More SoPi Cocktail Adventures: Artisan

IMG_8411 Artisan
14, rue Bochart de Saron
75009 Paris

IMG_7911Brought to you by the Maison Mere team, Artisan is the latest addition to the growing list of interesting places around Pigalle. However, unlike Maison Mere, which swings from sad quasi-quesadillas to surprisingly good mini-burgers, Artisan is consistently very good. I can comfortably attest to this after several successful visits.

Artisan’s understated décor is charming and relaxed. Dim industrial lighting and flickering votive candles reflecting in distressed mirrors shine through the large bay windows giving off a warm glow that beckons passersby. The rest of the street feels a little dreary in comparison to the simple yet inviting ambience.

IMG_8750Once inside, patrons pull up a stool at the U shaped bar or grab a table to enjoy something from the short, but solid selection of cocktails under the direction of Frédéric Le Bordays. The last time we saw Fred here on the blog, he was doing cocktail classes at la Cuisine. But it’s always a pleasure to see him either here or in real life, so I’m happy that he’s currently involved in this enterprise. Running his own cocktail consulting business and having just published his first cocktail book, he brings a good level of experience to the table.

IMG_7928There’s a quiet confidence to both his comportment and his cocktails. While Artisan has incorporated some successful trends like small plates, large format drinks (their punch serves four) or bottled cocktails, nothing feels gimmicky or risky. It’s quite simply a well-put together cocktail program that is as nicely balances as Fred’s drinks.

The cocktail menu is expected to change every two weeks. While I feel like that’s rather ambitious and not really necessary, it doesn’t detract from the bar’s appeal either. But due to ever-changing choice, I won’t focus so much on specific drinks I’ve tried (of which there have been several) but more the overall impression. The 8 cocktails remain in the typical price range of 11 to 13 Euros. The menu covers a nice selection of spirits and incorporates high quality, fresh ingredients. Fred neither shies away from dark and bitter ingredients nor intentionally pushes demanding or precious options. Syrups made with such things as yellow beetroot or mulled wine work well in his recipes. In short: cocktails, as they should be.

IMG_7916For more choice, straying from the menu poses no problem. The staff working with Fred have skills and experience to handle these requests. On my first visit, I was happy to see Keltoum at the bar. Considering her training with the Experimental Cocktail Club group and her work that I’d seen while judging the Abuelo cocktail competition, I was comfortable starting off with my standard martini, which was well made.

And, if you want something beyond the (excellent!) olives served alongside the cocktails, IMG_7932move on to the tapas-like menu for a snack or meal. In the kitchen, Vanessa Krycève (who has previously worked with the likes of Pierre Herme, Guy Savoy and Laduree) makes magic happen on small plates with her takes on French classics like country terrines, mushroom veloute, or brandade. And bonus: the kitchen stays open late.

Given its positive reception and the reputations of those involved, Artisan pulls in the food and drinks folks along with a crowd of fashionable, bed-headed and bespectacled locals. There are no reservations so go early evening, mid-week, if you want to snag a seat and get more focused service.

In short: I’m a fan of Artisan.

Fanciful French Cocktail Adventures in Paris: Buvette Gastronomique

IMG_8723Buvette Gastronomique
28, rue Henri-Monnier
75009 Paris

IMG_8734In case you’ve been living under a polished rock from Urban Outfitters and missed it: Paris is in the midst of Hipstergate. Debate has been sparked. Outrage has been expressed. Camps have been chosen. I’m not going to use today’s post as yet another avenue to discuss the issue because i think it has already been intelligently and amusingly covered. Instead, I’ll take the opportunity to review a new SoPi spot  so twee that it sounds like a joke about hipsters: New Yorkers coming to France to sell Americanized French comfort food to Parisians in a carbon copy of their NYC shop. But, since I came down on the ‘hipster’ side of the current debate, I went to Buvette Gastronomique with an open mind.

IMG_8727Buvette has a stylized French farmhouse aesthetic with pastel tones, antique-like plates, mini-silver serving stands, rickety wooden stools and chairs, and exposed brick walls. It’s basically a rather pretty representation of the rustic france of American fantasies, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I dropped in a couple of weeks ago for a ladies lunch and enjoyed the tiny servings of reinterpreted French classics like croques and hachis parmentier. They’re not what you’d find in a traditional bistro, but they were both fun and tasty. (although I can’t quite put my finger on the unusual flavor in the hachis parmentier – nutmeg? cinnamon?) Both the cheeses and the duck rillettes received unanimous praise as well.

