Clandestine Paris Cocktail Adventures: Castor Club

perso 683Castor Club
14 Rue Hautefeuille
75006 Paris

perso 698Considering it’s been around for a year or so, I have no idea why it took me so long to get to the Castor Club. And once I did, I also have no idea why more people aren’t talking about it.

These days it’s nothing unusual to have an minimally marked entrance without flash. And, given the ‘clandestine’ nature of the Castor Club, I expected a bit of attitude at the door. Not so. I popped in at opening to a welcoming and friendly staff and installed myself at the bar to wait for Laurence and Laetitia.

perso 700First impression: the decor delivers something totally different and difficult to describe. When I wrote about Castor Club for WBB, I called it “colonial hunting lodge meets English gentlemen’s club.” Since then, I’ve seen it referred to as a lodge in Iceland, a Norwegian village tavern, something from Twin Peaks, and a Siberian chalet. And somehow all of these are appropriate. With it’s dim lighting, dark tones, wooden slats, green velour benches built into the wall, curious lampshades it feels somehow dark, frightening, exotic and comforting. It’s disconcerting sex appeal.

And the appeal isn’t lacking from the menu either. The typical boxes are ticked with fresh ingredients, a nice range of spirits and a few surprises like sage essence or seawater concentrate. The Chirac 95 incorporates a homemade apple shrub. It’s nice to see shrubs, which have been getting lots of cocktail play elsewhere, more in Paris. Cocktails ring it at a very reasonable (for the space and quality) price of 11 to 13 Euros. For those looking for something else, there are a few interesting beers at around 6, white wine and a glass of Pieper at 7.50.

perso 682My Broker’s martini also ticked all the boxes: chilled glass, stirred, good proportions, appropriate garnish, nice glass. The gin selection has some nice options including Brokers, Hendricks, Aviation, Citadelle, Old Raj, Junipero and Blackwood’s. Between the three of us, we had the opportunity to sample a few – all of which were well done. I sampled an off menu suggestion that included a carrot and Combier Kummel, which I also don’t often see around town. The Moscow Mule is served up in a nice copper cup. Rather than detail each drink, I’d much rather recommend that you get in there and try them for yourself.

perso 702The upstairs is small and intimate and for those who want something more, the downstairs 18th century stone basement offers cozy wall nooks, more music and dancing. If I understand correctly there may also be options for privatizing or reserving this space.

In short, I am particularly glad to have finally made it here. While I’d love to keep the address hush-hush, we know that’s just not possible in Paris. And, not only do these boys deserve a nice shout out, you, dear readers, also deserve to know about the city’s better drinks. So get yourself to this surreal space for some sipping.

Light-hearted Cocktail Adventures: Playtime Cocktails

Playtime Cocktails
34 rue de Buci
75006 Paris

Every day at 5pm, a Google Alert arrives in my inbox with links to French sites, news and blogs talking cocktails. Most of it isn’t very interesting, every once in a while there’s a worthy find and sometimes it slams me over the head with multiple links over several days all leading back to the same place. As was the case with Playtime Cocktails, which seems to be getting a lot of online play. So after a few weeks of receiving continuous alerts to it, the insistent interwebs convinced me to try it.

The recently revamped Artus boutique hotel is courting the cocktail crowd with its newly opened bar, Playtime. This bright and tiny space was designed under the inspiration of film and the fifties, resulting in a playfully retro feel. Electric blue walls serve as a backdrop for bright green furniture and vintage-type posters. The bar has a prominent separate entrance from the hotel, which seems a good move because with less than 30 rooms, they will likely want to pull in some foot traffic rather than relying solely on guests for business. The night we were there, the lights were cranked up, making it a good spot for our group of four friends – but maybe not the place to go for a romantic rendezvous.

The menu of 16 cocktails at 14 Euros each is divided by suits in a deck of cards.  Spades offer up strong and flavorful choices like the Rittenhouse 100 based Brooklyn 29; Clubs go for something more floral and herbal with drinks like the vodka based Pretty in Green, which incorporates basil and elderflower syrup; Diamonds provide a bit more acidity with the likes of the Tommy’s Spicy Margarita; and Hearts have a sweeter and lighter touch incorporating more vodka choices and using a lot of fruit juice and syrups. The menu makes a good go of offering something for all tastes, but if you really can’t find something you want, the “Joker” option allows the barman to make you something according to your tastes.

