Le Syndicat: Frenchy Cocktail Adventures in Paris

IMG_5385 Le Syndicat
51 rue Faubourg Saint Denis
75010 Paris

IMG_5372French ingredients have always been a cornerstone of cocktail culture, lately, la belle France has really been looking inward for inspiration. Case in point: the newly opened le Syndicat.

Le Syndicat is the self-proclaimed “Organization in Defense of French Spirits” and, as such, focuses strictly on French ingredients.  The concept of its creators, Sullivan Doh and Romain Le Mouellic, is to stock the bar with bottles of gentian based beverages, French Gins, Cognacs, Armagnac, and other ingredients hailing from l’Hexagone.

This “Made in France” attitude carries through to the menu as well where you’ll find three distinct sections that give guests a better glimpse into the local liquids.

IMG_5387Tasting flights: For 15 to 20 Euros, clients can choose from a selection of tasting flights like the Armagnac Signature (3 Bas-Armagnac from different decades dating back as far as 1970). These trios of drinks are designed to help customers discover new tastes and better appreciate French spirits and ingredients.

Syndicat Classiques: Here, you’ll find a selection of five classic cocktails from 8 to 13 Euros that have been recreated Syndicat-style. For example, the Nevez Oldfashion incorporates whisky from Brittany, Chouchen syrup made onsite and Maquis bitters.

IMG_5379Insane St Denis Style: With talent behind the bar like Sullivan (previously of ECC and Sherry Butt) it’s no surprise that there is also a section dedicated to house creations, ranging from 9 to 13 Euros, and showcasing Corsican eau de vie, Byrrh, Calvados and the like.

The playlist centers on hip-hop in a very intentional nod towards the artists who helped create a resurgence of interest in a very national product: Cognac. And they’re located in an area that the Guardian has aptly called “Paris’s hottest new micro-quartier near Gare du Nord” so expect a mix of customers from curious residents of the corner to in-the-know cocktail hounds coming from across town.

70’s Glam Cocktail Adventures: le Coq

IMG_0257le Coq
12 Rue du Château-d’Eau
75010 Paris

The brains behind le Coq have more than enough cocktail cred to make a bar work on their names alone.  Local industry experts, Thierry Daniel and Eric Fossard have teamed up with cocktail maestro Tony Conigliaro of 69 Colebrooke Row. They’ve brought along Marcis Dzelzainis from London to oversee the show. And pros like these are more used to defining trends than chasing them, so it’s no surprise that the bar steers clear of the status quo.

IMG_0066While so many bars make nods to prohibition and its speakeasies, le Coq looks towards a different decade for inspiration: the 70’s. And, its location on a 10eme arrondisement backstreet, rock chic deco and stark black walls give bit of illicit edge.

My initial encounter with le Coq was an opening night party.  The place was packed with industry names itching to get a glimpse of this highly anticipated venture… plus one actual live coq.  Conversations and cocktails flowed and enthusiasm was high.  I then followed up a few nights later to get a better feel for the full offering.

IMG_0268While classics can be made on command, the regular menu features a dozen drinks that riff of classics as well as show off Tony’s cocktail savvy. Some ingredients are created off site in his London based lab but a fair few focus on French additions from the common (cognac) to the forgotten (liqueur d’ambrette.) In talking to the team members, I hear a real enthusiasm for the local cocktail culture and its possibilities.  Rather than recreating Tony’s popular London bars here, they’re working in conjunction with local trends, tastes and products to come up with something uniquely Parisian. And while they could command higher prices given their rep, they keep it at a cool 11 Euros per drink.

IMG_0253As for Tony’s famous Dry Martini made with Beefeater gin, Martini Dry and a distillation of tannins and polyphenols for a drier mouth feel, I can attest that the quality here is just as good as the ones I’ve sampled at his London location. The house French 75 incorporates grapefruit infused gin and a dash of absinthe that play nicely in this classic.  Other inviting options include the nicely balanced Fig Leaf Collins with its gin, lemon juice and fig leaf syrup.  And while my current crazy schedule means I haven’t worked my way through the entire menu yet, I’m planning on making more headway this weekend.

Beyond the bar, the group is also introducing more interesting events like Tony’s recent cocktail and food pairing with dining darling, le Dauphin. The menu included the same cocktail served in two different glasses to highlight the changes their shape make to the nuances of flavor…because those are the kinds of discoveries Tony likes to share.

IMG_0259With its brash attitude, cool rock soundtrack and unique style, Le Coq is not your typical cocktail lounge. Some of the city’s speakeasy-style habitués may be surprised by this abrupt about face on the bar scene, but I take it as a sign that Paris has reached a point where its unafraid to assert some personality.  Le Coq shows us that the big boys have come out to play in Paris.  And they seem to be setting out not just to make their own mark on the capital’s cocktail scene but to make a French mark on cocktail culture.

Wednesday Cocktail Adventures: le Pompon

Le Pompon
39 Rue des Petites Ecuries
Paris 75010
Tel: 01 53 34 60 85

I’d heard rumors about reputable bar and design talent either potentially, marginally, temporarily or fully involved in le Pompon for some time before its opening a few months ago. So, I was looking forward to checking up on it with Matt, Vio and Kim.

When we arrived at this up and coming newbie in the 10th, it was quickly filling up with a motley after-work crowd. Kim noted that it’s a nightspot which can easily draw a varied customer base. I agree and like that aspect. But, perhaps they’re drawing crowds too successfully as it took quite a bit of time to actually place a drink order while standing directly at the bar.

Your first impression of le Pompon is the relatively spacious main room, packed with lively tables of patrons, large windows, high wooden walls and impressive chandeliers: cosy and updated pub-chic.

