Mini-me cocktail adventures: Why Paris Monge

Why Paris Monge
32 Rue Monge
75005 Paris

You might not think it, but I’m actually an introvert. I’m not a narcissistic internet-fame seeker nor do I feel particularly comfortable in large groups of people I don’t know. But… I love my blog. Mainly because it gives me the opportunity to interact  with and get to know all of you fab readers, Parisphiles and cocktail enthusiasts. And that makes me want to take it further. So, I’m working on an iPhone app for 52 Martinis, which is taking more time than I expected. And, it’s taking time away from the actual blog. And, it’s making me revisit some old stomping grounds to see if they’re still up to scratch. But, it’s hard to keep up with prior reviews when old bars keep spawning new locations.  The Why bar, which I reviewed back in ’09 has just opened a second location.  So, of course I had to try the new one….

The original Why, under the ownership of Christophe Darmon, hit the Paris scene about four years ago with multiple trendy magazine mentions and a bit of buzz about the deconstructed cocktails.  At the time, I thought he was making his own way in the cocktail world by avoiding the general ‘scene’ and bringing something festive and fun to the table while still remaining affordable.  And that’s exactly what he’s doing with his new bar, Why Paris Monge.

Located in an arrondissement laden with student bars and divey drink options, Why Monge is bringing a better imbibing option to the area, which is still accessible.  This is a good example of what the new wave of cocktail culture has encouraged in Paris: low key, fun locales that surprise with their choice of spirits and a drink selection that goes beyond the basics.

The menu remains a mix of classics and house creations, including the deconstructed cocktails at pocket-friendly prices of 8 to 10 Euros. That combined with the mellow atmosphere makes it an easy spot in which to pass a casual evening with friends. As with the original, upper-end bar snacks further encourage staying in your seat to continue sipping and socializing.

Matt, Vio and Thibault joined me, so along with my stirred Beefeater 24 & Dolin martini, I was able to sample several drinks off the menu – albeit, ones I probably wouldn’t have gone for myself as my friends have different tastes in drinks than I do. And that’s precisely why the Why works for me.  I can have a nicely-made martini while someone else can order up a butterscotch-fest of a Bee Sting.

In terms of deco, the new bar is a virtual mini-me of the original with its stone walls, dark brown accents and slick vinyl furniture.  Their latest incarnation also offers up a lunch option for those who want a bit of noon-time sustenance.

In short, the latest Why is a laid back little spot that is a breath of fresh air amongst the usual bars you’ll find around Monge. They’re not trying to compete with Paris’ latest wave of craft cocktail bars.  They’re just trying to put out some good drinks and give their customers a good time.

Shaken and Stirred Cocktail Adventures: Seven Hotel

Seven Hotel
20 rue Berthollet
75005 Paris
Tel: +33 (0)1 43 31 47 52

Most modern cocktail enthusiasts will tell you that Bond had it wrong. But regardless of shaken or stirred, there’s no denying the longstanding pop-culture link between the king of cocktails and the super sexy secret agent. So I made my way to the Seven Hotel – home of the 007 Suite and Bond-themed evenings – to see if they shake or stir.

Seven had been on my radar for awhile both for its sleek modern glitz and the fact that Carina Soto Velasquez was doing some consulting behind their bar. However, even with Carina’s added cocktail cred, I still wasn’t hearing wildly enthusiastic reports from fellow bar-hoppers and industry types. I met up there with Matt, Vio and Amy to decide for myself.

This boutique hotel is busting with ultra glam-kitsch touches and the lounge is no exception. I love the ‘floating’ glass balls, soft, comfortable high-back chairs and modern bar. However, the lighting level could drop a notch or two to take it from bright hotel-bar to something more worthy of a sexy evening tipple or cocktail tryst.

My (stirred) martini was well-made and my only issue with it was self-inflicted. I had requested Citadelle for a change. The drink was good but affirmed once again that Citadelle is not my preferred gin for a martini. I like Citadelle, but I think it’s better suited for a G&T – and that’s, indeed, how they offer it on their cocktail menu. Amy and her husband had dirty martinis which they enjoyed. Vio’s Caribbean in Wonderland included two kinds of rum and other goodies like fresh lime juice, ginger infused simple syrup and fever tree soda.

Each of the seven cocktails (at 12 – 13 Euros) corresponds with one of the seven themed suites and showcase solid consulting influence. The menu is interesting and varied – using a range of spirits – but still approachable for cocktail newbies who may be used to more vodka-heavy offerings. In addition to the choice, I appreciate the options of fresh juices, interesting bitters and egg white.

Another thing that brought them to my attention is their selection of absinthe. For a small bar that is not dedicated to the green fairy, their eleven choice Absinthe menu is respectable. Although ‘cocktails’ are offered as an option on the Absinthe menu, the friendly barman seemed to have few ideas and I get the impression that most people who order it here don’t bother mixing it with anything but water. He suggested a Green Beast, which while good and refreshing would not be my personal favorite for an absinthe based cocktail.