The barman, Emeric, has done time in some high end Paris and London hotels, so he should be able to come up with something to please most patrons. His solid background and experience is also evident in his friendly and attentive service.  I started with the “joker” and got a nicely made Tanqueray martini with a twist.  Because we were four, we had the opportunity to taste many drinks from the menu.  A few things of note: the Tommy’s Spicy Margarita was very good, but I didn’t feel there was enough heat to consider it “spicy.” The spiced sazarac seemed to be a table favorite along with the Spiced Rum OF (Gosling’s Bob’s Bitter ginger & homemade 5 spice syrup).  In general the drinks are well balanced, properly prepared and incorporate some fresh or homemade ingredients.  While you’ll find no real surprises, neither are there any let-downs. Plus, I’m always happy with a bit of snacking and really liked the olives and little snack crackers that come with the drinks.

As I’ve mentioned recently, it’s becoming increasingly more challenging for Paris cocktail bars to differentiate themselves.  Five years ago, the basics that were harder to find here – ice, proper prep, fresh ingredients, bitters, more interesting choices – are becoming de rigor. So while the drinks here might not blow your mind, neither will they blow your budget, especially at their happy hour prices of 11 Euros.  And, that’s where they hit their sweet spot.  11 Euros is a nice price in Paris for a good cocktail.

So will Playtime get as much play in real life as it seems to be online? Hard to say. I think it’s a good spot for a decent drink, and they’re making the extra effort with happy hour prices and solid service without attitude.  So, I’m hoping they pull in a fun crowd of hotel guests and locals looking for something light hearted around Saint-Germain-des-Prés.

Last of the Summer Cocktail Adventures: le Quarante Trois

Quarante Trois, Holiday Inn Notre Dame
4 Rue Danton
75006 Paris

Holiday Inn may not be the first name to spring to mind when it comes to luxury travel.  But they’ve upped their game with their 4 star Notre Dame eco-hotel and topped it off with one of the city’s best rooftop views at their summer terrace bar, le Quarante Trois.

Taking the elevator to the 9th floor to partake in this panorama is not as easy as it might seem. Ample space is on hold for hotel guests and the remaining available spots are usually reserved in advance.  Walk-ins will likely be told the bar is already full, even at 5:30pm midweek.  However, what is lost in spontaneity is more than made up for by their reservations policy.  Unlike some of the city’s other bars with breathtaking views, once reserved here, you’re guaranteed space without long waits, being denied entrance or excessive crowds.

I previously enjoyed the terrace pre-opening for a Cook Me Drink Me event as well as several times for a glass of bubbly, so I was already sold on the view.  But, wanting to check out the regular cocktail menu, I reserved for an early evening to show off the city to some visiting friends.  While they took a Demory beer (7 Euros) and a couple of glasses of Duval Leroy Rose champagne (15 Euros), I took a martini.  Although a good and icy temperature, I was a little disappointed with the lack of garnish and a few small ice chunks floating in it. There are some nice gins on the menu with Haymans, G’Vine, Hendricks, Bols Genever and Monkey 47.

My martini was an off-menu order. What you will find on menu is a choice of 9 cocktails at 15 Euros, which include house creations and modern classics like the Tommy’s Margarita. The majority of the drinks are tequila based with a couple of rum drinks. The cocktails also feature various liqueurs and herbs de Provence. The “Tais Toi Lasse-Moi Faire” (Shut up and let me do it) option gives the pleasant head barman, Mathieu, carte blanche to create a drink for you.

I gave this a shot, with the instructions to the server that I didn’t want anything sweet or fruity.  Admittedly, that leaves a pretty broad range of options. I got a large balloon filled with plenty of ice and a light pink cocktail. My first thought was: greyhound.  But on second sip, I realized there was a touch of rose to it. When I checked in with Mathieu at the bar, he told me there was crème to grapefruit, crème to rose, G’Vine, citrus and tonic. While I might not make this drink for myself, it was an appropriate choice considering my limited instructions and the fact that I had previously ordered a gin martini.

My fellow drinkers felt like this was a better spot for champagne.  Based on Mathieu’s reputation, I’ll go back to try more cocktails. I do appreciate the fact that the menu doesn’t fall back on just vodka-based cocktails and incorporates more than the usual suspects.