We tried a few different wines which were hit and miss, but perhaps due to a range of personal tastes. The only thing that wasn’t entirely enjoyable during this visit was the service. Although I was the first person in the restaurant, it started off slow and sloppy with a wait time of 20 minutes from the time I arrived to the time I was asked if I wanted to order even a drink. We stretched lunch out over a few hours and service improved immensely with a different staff member helping us select wines and cheeses. Regardless of their level of attention to customers, the staff does seem to pay attention to detail as far as their products and confidently gave informed and helpful answers to all of our questions about their dishes and wines. It was an enjoyable lunch and my curiosity was piqued by the list of cocktails on offer.

So, I stopped in again this weekend to check out drinks selection, which hovers around a very reasonable price range of 8 – 10 Euros. In addition to classics like Bloody Mary, Martini or Negroni variations, there are some frenchie type choices. You can choose from Kir options or appropriately bubbly aperitifs. There is a page of four cocktails with some Gallic virtue whether it be simply their name (en francais) or their (possible) origins: Bee’s Knees, Vieux Mot, French 75, Sidecar. This seems like a pretty decent showing for a place that doesn’t necessarily bill itself as a serious cocktail bar.

IMG_8729My martini was good enough. Based on taste, I would guess they are using Hendrick’s, light on the vermouth. It came with both a twist and an olive, which is not my usual preference but I can live with it. The server inexplicably left the mixing glass and strainer with my martini, although there was nothing left in it. But, at 10 bucks I’m not going to quibble too much on these details. I’m happy to see that Paris seems to be moving into the phase in which every establishment is not a craft cocktail lounge but restaurants are starting to clock onto the fact that they can serve decent drinks even with a relatively small selection of booze behind the counter.

IMG_8721Due to their licensing requirements, customers must order something to eat in order to have a drink. We tried a trio of tartines (nut pesto, ham pesto and ratatouille), which were all good enough for the low price of 5 Euros. But, what confounded me, yet again, was the service. We were the only two customers in the place, while six staff members did everything except give us a menu. I eventually had to ask for a menu so we could actually get to the business of patronizing the place. It’s all rather odd because – again – the staff seemed pleasant, friendly, and interested in the products but just a little unmaliciously negligent and confused about their priorities. This is why i didn’t try the second cocktail I ordered; they simply forgot about it. By the time we realized the drink wasn’t coming, I was already running late enough to grab the bill and move onto the next stop.

Overall, the food is fun and well done. A lot of people will love this space for what it is, while a good number will like it in spite of what it is. Personally, I have no issue with the American reinterpretation of French plates being sold to French palettes. However, they really need to work on their customer service because that’s one bad Parisian cliche they don’t need to play on.

SoCal Cocktail Adventures: le Depanneur

IMG_6639

le Depanneur
27 Rue Pierre Fontaine
75009 Paris

IMG_6630When le Depanneur opened a few decades back as a late night “American” joint it served cheap drinks and pulled in a post club crowd.  After a brief closure, its recent reopening generated a high level of expectation thanks to the people and places involved.  Nightlife power player Olivier Demarle brought in the culinary creativity of Cantine California, the designer responsible for the Candelaria and Mary Celeste, and mixologist Benjamin Chiche previously of le Carmen and le 25eme Heure.  Put all this talent together in a locale that already has a historical following in one of the city’s hip ‘hoods and there’s bound to be some expectations.

IMG_6633The new le Depanneur still has some of the same feel while brightening things up and aiming for a somewhat SoCal style. Windows running the length of the walls let in a pleasant cross breeze. Lighter wood booths and beams provide a casual feel that works well with the strategically placed potted cacti. And the shiny metal exterior trim with rounded corners gives a retro touch worthy of the American diners that inspired the original.

Behind the bar, Benjamin has developed a menu of a dozen 12 Euros cocktails, each with Cali-inspired names like Mission Cup or Pasadena Peligrosa.  Half are based on Calle 23 tequila and the remainders represent a mix of other base spirits. I’m familiar with his style and practice of creating custom cocktails so I was confident ordering my standard. Gin choices include Tanqueray, Tanqueray 10, Hayman’s Sloe Gin, Hayman’s Old Tom, Mare, Hendrick’s, Monkey 47 and the Botanist.  I enjoyed a 4 to 1, Tanqueray/Dolin, rolled, with a twist. Benjamin believes that – after performing side-IMG_6629by-side tests – rolling is superior to stirring as it better aerates the drink.  While I haven’t done similar tests to form my own opinion, I appreciate someone who forms their own based on experience and experimentation.