Ultimately, I like this place. It’s a fun address to keep in mind for a glam yet relaxed cocktail. What I assume is Carina’s influence in the menu and stock give them a potential leg up over many Paris cocktail bars. My concern is that without the consistent influence of serious bar talent, they will remain simply a sleek and funky hotel bar with good drinks instead of venturing into consistently exceptional cocktail territory. And, I do recommend it for anyone who wants to indulge Casino Royal fantasies by ordering their Vesper – which does come ‘shaken, not stirred.’

DIY: La Cuisine "Shake it Baby" Cocktail Class

La Cuisine
89 Boulevard Saint-Michel
75005 Paris
Tel: 01 40 51 78 18

This may come as no surprise: I’m a very social person. I love going out, catching up with friends and finding great cocktail bars. However, there are times when I love – just as much – some serious me time. Quiet nights at home are what recharge me and keep me fun, friendly Forest instead of cranky, tired Forest. Friday nights in are my favorite. And, the best part about it: I can still make myself a stand-out cocktail if I so wish. So, what to do if you don’t know how to make yourself something tempting? Take a class, I say!

In addition to cocktail bars, I am trying to get around the various cocktail classes offered in Paris. So, let’s start with the latest: La Cuisine Paris. In addition to a long list of tempting cooking classes (including macarons!) La Cuisine offers “Shake it Baby” – your chance to learn to mix a few tipples like a pro.

For the bargain price of 45 Euros, you can spend an hour and a half in the company of the young, charming, talented, bilingual (& cute…yes, I know I can be superficial…) barman, Fred. Having seen his fine work at le Cercle, I was looking forward to this one. The class covered four different well-known cocktails including two old schools: Martinez & Whiskey Sour (with eggwhite) and two new kids on the block: Tommy’s Margarita of Tommy’s Mexican Restaurant in San Francisco and the Gin Basil Smash of le Lion, Hamburg (which – in my humble opinion, of course – is one of the best cocktail bars out there.)

I was immediately impressed by the clean, bright and welcoming work space of la Cuisine. And, by happy coincidence friend and fellow blogger, Lindsey, was there to take in some cocktail knowledge as well. Fred did a commendable job of going through the basics (tools and ingredients) and walking us through the prep of each cocktail step by step as our group of seven or so girls each made – and sampled – our own drinks. We even ran overtime a bit, but this didn’t stop Fred from finishing our lesson and we ended with my favorite of the bunch, the Martinez.

While hard-core cocktaillians might find the syllabus a bit newbie, this is a perfect class for those who are starting to dabble in the world of cocktails or just generally curious. However, having spoken to them before the class, it sounds like they are open and receptive to a group’s needs. In other words, get enough people together to sign up for a group class and you just might be able to talk them into something more geared towards your cocktail level and interests.

In short: an excellent way for a gaggle of girls (or boys) to spend a fun and informative afternoon. Or a great thing to do for those of us who like to stay home from time to time but still want a stellar cocktail while doing it.

Mini-Shout Out: La Lucha Libre

La Lucha Libre
10 Rue de la montagne Sainte Geneviève
75005 Paris
Tel: 01 43 29 59 86

Sometimes in the course of my non-Wednesday life, I do visit new bars, and for various reasons, I know I won’t return for an official Wednesday Cocktail Adventure. But, that doesn’t mean all good, bad & ugly of ‘em don’t deserve a little mention on 52 Martinis. And, so we have the case of La Lucha Libre. This unusual night spot has been on my radar for awhile, but I just never got around to it. I got an additional nudge to try it by Paris food blogger, Adrian, via egullet.

Melanie and I stopped into the festively colorful La Lucha Libre a few weeks back on the hunt for some tastily-bad-for-you bar food and margaritas. The 8 – 10 Euros cocktail menu features about 20 choices – including ‘bling bling’ cocktails and an assortment of flavoured mojitos. I opted for a margarita and Melanie had the Kunilingus (yeah, I know, I rolled my eyes at the name of this fruity vodka concoction, too. But it was much more amusing to me when some guy offered to buy Melanie another drink & asked her what she was having). Our 17 Euros assorted tapas platter came bearing jalapeno poppers, chicken wings and various other deep fried tasties. And, the guys running the show here are extremely friendly.

While not bad, neither the drinks nor the food would get me across town for an official cocktail trial. But, as far as bars go, these guys have something going on that you won’t find anywhere else in Paris. La Lucha Libre hosts nightly wrestling matches downstairs (televised in the upstairs bar) and their fun kitschy decor reflects this theme. Normally wrestling wouldn’t get me across town, either. But, seriously, the hard-core fun of the “open to all” Thursday nights where combatants face off wearing giant padded sumo suits is worth at least one visit. Think about it: where else could you go that – no matter how many potent margaritas you knock back – you can still be fairly certain that someone else is going to do something sillier than you. (unless, of course, you decide to don the fat suit yourself and try your luck in the ring!)