Having visited on several occasions since their opening, I’m finding it one of the more enjoyable spots in which to enjoy the sunny days of summer.  So get there to drink in the last of the lovely weather, but do it soon because they close for the season on 29 September. Hopefully there are still spaces left, because it’s a view not to be missed!

Nostalgic Cocktail Adventures: La Closerie des Lilas

La Closerie des Lilas
171 Boulevard du Montparnasse
75006 Paris

A friend, who is a painter, once told me that he paints every single day whether or not he is inspired.  This keeps his skills sharp so he can do something exceptional with the inspiration when it does come. I think that’s sound policy, so I’m subscribing to it.  Although we haven’t been having much in the way of summer weather, I’m still checking out terraces so when we do we’re ready for a cocktail in the sun. So when I met Emily at the Closerie des Lilas, I bypassed the barstools and went for a table outside.

No newbie to the scene, this historical Montparnasse address has been around since 1847 and seen the likes of Hemingway, Picasso and Henry Miller pass through its doors on a regular basis.  Today, nameplates indicate the usual tables of these brilliant minds from bygone days.  And, its sweet tree-lined terrace provides a pleasant escape from the daily grind of the city.

The hefty cocktail menu offers dozens of various classics like martinis, americanos, and daiquiris. And, I think it may be the only menu in Paris with a Harvey Wallbanger.  The house creations rely heavily on Havana Club 3 year with an additional section based on a range of spirits.  My martini was acceptable but not exceptional and the same goes for Emily’s mint julep (which I would have liked to see in a julep cup rather than a Havana Club branded glass). While better than average for Paris, the drinks at 15+ Euros didn’t justify a second round and we followed up glass of wine instead.

Service is superior with suited waiters bringing savory bar snacks.  Heat lamps and umbrellas mean the terrace can handle cocktail hour from sunny afternoons to cool evenings.

While the drinks aren’t extraordinary, they are better than average with ample selection and a large choice. But it’s really the historical setting, delightful decor and relaxing terrace that make this spot worth a summer flirtation.  In the meantime, I’ll keep up my search for the best cocktails on a Paris terrace.

Opulent Cocktail Adventures: Laperouse


51 quai des Grands Augustins
75006 Paris
Tél : 01 43 26 68 04

This long-standing Paris institution with its over the top opulence enjoys a racy past.  The private restaurant rooms have been – and probably still are – the setting for an illicit tryst or two.  Courtesans used to scratch their diamonds on the mirrors to test for authenticity and gentlemen usually arrived via the secret stairway entrance.  I’ve always loved the downstairs bar decor and was curious to see what changes came with the recent new bar management of Julien Mairesse.

Along with the antique mirrors, the elegance and grandeur remains. Red velvet Chesterfields provide the perfect seating for romantic rendezvous, while candles and dim lamps provide the appropriate mood lighting for current-day coquettes. The dark wood paneling and Persian carpets complete the scene of sophistication.

The cocktail selection, however, makes a complete deviation from the classic.  Although not on the menu, I ordered a dry martini. It was a disappointment even in such lovely surroundings: a glass of Martini dry vermouth stirred in Tanqueray rinsed ice.

The revamped cocktail menu separates options by spirit and gives each drink a female’s name inline with the spirit.  The Gin section features four or so Bombay Sapphire based cocktails with names like Pippa.  Under Vodka drinks you’ll find the Aksana, made with Grey Goose and both light and dark crème de cacao. Rhum drinks with monikers like Maria are made with Bacardi. And so forth. After the failed martini attempt, I tried a Marilyn (rye, red vermouth and chartreuse) which was actually made with Dewar’s scotch.

Service was acceptable and I did enjoy the truffled mousse feuilletés that came with the drinks.  However, at 18 to 20 Euros per drink, on my next visit to enjoy the luxurious lounge, I’ll play it safe with a simple glass of champagne.

Cocktail Shopping Adventures: LMDW Fine Spirits

LMDW Fine Spirits
6 carrefour de l’Odéon
75006 Paris

Since opening its doors a little over a year ago, the LMDW Fine Spirits has established itself as the premier spirits shop in Paris. Always a good bet for hard to find alcohols; this is one of my favorite stops for a bit of boozy shopping. And, now they’ve got something new to boast about with their recent foray into aged cocktails.