Next, I took an Alta Vista Tomy, which follows the trend of incorporating cool cucumber with a bit of heat for a refreshing combo with a bite. The multiple ingredients (Tequila, Mezcal, lime juice, Piment d’espellette syrup, Aperol and cucumber) are each discernible in the drink and play together nicely. On a subsequent visit I tried the North Park Julep, which was well presented, but less interesting to me. It IMG_6635was sweeter than I expected with less of the strength that I’m used to in a Julep. Of note, the heat wave was happening when I visited so the lack of punch could have been due to the ice melting faster and more dilution than usual.

I think it could be interesting for their menu to incorporate a cocktail with fewer ingredients and a slightly lower price (G&T, anyone?). With some of the recently opened bars working a broader range of prices (Moonshiner or Dirty Dick, for example) and the competition from le Mansart across the street, I think the safety net of a simple cocktail under a tenner could be a smart option. They also devote a good part of the menu to tequilas, which are sold by the shot, glass or bottle. Although it looks like they still may need some time for the actual stock to catch up with what’s listed on the menu.

IMG_6765In keeping with the current burger craze and under the direction of one of the city’s more popular food trucks, Cantine California, they’re featuring burgers, chips and guac, and tacos. I tried the Cali’Classic and the Dude (which I preferred.) As I’m mainly here about the cocktails, I won’t spend a lot of time talking food.  But I have heard a very wide range of opinions on the burgers so far, which demonstrates a couple of things: 1. Everyone has their opinion on what makes a better burger 2. The danger of high expectations is that it’s hard for any hamburger to live up to the hype.

Something I’ve noticed about Demarle establishments is that they seem to vary in quality at times. Having visited their other ventures (le Secret, le Magnifique, Café Chic, La Villa), I’ve found some great, some lacking and some that swing between the two depending on the staff at the time.  Perhaps this is because they hire well-known professionals to consult on the concept (for example: Colin Field consulting on their le Magnifique menu) but lack some consistency in the follow up.

So, I hope that with this latest, he will be able to consistently capitalize on Benjamin’s cocktail skills and get more consistent reviews on the burgers. But, considering the buzz its already generated and its hipster SoPi location, they will have no problem consistently packing in a good crowd.

Polynesian Cocktail Adventures: Dirty Dick

IMG_3126Dirty Dick
10 Rue Frochot
75009 Paris

IMG_3122Change is good. And, I’ve seen some especially good change when it comes to the Pigalle in the last few years.  Paris’ red-light district has gone from cocktail dead zone to cocktail destination thanks to the arrival of bars like Glass, Kremlin and Rock’n’Roll Circus.  And the latest place to bring a bit of kicky change to the area? The naughtily named Dirty Dick, which is giving Pigalle some Polynesian personality with its tiki themed bar and drinks. I can get down with a bit of South Seas style sipping, so I stopped in with one of my fav drinking partners to check things out.

IMG_3123With several busy bars already under their belts, the team behind the Dirty Dick went all out with their latest venture. While the typical touches like rattan furniture, palm tree wall paper, and tiki masks, give it the appropriate island feel, they’ve added some extras that knock the deco up a notch. Two tall totem poles – specially carved for the space and weighing a hefty 350 kilos each – frame a lush wall of tropical plants. American artist, David “Gonzo” Gonzalez created another kind of lush wall with his mural of a flirty bikini bottom-clad beach beauty. A sweet soundtrack of tropical bird tweets loops in the loos. And, the night we were there, the place was already packed with neighborhood locals enjoying the festive vibe and fun drinks.

IMG_2887The friendly team behind the bar – including Scotty (previously of the UFO) and Christina (of the Kremlin) – know how to do a good time as well as a good drink.  Before looking at the menu, I sheepishly ordered a dry martini. Being in a tiki joint, I “should” go for one of the rum creations… but, you know, the martini thing, it’s what I do. But guess what? There’s already one on the menu with their special grapefruit spin. Class. My Edinburgh martini was served with a twist and a shot of extra vermouth on the side at 10 Euros. Nice.

After that, I was ready to move onto the rum-based Cutback Conquest, which offers the satisfying balance of a well-made sour made more mature and interesting thanks to the Guinness reduction’s bitter beer bite, spiking through the otherwise easy-going cocktail for a pleasant surprise. The rest of the menu also reflects this element of the unexpected or a juxtaposition of sorts: An elegant un-refinedness, if you will (as opposed to an unrefined IMG_2888elegance). This classy kitsch works perfectly for a tiki bar. With its ass-kicking punches poured into over the top ceramic mugs, tiki, by nature is not a subtle cocktail culture. But a truly good tiki drink can celebrate both its fun factor as well as showcase something more interesting and complex – and that’s where Dirty Dick is going.

