can get your cosmos, mojitos and caipis. But two of the choices stand out as a bit more interesting. First: a Pisco Sour. With the exception of some of my preferred stops, I don’t find a lot of bars in Paris featuring egg white cocktails. Another option you don’t find just anywhere: a bullshot. Coincidentally, I was just tweet-encouraged by someone yesterday to finally get around to giving one of these a try. So, perhaps I’ll head back soon to do so. Drinks are a reasonable 10 to 12 Euros here – with one exception: the Grey Goose martini at a silly 16 Euros.

I like Ferdi’s combination of fun food, playful decor and decent prices. And, for a place that’s not exclusively a cocktail bar I think they are conscious in their cocktail mixing and a reasonable alternative in a area where pricier cocktails are the norm. And, I’ll take that as a final little happy birthday surprise to myself.

Random Cocktail Adventure: Baboto CLOSED

HOLD ON….BEFORE YOU THINK ABOUT GOING HERE, YOU SHOULD KNOW THAT THIS BAR IS NOW CLOSED!

Baboto
12/14, Rue de la Ferronnerie
75001 Paris

Between NYE travels and my recent Seattle/San Francisco trip, I’ve had a slow start to my 2010 blogging. But, I’m back and looking forward to finding some excellent cocktails this year as well as tackling some more productive and worthwhile resolutions (but that serious stuff is for a different blog.)

Upon my return from Cuba, things kicked back into high gear right away with one of my monthly cocktail meetups the following night. I don’t blog on my meetups because I don’t usually take members to untested cocktail spots. But this months’ choice was an exception so I am exceptionally blogging about it. In a bit of a rush to post a location for January’s meetup before I left for holiday, I did a bit of internet searching and found Baboto. It looked kind of swank & the prices and size seemed right, so I blindly chose it for the meetup.

This restaurant/lounge/tea house/cocktail bar combo self-confidently hangs on the outer fringe of a hectic little zone south of the Pompidou that’s already bursting with bars. The whole thing seems smaller and a bit less swank in real life. The glowing bar is lined with stools as is the mirrored wall facing it. Beyond the bar is a restaurant of a certain trendy genre (i.e. the kind I don’t fully trust on a food level) and a veranda. The young, amiable Luis greeted me from behind the bar over loud pop music. He was unaware of my previously made reservations for 20 to 30 people, but he had no problem with it.

The happy hour (18:00 to 21:00) menu features several basics (mojitos, cosmos, etc) at 5 Euros. Their non-happy hour menu is a little more interesting. I also noted that they sell booze by the bottle, with a Gordons(!) ringing in at a steep 95 Euros. And, I’m usually a bit iffy about a bar that sells anything but wine by the bottle. I asked if they could do a standard gin martini with dry vermouth and got an enthusiastic yes. What followed was a shaken, half sweet vermouth and half Bombay Sapphire combo topped with a star fruit and wielding the hefty black, plastic straw.

I tried a few other drinks off the standard cocktail menu including the MO5 (7 year Havana Club rum, champagne, angostura bitters, amaretto & fresh strawberries) which was the least sweet and most refreshing of the lot. Since there was a large group of us, I got to see and sample a wider range of drinks. Most were okay, but some were overly cutesy or too blue for my taste. In general the group seemed content with their drinks – especially those off the happy hour menu as opposed to the 10 Euros regular menu cocktails.

A few of us ordered the 5 Euros tapas platters for something a bit more substantial to nibble on than just their nicely roasted peanuts that came with our drinks. Square black slate plates arrived topped with a variety goodies such as deep fried calamari, shrimp, and toasts with a sort of tapanade. Although initially I hadn’t held high hopes for the food, I was pleasantly surprised and think it might have been the best deal of the evening.

In general, the place is trying: The ice situation is good (lots of it, decent crusher). The non-happy hour menu has some interesting choices. But, they just aren’t in the same league as my preferred cocktail stops.

When I actually started this post, it was January and I was hitting a lot of the sales, so I was thinking of things in shopping terms: If high-end bars like the George V are the expensive designer shops along the Champs and craft cocktail bars like the Experimental are the more edgy, hip and interesting boutiques, then Baboto is H&M when they pull in a designer collection. It’s shiny but still a bit cheap.

DIY Edition: Cocktail Class with Colin Field of Bar Hemingway, Ritz

Bar Hemingway, Ritz/Escoffier School
15 Place Vendome
Paris
Tel: +33 1 43 16 30 30

There is no such thing as a perfect cocktail. This comes from the man who many would argue makes exactly that. But Colin Field, Head Bartender at the Bar Hemingway for the past 16 years, believes that to be great, a cocktail must be viewed within an entire context of who’s drinking it, why and where.

In the past, I’ve intentionally avoided Papa Hemingway’s old haunt for Wednesday Cocktail Adventures. Having been there before, I didn’t doubt that the cocktails would be perfectly executed. But, for me, the 30 Euros price tag is near impossible to justify – even given the coddling and historical elegance of the Ritz.

Of course, I visit a lot of bars for 52 Martinis. But, I also indulge in more liver-friendly research through books, magazines and chats with plenty of knowledgeable industry people. In this vein, I decided a cocktail class with Mr. Field, himself could be highly educational. Courses are offered in either French or English and go from 15h00 to 16h30 on Saturdays. (cost: 100 Euros)

Our group of 12 sat in the bar while Colin shared his cocktail philosophy, stories and samples. This is a man who has a lot of thoughts and theories on drinking. This is also a man who invites overused adjectives: stylish, impeccable, personable, professional. You simply have to respect anyone that elevates their chosen profession to such a level. The hour and a half course stretched closer to two hours as we broke into groups for an exercise – which included sampling the finished product.

Initially, I wasn’t certain that I could learn much in such a short period of time. I can now confidently say that anyone with a serious interest in cocktails will appreciate an afternoon spent in the company this exceedingly charming bartender. By 16h00 I was revamping some of my own thoughts on cocktails and revising my budget to include more drinks at the Ritz.

If you’re hoping to learn how to make a mojiti or toss shakers, this is not for you. But, if you want to better understand what makes cocktails interesting, personal and palatable, don’t hesitate to sign up. By the time I left – Ritz martini glass and certificate in hand – I was thinking: there may not be a perfect cocktail, but there just might be a perfect bartender.

Wednesday Cocktail Adventures: Le Magnifique

Le Magnifique

25, Rue de Richelieu
75001 Paris
Tel: 01 40 60 70 80

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.