LMDW Fine Spirits is a slick and modern three level bottle shop run by a knowledgeable team of spirits experts and enthusiasts. With a range of over 1,500 different offerings (including a large selection of bitters), capable staff and sampling opportunities, it’s hard to get out of here without dropping a bit of cash.

More than just a high-end boutique, LMDW Fine Spirits actively engages with their clientele through both paid and free events and tastings for new or unusual spirits. Their Cocktail Corners – brand-sponsored ephemeral bars – give customers a chance not just to discover different products, but see how they might be used in cocktails.

And in keeping with recent cocktail trends to hit Paris, they are now offering aged cocktails. Although this is not the first we’ve seen of aged cocktails in Paris – newcomer L’Entree des Artistes is doing it as well – this is the first time we’re seeing them for sale by the bottle or barrel.

They’ve just tapped the first batch of various cocktails which includes classics such as Martinez, Manhattans and Negronis as well as new creations like the Harvard and Botzaris. The five liter rum and cognac barrels come from Pierre Ferrand. The finished product can be purchased by the bottle or barrel – which I think would be a fun way to go for a classy cocktail party at home. For those who want to try their hand at aged cocktails, I believe you can purchase the barrel and get enough input to give it a serious go.

Overall LMDW Fine Spirits is my go to for when I’m looking for the whole cocktail shopping experience: large selection, dependable advice and excellent service all wrapped up in a pretty package.

Old Fav Cocktail Adventures: Prescription Cocktail Club

Prescription Cocktail Club

23 rue Mazarine

75006 Paris

Tel: 01 46 34 67 73

One of the reasons I write about nearly every place I visit – whether good or bad – is that I don’t want readers to assume that if a bar is not on the blog it’s bad by default. But there’s been an omission on my blog for much too long, which I must rectify because 52 martinis is not complete without it: Prescription Cocktail Club.

I visited Paris’ third ECC bar shortly after it opened and was pleased to see they maintained the same level of quality and service as their first two ventures (Experimental Cocktail Club and Curio Parlor.) I sidled up to the bar often and chatted with charming and capable bar staff – frequently staying much later than I had initially planned. So how could it be that after so many visits I hadn’t garnered material for a post? The fact is I kept it as a go-to spot where I could kick back with a cocktail and leave the notes and picture taking behind.

And that’s what makes Prescription so enjoyable. The trio behind this bar has long-established their cocktail cred so there’s no need to constantly survey the service – all you need to do is sit back and trust that your drink will be well-executed whether a classic vieux carré made with Rittenhouse or a new creation. The menu also gives a nod to well-established cocktail notables with drinks like the Gin Gin Mule à la Audrey Saunders as well as offering up a selection of finger foods.

In fact, the group behind this bar has so successfully established their cocktail credibility that they’ve branched out into other highly competitive drinking markets with a cocktail bar in London, another in New York and, recently, a fourth Paris venue exclusively for wine.

Prescription oozes the same lounge lover style as their other spots. While the downstairs bar is the perfect place to pull up a stool and watch the bartenders work, the upstairs holds a second bar hidden behind a bookshelf to cater to the bigger crowds on busier nights (and things do get much busier late night and weekends.) Dim lighting and cool decor transport patrons to a clandestine hideaway where it’s easy to forget the outside world and responsibilities – even enjoyable ones like writing about said cocktail bar.

So, although there are plenty of pretty fresh faces turning heads on the Paris cocktail scene at the moment, that doesn’t mean that a faithful old companion doesn’t deserve some attention.

Chocolate Cocktail Adventures: Un Dimanche a Paris (BAR IS CLOSED, RESTAURANT STILL OPEN)

Un Dimanche a Paris
4-6-8 Cour du Commerce Saint André
75006 Paris
Tél: 01 56 81 18 18

Admittedly, I have my vices. However, sweets aren’t one of them. I’m by no means a chocoholic and can easily pass up the dessert cart for any cheese plate. So while I wouldn’t trek across town to check out a chocolatière, this Pierre Cluizel spot piqued my interest. First, blogger buzz brought it to my attention. Then I got an email from the friendly Claire over at Cognac Ferrand suggesting I try their cocktails. And, finally I read this post which mentioned (among other pertinent things, of course) the size of the barman’s waist. Wouldn’t you be curious?