The menu features 17 cocktails with a good mix of classics and house creations, mainly based (of course) on rum, but with other options including vodka, tequila, whiskey, etc.  Lighthearted descriptions don’t divulge everything, but instead evoke a feeling or idea. Prices range from 6 to 14 Euros, based roughly on the amount of liquor in your libation; while the Ba-Tiki-Da at 6 Euros has about 5 centiliters of booze, the Slurricane at 14 Euros has close to 12 (watch out!).

IMG_3121Additionally, they offer up three convivial punch bowls for sharing that sound both fun and deadly like the Amazombie, based on the original Zombie, which promises to turn the “living into dead,” or the She Sells Sea Shells sold in a conch shell. And it just gets better with a selection of over 52 different rums on the shelf. Also of note, they are open 7/7 and have a well-ventilated smoking room in the back.

Dirty Dick shows that this group of bars and its associated staff have the know-how to put together a worthy watering hole and have managed to make a classy tiki joint without losing personality or credibility. Two thumbs up. The only problem is that now that another new great drinking destination has opened up in the area, I’ve just moved to a new neighborhood. So, I just keep reminding myself that “Change is good, right?” … and fortunately, my new place is on a direct metro line to Dirty Dick.

On tap Cocktail Adventures: Glass

Glass
7 rue Frochot
75009

What really makes a bar successful? To answer that, let’s look to Adam, Carina and Josh. Since opening the wildly popular Candelaria, they’ve garnered a loyal following and achieved international industry recognition. There is no question this trio and their team have the necessary cocktail know how. But to keep their barstools busy in an increasingly competitive cocktail environment, they add a little something extra: heart and soul. And, they’ve proved this by opening a second bar that combines pertinent cocktail trends with their own special sauce for something that’s decidedly different from what we’ve been seeing in the city: Glass.

When Glass opened its doors at 10pm on Wednesday, there was already a crowd of customers, friends and well-wishers lining the sidewalk to get a glimpse. Within minutes the place was packed and staff were pumping out drinks. While this was of course lots of fun, to really get a good idea of what’s happening here, I returned early evening the next day. I roped Emma into joining me after running into her at the Don Lee vodka infusion master class at La Conserverie – mainly because I like her company, but a little selfishly, too, as I knew it would provide the opportunity to taste more drinks.

Glass is going the dive bar route and have, appropriately, set up shop in the gentrifying yet still somewhat sketchy area of Pigalle (also dangerously close to my apartment.) I think a true dive bar comes to life organically over time and not necessarily with the intent of doing so.  I love a good dive and on entering Glass, one might see just that.  But what I see is a bar that’s retained some of the best qualities of a dive (lower prices, laid back attitude, lack of pretention) infused with some of that aforementioned heart and soul.  The small space with its matte black walls is down to earth and casual.  But, on closer inspection, you discover the elements that make it their own: cast iron lampshades from Japan or custom made acid-washed mirror tabletops from Barcelona. They’re still putting the finishing touches on the deco and will be bringing in a local artist to paint the floor something fun and vibrant.

The lack of pretention extends to the menu. The aim is to deliver quality drinks faster and at slightly lower prices as well as incorporating more than just cocktails.  As many of the city’s cocktail spots are eschewing a selection of beer, here you’ll find a wide variety of unusual choices and a section devoted to beer and shot pairings like the Belle & Sebastian (Brewdog 5AM Saint + Monkey Shoulder.) Serious beer lovers can even take a growler of beer to go.

But, we’re here about the cocktails, aren’t we? Glass is the first bar in Paris to bring in trends that have been brewing elsewhere for awhile, like frozen drinks machines that slosh out something above and beyond a mediocre margarita, two cocktails on tap, and a premixed G&T by the bottle. There are an additional four choices in the shaken and stirred category and plans to bring in a reserve menu as they do in Candelaria.
I had already tried and enjoyed a Martinez on tap opening night, so I bored them with my usual request this visit. The spirits selection is small but conscientious. I was torn between taking Beefeater or Monkey 47 for my martini – two very different gins & moods (apparently I  was all over the board last night.) When I mentioned this to Sam at the bar, she immediately suggested a dry Monkey 47 with a grapefruit zest. This is why I like these guys: they know and like their products.  Whether or not it’s to your liking may vary, but she gave me a good suggestion and I took it and liked it. I’ll skip the part about the chilled glasses, proper preparation and fresh ingredients because I think we’ve come to expect that with this crew.