Wednesday Cocktail Adventure: Le Crocodile

Le Crocodile
6 rue Royer-Collard
75005 Paris
Tel: +33 1 43 54 32 37

Over 300 different cocktails! Well, of course, I was curious to check this out. With its dark and dingy interior, graffiti covered tables and cheapish cocktail prices, le Crocodile is the ideal student bar. It’s got that dirty-arty-boho feel which appeals to the student desire to sit in dim corners having philosophical conversations. It’s got a fairly priced drinks menu appealing to students’ nearly always empty wallets. Plus it’s located in the Latin quarter not far from the Sorbonne in an unassuming side street just across from Le Pantalon, another popular university hangout.

Apparently one of the barmen who has worked there for the past three years has all of these recipes memorized. And, it’s no small feat considering they diverge from standard recipes. Their website is upfront in announcing that cocktail purists will not find their classic cocktail recipes to be traditional. This is indeed the case as evidenced by my Dry Martini:

What’s in that stumpy little glass is a mixture of ice cubes, sweet vermouth, dry vermouth, sweet and sour mix and gin. I’m not saying it was bad. But, it’s nowhere close to a classic martini. I’m all for experimenting, but I just don’t really understand why either you don’t a. replace a classic with something much better. OR b. name your new invention something else. For my second drink I ordered the Nabab (hot pepper liqueur and champagne.) After two rounds, the most consistent observation on their cocktails from the group was “surprising aftertastes.”

Our drinks at the pre-midnight happy hour cost of 6 Euros were fairly priced and fairly boozy. The juices aren’t fresh and the recipes are a bit on the crazy side, but I like the fact that they’ve got just about anything you can imagine flavor-wise. Le Crocodile offers up dozens of different liqueurs from all over the world. I wouldn’t head back there for drinks anytime soon, but they are definitely trying to do a cocktail thing that – just depends on if it’s your kind of cocktail thing.

Wednesday Cocktail Adventures: Curio Parlor

Curio Parlor
16 rue des Bernardins

You know when you first fall for someone and you think everything they do is great? That’s how I’m feeling about the guys behind the Experimental at the moment. So, I was looking forward to this week’s cocktail adventure to their newly opened second bar, Curio Parlor, heart warm with my school girl crush.

Initially, we walked right past the unassuming and unmarked door. After backtracking, finding the correct number and entering, it was clearly a bar in the ECC family with its dim lighting, funky decor, ambient music, and velour seating. The walls are stone & there is a sexy little nook, which is sort of curtained off from the rest of the small bar offering a somewhat more private space. The downstairs was full of customers watching a movie, so I didn’t explore down there as much. We arrived just after opening (21h00) and the bar was already buzzing with a good little crowd.

The drinks menu is different than that of the Experimental, offering ten specialty drinks such as the Aragua Tiki, vodka-based Strawberry Field, and the Pisco Pineapple. The prices, however, remained true to their range of 10 – 12 Euros. My first round Plymouth martini with a dash of angostura and a lemon twist was excellent. It was perfectly cold (I noticed the bartender stirring it for a good amount of time before serving) Matt started with a Copa Verde (Tequila, bio honey, avocado & lime), which got general approval from the crowd. Also of note, Chris (another semi-regular of the cocktail adventures) ordered a very tasty Manhattan Rye. So nice, in fact, that when Romee, (one of the three owners) mistakenly brought one to the table for one of our party, I snapped it up before he could take it away to change it.

I chatted a bit with him and told him that I had recently been to a few well-known Munich cocktail bars, where the bartenders were singing the praises of the Experimental. He talked about the influences that a few bars in Germany and U.S. bars like Pegu & Flatiron had on their two spots. It’s not every day you find a bartender in Paris dropping those names – but the fact that he did confirms my prior impression that these guys have a serious interest in cocktails. I asked him where he got the Bio Luscombe Hot Ginger Beer listed on the menu. I can’t really remember, but I believe it’s only accessible to industry customers – but I liked its refreshing bite so much, that I followed my Manhattan Rye with a Spiced Mule (rum, ginger, lime, house vanilla sugar & the ginger beer). Yum.

Basically, these guys have taken things (unmarked doors, movie screenings, high-end cocktails) and put them together into a nice, solid drinking experience without the potential pretension or cheese factor that this combination could present. On Wednesday night the crowd seemed friendly and laid back. While I still prefer the Experimental (purely personal preference – no reflection on the quality of the cocktails) I would come back to this great find any time for the well-crafted cocktails at a reasonable price. My only hope is that they keep getting a dedicated and cocktail-enthusiastic crowd so they keep up the fantastic work!