I was. So, I set off to un Dimanche a Paris for an early evening drink (the lounge opens at 4pm) to assess both the barman and his skills with Heather and David as my cohorts. The first floor of this slick, bright chocolate concept store houses the shop, restaurant and tearoom. Upstairs is the laid back lounge with its blond wood floors and comfortable jewel tone sofas and chairs which invite lingering. The highlight in the center is a portion of the over 800 year old Philippe August tower showcased behind plexiglass.

The second highlight was the charmingly good-looking barman, Mikael who greeted us and gave the rundown. All of their cocktails include chocolate and are served slightly warmer than usual to allow appreciation of its flavor in the drink. Instead of offering a set menu, Mikael determines customers’ likes and dislikes to create custom cocktails based on their tastes. And, he’s more than just an pleasantly animate cocktail menu – he’s also got some big names on his C.V. having previously worked abroad for both Alain Ducasse and Joel Robuchon.

My first cocktail was a martini-themed mixture of Potocki vodka, Combier eau de vie de cacao, chocolate and orange bitters and a housemade mixture of cocoa and Sichuan pepper. I don’t do chocolate martinis, but this was a step above the overly sweet choc-tails normally served and the peppery addition was a nice touch. Round two was a combo of tequila, grapefruit, Campari, orange and chocolate bitters. Unfortunately, I didn’t take notes on the cocktails he made for the others, but if I remember correctly, there was fruit involved. There are some interesting additions to the small bar stock that you won’t find in many bars, like the Monkey 47.

You definitely won’t get a standard martini or Manhattan here. What makes this bar stand out is the one-on-one interaction. Mikael is clearly enthusiastic about his work and takes pride in creating something unique for the clientele. In response to a few questions about Combier, he brought it out with a bottle of Cointreau alongside for us to taste the difference. David even scored a little bottle of Cointreau Cuisine to take home for a bit of cooking fun. We also got to sample a few of the sweets. Fortunately, the bar is quiet enough to allow for this kind of more personal dialogue with the customer. Although, as I’ve mentioned before, I do think that bars with no menus should have some indication of pricing, so customers have an idea of what they’re in for. In this case, you’re in for about 15 Euros a cocktail.

So, while I’m more of a cheese than chocolate girl, this is an interesting deviation from the standard cocktail fare for sophisticated sippers with a sweet tooth.

*update: Mikael is no longer working the bar here and is currently over at Flute

** update: The bar is now closed – the shop & restaurant are still open.

Anything’s possible cocktail adventures: Echelle de Jacob

Echelle de Jacob
10-12 rue Jacob
75006 Paris
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.

St Germain Cocktail Adventures

Popup St Germain Cocktail Corner at LMDW Fine Spirits

6 carrefour de l’Odeon

75006 Paris

Tel: 01 46 34 70 20

I’ve mentioned before that one of the fun parts of writing a cocktail blog is meeting other interesting cocktail-minded people when they pass through Paris.Another upside is getting to take part in various cocktail related events.Earlier this month I made a stop into La Maison du Whiskey’s new boutique (LMDW Fine Spirits) for the Women’s Spirit Society St Germain tasting.

I’m admittedly a bit reserved when it comes to brand sponsored events and bars. But, if I like the brand, I’m more than happy to get on board. And, I do like St Germain. Although it’s made in France (from hand-picked elderflower blossoms), when it hit the scene and became a bit of a darling in the cocktail world, it was nearly impossible to find here. I’m happy to see it being featured in Paris now – as are my friends in the U.S. who no longer have to lug bottles over for me.

The nice people of LMDW and St Germain made it an enjoyable evening with munchies, an informative tasting and the “St Germain Cocktail Corner” upstairs.I was happy to see Carina (formerly of the Experimental Cocktail Club) behind the bar and even happier after she mixed me up a delicious Amaro Sour.Towards the end of the evening, her fellow barman, Stan, impressed with a fire-y display of St Germain Blazers.

Sounds fun, no?Well, you don’t have to write a cocktail blog to try these tasty concoctions.During December the Cocktail Corner has been open to the public on Thursday and Friday evenings.I passed by last night and had a Traditional Elderfashion (St Germain, Elijah Craig 12 year Bourbon, bitters).

So, stop into the store, ogle the many pretty bottles lining the shelves on the main floor and then head upstairs to the pop-up bar.But, time’s running out.The Cocktail Corner is only open one more night: 23 December from 6:00 to 9:00 PM. So make a point to pass through and try one of those yummy Amaro sours or the featured drink of the night the Sake Blossom.