Between Emma and I, we sampled a good selection of the rest of the menu, including:

Frozen Pisco Punch: I dig that they’re bringing in frozen machine drinks and delivering something more than the usuals.  They do a nice job with this one. I don’t personally drink a lot of frozen cocktails because they give me ice cream headaches and they’re usually poorly made. (Although that’s not the case here, so perhaps I could just try drinking more slowly)

Remember the Maine: In addition to the Martinez, this is their other tap option.  I really like it, although the punt e mes gives it a bitter kick that might surprise the uninitiated.

Bottled Gin and Tonic: I’m not a huge tonic drinker and am kind of fussy about it when I do go there. But Sam is making tonic in-house and doing a fab job of it.  And, they’re using Citadelle, which I think is a perfect choice for a G&T (as opposed to a martini for which I will generally choose something else.) Of note, the gin comes in the bottle with a straw, which means no ice.

As of Saturday, they’ll be bringing in simple food: organic 100% beef hotdogs and home made pickles.  I was tickled to find that the buns and pickles are coming from the kick-ass culinary team of Emperor Norton (as well as a garnish or two). Additionally, we’re going to see a fun new bar opening soon just across the street.

So, keep your eye on this space; with the lively Kremlin and Rock’n’Roll Circus just steps away, Pigalle is becoming a perfect metro stop for a rollicking good time bar crawl. I always hammer home about good cocktails, but past posts have shown my interest in the growing popularity of Pigalle, a fun dive, and the return to a goodtime in cocktails. Glass embodies all of those things.  I’ll admit, it’s not a bar for everyone.  But, that’s what makes it great: it’s a bar with personality and if you like that kind of thing, like me, you’ll love it. Glass will be a hit for a long time to come because they’ve made a hard-earned reputation for themselves.  But if you go beyond the buzz and look for that heart and soul, you’ll really understand what makes this place special.

Tactile Cocktail Adventures: Touch’in Paris

Touch’in Paris
20, rue vignon
75009 PARIS

I’m in awe of technology and how it has altered our perception of time and space in such a short span. I’m also aware of what the Internet has brought to global cocktail culture: a larger more accessible pool of collective information meaning a quicker trickle-down effect from cosmopolitan cities and cocktail gurus to all corners of the world. Now, the recently opened Touch’in Paris is further capitalizing on the combination of cocktails and computers by taking the iPad-as-menu concept one step further with tactile table tops.  So, I stopped into the city’s latest concept bar to see if techno-tipples are the way forward.

I arrived at this Madeleine area address to find a bistro more traditional than technological and wondered if I had been misinformed, until I was directed to the bar downstairs.  What I expected to be a blinged out and buzzing arcade of gimmicky gadgets and flashing lights, turned out to be a much more appealing understated mix of old and new with sleek tabletops glowing in dim lighting beneath a vaulted stone ceiling. The barman gave me an introduction to the tactile screens, but my first technological glitch was the absence of a martini on the menu.  So, I reverted back to old-fashioned ordering.  As I sipped a nicely made Noilly Prat/Tanqueray 10 martini stirred and with a twist, I explored the electronic options.

These new-fangled tables do more than just offer cocktail options.  Customers can play games, order cabs, call for a barman or connect to Facebook. (Apparently – I didn’t have much luck with this option)  Languages are available in both French and English, which is handy for timid travellers. You’ll spend 12 Euros for the pleasure of sliding a drink from one of the four categories into the order line.

“Tendence” cocktails offer choices like the Porn Star martini and Zombie; “Ladies’ Drinks” offer four sweet, fruit or light options; “Old School” includes variations on the likes of juleps, side cars, or horse’s necks and the “Inclassable”  suggest creations like the Ballade en Provence with its “mystery ingredients.” It looks like they are incorporating a lot of fresh ingredients into the mix and not shying away from a variety of base ingredients or interesting additions, which makes it seem as if they are trying to develop a menu that can stand on its own without relying solely on the concept to attract clients.  Gin selection is rather slim with Bombay Sapphire, Tanqueray 10 and Beefeater on hand.  But, with a total of 17 choices of catchy names and classic variations, Touch’in will have enough options for the majority of customers to find a viable option. My gut reaction is that they will pull in a crowd of more concept curious than cocktail connoisseurs.

The touch screens do bring a couple of advantages to the experience.  Presumably they mean a first ordered, first served policy as orders go directly to the bar once completed.  So, no milling about trying to catch the staff’s attention. And, the connectivity they provide for information and cabs could be useful considering I was getting no reception on my iPhone. But for this modern technology to really bring something “to the table,” I think more could be done. A “build your own drink” option allowing for selection of spirits, preparation and proportions would appeal to those who want to be a bit more specific about what’s going into their glass.  Also, adding more beyond just French and English options could help in breaking down language barriers. And speaking of breaking down barriers, the ability to message other tables (as was already instated by Lo Sushi ages ago) for a bit of geeky flirting could be fun. And, finally the piece de resistance would be a system of payment that could be made directly at the table.

I applaud Touch’in for trying to stay ahead of the curve and I dig that it’s hidden beneath the more traditional bistro.  Also, the bars I enjoy in this neighborhood (le Forum, L’Etage, Baudelaire, …) are all on the pricier side.  So, this is a good option for something more reasonably priced but still drinkable in the area. But, while the drinks are decent and the service and decor quite nice, the tactile novelty isn’t enough for me to make this a regular destination personally. But, if this is your thing, go for it.  In the meantime, I’ll just be waiting for the machines take over the world.  And, when they do, I hope they can make a good martini.

Cocktail Shopping Adventures: Sipeasy


Sipeasy

50 rue de

Roche-

chouart

Paris 75009


I often get asked where to buy certain spirits and cocktail-related items. So, in addition to my usual thoughts on cocktail bars and classes in town, I’m adding a third category to the blog for spirits shops. And the first post on shopping goes to a well-deserving little spot that’s newly (and conveniently!) opened in my hood: Sipeasy.


Sipeasy is based on a concept that goes beyond just the standard cavist. Owner, Paul-Eric, stocks the usual suspects: wine, bubbly and booze. You’ll also find a wide range of high-quality nibbles and bar equipment. But Sipeasy takes the art of apero shopping one step further with the Sipbox: a boxed set of ingredients to create a particular cocktail at home.


So, what makes this different from just buying all the necessary ingredients separately? The Sipbox is based on three elements that make it stand out:


Quality Ingredients:

Whether it’s the citrus, syrups or spirits, Paul-Eric is selecting the good stuff. He’s been working closely with a producer who develops a range of liqueurs and syrups then bottled under the Sipeasy name. Not content with the standard triple secs on the market, he also convinced the distillery to revive their original triple sec recipe (from the 20’s), which is also bottled and sold under the Sipeasy name. Sipeasy offers a good selection of spirits from the standards to some which are more difficult to find in Paris.


Proper Proportions:

Sipboxes include smaller-sized bottles scaled to the number of drinks in each set. For example, if you wanted to make a martini at home, you’d have to buy an entire full sized bottle of both gin and vermouth, even though the vermouth will only make up a small portion of the drink. If you’re, say, me, this poses no problem as you will eventually make it through both. But, the numbers of times I’ve seen a dusty bottle of some obscure spirit sitting in the corner of someone’s kitchen, I realize that not everyone wants or needs a fully stocked bar at home. The sets come in three sizes and include the proper amount of ingredients to create 4 to 8 cocktails.


Interesting Prices

Sipbox prices vary depending on the drink, but the range stays between 2.50 to 4 Euros per drink.


I had the pleasure of sampling the Caipirumski Sipbox last weekend and can report back that he’s effectively united these three elements into a successful concept. My box contained:


-20cl of Très vieux Rhum Agricole réserve Spéciale HSE Saint-Etienne

-10 cl of sugar cane syrup

-two very nice limes

-4 straws

-recipe card


Following the recipe exactly, I mixed up the drinks and was happy with the result. Having had some spectacularly bad rhum agricoles in the past, I tend to shy away from it. So I was particularly pleased with the choice of this one with the aged aspect enhancing the flavor and giving the cocktail overall a more interesting aspect.


While Paul-Eric does develop some drinks, he’s very forthcoming about the fact that he is not a professional bartender and relies on inspiration from well-respected cocktail books such as Larousse, Imbibe or Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails. And I believe the fact that he doesn’t come from a bar background works in his favor for this type of venture. He approaches his project as a consumer would, resulting in a very customer-conscious level of service.


The Sipbox is a fun and easy way for the cocktail curious to try their hand at home mixing without having to rely on premade mixers and bagged or boxed ready-mades. Thus, the customer is better able to appreciate the individual ingredients and can more easily experiment with various drinks on a small scale without stocking up on ingredients that might go unused.


For me personally, the Sipbox is less of a necessity because I generally either already have or am happy to buy the needed ingredients for any given cocktail. However, what I will use the Sipboxes for is as a fun alternative to bringing a bottle of wine to someone’s home. And for those of you like me who don’t shy away from full-size, the Sipeasy shop of course offers everything in standard bottles as well. So stop in next time you’re in the market for something interesting or some spirits advice from the perpetually pleasant Paul-Eric. Or check out his blog that features drinks recipes, cocktail news and information on the store.


Congratulations to Sipeasy for a successful start. And, I just happen to know that tonight is the inaugural party, which seems a particularly fitting day to put up my inaugural post on cocktail shopping.

Opera Cocktail Adventures: Martini Bar at Garnier


Opera Garnier Martini Bar

Place Jacques Rouche
75009 Paris
With its impressive exterior, grand staircase and Chagall-ceilinged auditorium, Opera Garnier has always had plenty to offer beyond just the performances. And, now the previously underutilized backside of one of Paris’ most beautiful buildings also boasts a Martini bar and immense restaurant.

The Martini sponsored bar features three types of Martini vermouth and cocktails, which draw heavily on them. Many options also include prosecco like the Royal Opera (Martini Bianco, prosecco, peach and grapefruit juice).

Although the spirits selection is small, my martini was made with Bombay Original (not Sapphire, which is a surprising choice to find in Paris bars) and a twist. It was well made – as it should have been at 14 E.

Matt, Vio, Thibault and Opal joined and we tried a few other drinks with the caipi being the best of the bunch. Somewhat stale popcorn came on the side, which was a bit damp due to the dishes it was served in – still wet from washing.

Being an historical monument, this addition had to be done in such a way that no permanent structural changes were made to the environment. So the multilevel restaurant is built up on a groovy 60’s inspired structure that

rests on the ground. As a result the martini bar itself has a bit of a cold and temporal feeling.The entire operation seems as if it’s cheekily squatting in a much more inspired setting. The temporary and incongruous bar and restau feel rickety and soulless. While the drinks were nice and the barman attentive, I wouldn’t make a trip back to imbibe. But, what might be more interesting is the large terrace off the back in summer months when weather warms and opera patrons are looking for a pleasing place for a post-show drink.

DIY Cocktail Adventures: l’Art France Cocktail Class

L’Art France
Art France
7-9 rue Montyon
75009 Paris
Tel. +33 (0)1 77 32 49 69

I’ve probably made more martinis than any other cocktail. I’ve surely drank more of them than any other cocktail. But when it comes to mixology, Paris is much more mojito than martini. So I was pleasantly surprised to see them taught side by side at a recent cocktail class I was scoping out. l’Art France is one of a handful of Paris cooking schools getting onboard with the cocktail trend. I enlisted the company of friend and fellow drinker from my old local, Marette, and off we went for some shaker-schooling.

Friendly staff shuffled us into a room with about 16 others already crowded around a long shiny black table loaded with cocktail glasses, straws, etc. The class was led by Antoine, who at the time was working at well-known Plaza Athenee, but will have already moved to long-standing institution, Harry’s, by now. He explained that this class for non-pros focuses on basics and uses spirits and equipment that are simple and easy for a home bar. The general idea is making cocktails with what you might already have around the house.

He smartly started with basics on balance and gave suggested proportions for three very important cocktail elements: Strong, Sour and Sweet. I’ve hosted a cocktail or two and after a tipple everyone’s a barman and wants to show off their mad mixing skills. This rarely results in an inspired drink. But, with a bit more foundation in how to incorporate these three elements with grace and forthought, I think these well-meaning budding-mixologists would be more likely to turn out something tasty.

Beyond basics, and onto actual practice, we learned a margarita, mojito, martini and a sort of white lady. Antoine’s knowledge and skills were evident as he executed drinks well and fielded questions with ease. He showcased the same cocktail with different sweet ingrediants (e.g. granulated sugar versus syrup) highlighting overall changes as a result of small variations. We finished with a bit of instruction on weight and layering.

Antoine’s laid-back, friendly and patient demeanor sets the class at ease as he invites participants to make a cocktail side by side with him. He’s an enthusiastic and competant teacher, but some of the aspects of this cocktail class (which presumabely fall under the responsibility of school management) need a bit of tweaking to improve the overall experience.

First suggestion: chairs. In an attempt to make the class more convivial and interactive, participants stand during the session. On a friday night after a long week, I’m just not that interested in standing for 2 hours. I know you bar pros stand for a lot longer than this. But, it’s my hobby not my metier, so let me take a seat – or at least warn me so I leave the heels at home.

Second suggestion: more hands-on practice. While people were actively encouraged to come up and participate, there simply wasn’t time or ingrediants for everyone to have a go at making a full cocktail. Which brings me too…

Third suggestion: I want an actual cocktail to taste. (okay, more reasonably, a sample of the cocktail for sipping). The class sampled the drinks with straw tastings. I assume this is more to manage stock than for hygiene purposes, since many of the class members sucked the end of their straws and then double-dipped. I personally don’t get squeemy sharing a cocktail glass, so I wasn’t freaked by this (although it is a bit gross when you think about it too much). But, I’d just rather have my own sample to drink.

And final suggestion: I’d like to see more attention to ingrediants. Depending on what I’m making and for whom there are occassions when I don’t think the quality improvement warrants the extra cost of certain things. But, when I’m making something that is essentially booze, i.e. a martini, I want something better than mediocre gin, which is what we were dealing with. The selection was a hodge-podge of miscellaneous mainly low-end product.

I can’t help but compare this to a very similar level of cocktail class at La Cuisine. The la Cuisine course rings it at 40 Euros while this one will set you back 65. Both are classes for newbies taught by knowledgeable and friendly barmen. But at la Cuisine, classes are smaller, every student gets hands on practice at making & drinking each drink, and the cocktail selection is more interesting. But Antoine does get props for daring to throw a martini into the mix!

Dramatic Cocktail Adventures: Le Carmen

Le Carmen
22 rue de Douai

75009
Paris

I like classics: cocktails, cuisine, clothes, cars… But, I own up to being a bit of a novelty junkie as well. I don’t just want to know what’s “now”, I want to know what’s “next.” New venues are exciting, even more so if they’re nearly on my doorstep. So, I was clearly intrigued when le Carmen opened late last year in a discrete former hôtel particulier not far from the neon light of Pigalle.

At 8 sharp (opening hour), Matt, Vio, Amy, Shannon and I were ushered through the simple entrance by a serious doorman and delivered into elegantly theatrical surroundings. We passed the enormous bird cage and between two massive ionic columns, drawn to the glowing bar, center stage. Dramatic lighting, beautiful drapes, intimate arrangements of fashionable furniture and elegant accents such as the grand piano or heavy candelabras transport patrons to a milieu reminiscent of a film set. No surprise, considering the man behind the impressive transformation is Antoine Platteau, a famous French film set designer.

When we asked for the menu, the waitress told us there was none and offered to send over the “mixologue.” When a bartender is competent, menu-free drinking can be fun. And, this is an environment that could work a no-menu, more personalized service angle on certain levels. But, it’s also a setting that leaves customers wondering just how expensive cocktails might be. And, such a pretty place deters gauche questions of price, so patrons may hold back on “just one more” for fear of sticker shock. My solution would be to indicate price without providing detail – simply listing categories and prices and inviting customers to discuss cocktail options with the bartender. However, I fear that even such a solution will prove too difficult for a venue that looks set to start pulling in substantial crowds leaving insufficient time for one-on-one cocktail collaboration. So perhaps it’s better that I’ve been told they do plan on printing menus soon.

Resident barman, Benjamin (formerly of Paris ice bar, Kube), mixed up our first round, including a very nice martini with Haymans. We were impressed enough by round one, to give him free reign on the next. Round two was a success, with a couple notables. Vio’s drink which included spiced rum, sugar and pink grapefruit juice and was right up her ally. I appreciated the use of Bols genever in mine, which showed an awareness of my taste preferences but a willingness to stray from the obvious spirit choice of gin.

Benjamin is pleasant and enthusiastic about his work and cocktails. In the world of nightlife, superficial often trumps substance. So, I give le Carmen kudos for being more than just a pretty face. I’ll be curious to see what type of following it cultivates as it has the potential to pull in the beautiful crowd in need of a beautiful backdrop. Le Carmen falls into a space between cocktail bar and nightclub, with a coming lineup of music and dj’s and somewhat of a ‘late night’ feel. Closing hour is currently 2am, but that may be extended in the future. The music focus is fitting as this was also where the opera Carmen was written.

Upon paying we discovered the prices to be 12 to 15 Euros for cocktails, fair for the quality and location. Patrons preferring something a little less spendy can partake in the sophisticated swish with a glass of wine or beer at around 6 Euros. Without a menu, it’s harder to get an overall feel for their cocktail direction, so I’ll be stopping back in for further ‘research’ soon. Plus its classic but fresh feel simultaneous sates my cravings for both old and new.

(photos – except martini – are from le Carmen Facebook page by permission)