When I finally got a chance to order, I asked for a dry gin martini (not on the menu). When the barman grabbed a bottle of sweet vermouth from the shelf, I prepared to address the usual French martini dilemma (i.e. I wanted a dry gin martini not a glass of Martini sweet vermouth.) But, he explained that he knew what I wanted, but they were out of dry vermouth so he was using sweet instead.

I’m laughing to myself in an ‘are you kidding?’ kind of way. It’s basically a case of “We don’t really have what you want, but we’re just going to make what we feel like and give it to you anyway.” I got a highball of gin and sweet vermouth with a straw. Mine wasn’t the only adlib-recipe. I’m still working on my backlog of bars for which I lost photos and notes, but if I remember correctly, Kim ordered something without tonic that arrived blatantly boasting tonic. I believe this lack of attention to detail will set you back about 10 Euros a drink. The barman did show follow-through in coming over to ask how I liked my drink and was sincerely curious and non-defensive when I explained how I would have done it differently.

After our first round, we went for a quick peak at the lower level before leaving. Slipping through the somewhat discreet door at the foot of the stairs, provides a completely different level of ambiance where a small bar oversees a dim dance floor with DJ. I love the juxtaposition of these two rooms and wish Paris would offer up more varied venues like this. Happy with this discovery, we settled in for an impromptu second round. In the basement, drink options are limited to a handful of spirits and mixers for basic well drinks. I had a rum and coke. No comment.

Overall, the place is fun, nicely designed and promises to be a sure-thing address for a majority of both the after-work and night-crawling crowd. While not every bar in town is obligated to make a decent martini, that’s my thing. So even if I really like the space, I gotta call them out on their cocktails. With the vague rumors I continue to hear about behind the scene decisions here, I believe it will take a little time before le Pompon works out the drink kinks and hits full stride as either a place serving really good cocktails or your basic beer and well drinks. In the meantime, they’re worth a visit for a pint and some good music.

PHOTO NOTE: I finally replaced my camera, so this is my second to last post without my usual photos. Kim gets credit for those on today’s post and you can check out even more on her Pompon post at I Heart Paris.

Wednesday Cocktail Adventure: La Fidelite

La Fidélité
12, Rue de la Fidélité

75010 Paris

Tel: 01 47 70 19 34

Located in the somewhat sketchy neighborhood of the Gare de l’est, this hip bar/restaurant created a bit of a buzz amongst the trend-setters when it first opened less than a year ago.The heavy red velvet curtains drawn over the large windows up the exclusivity factor, giving it an air of being closed. So much so, that as I already sat in the bar with Melanie, Matt sent me a text from just the other side of the door saying “Apparently it is closed.”Only those in the know will bother traversing the not-too-inviting entrance.

Mel and I perused the drinks menu while checking out the clientele and noticed it was predominantly male, which provided lots of tasty eye candy for the ladies.One particular Gerard Butler lookalike must have thought I was giving him the once over more than once as I kept turning around to scan the bar (more to get an idea of what kind of place we found ourselves in rather than trying to pick up the boys – but GB lookalike if you’re reading this, feel free to mail me!)

This spacious venue has plenty of delicately pretty touches like ironwork railings on a mini-spiral staircase in the corner, interesting moldings and very high ceilings.The space gives the impression of having been something else before – Melanie guessed a theatre, I guessed a train station.But the barman assured me it had always been a restaurant. The expansive bright white walls and ceilings allow them to dim the lights to an extremely low level without a crypt-like feeling, and the restaurant area was full of happy hipster diners.

The cocktail menu is small with about 8 choices.Their spirit selection is limited to 2 to 3 different brands for each– but decent brands for such a limited choice.For gin you’ve got Bombay Sapphire or Hendricks.For such a short menu, I was impressed to see a dry martini listed amongst the kirs, caipis, mojitos and cosmos, which ranged from 6 to 10€.My Bombay Sapphire/Noilly Prat martini was stirred and garnished with an olive and was one of the more expensive at 10€.I was pleasantly surprised by the quality which was more than acceptable for a Paris bar.The one beef I had with it was that the glass was slightly dusty, making me think that they haven’t used their martini glasses (or at least mine) for awhile.

Melanie took a caiparinia, which she said was decent.We expected the usual munchies, yet nothing came.I went up to the bar and asked the friendly – yet not super observant – barman for something to munch on.He had nothing but pleasantly filled a glass with the olives from the cocktail garnish tray.

When Matt and Caroline arrived, they took a side car and margarita. By that time Melanie and I were ready for a second so she took another caipi and I took a margarita as well.Matt’s Sidecar wasn’t on the menu and the barman asked what was in it. We told him and he didn’t want to hear the proportions after the ingredients declaring that they could figure it out from there.The margaritas were not good at all.There was not enough (or no?) cointreau or triple sec.The side car confirmed Matt’s suspicion that he should stop ordering them if they aren’t on the menu. It consisted of cognac and Cointreau and a chunk of lemon, but no lemon juice.He was very disappointed with his drink and the fact that he paid more than us at 12€.

The most interesting thing about this stop was that Vincent Lindon arrived with a pretty companion and lingered at the bar while I tried to remember the name of this La Moustache star.We decided we wanted one more – but perhaps wine would be the way to go.No one was dying to stay here so we moved on to a busy, bustling neighborhood cafe instead.

La Fidelité has a fun, trendy ambience and is sort of close to home for me, so I might get myself back there for a glass of wine or a cuope of Veuve at 10€ accompanied by a bit of people/star/boy watching, but not for cocktails – which are a bit hit and miss.

Wednesday Cocktail Adventure: Delaville Cafe

Delaville Cafe
34 boulevard de Bonne Nouvelle
75010 Paris
Tel: +33 (0)1 48 24 48 09

It’s probably my admittedly perverse bent, but I like venues that have been transformed from spaces of unusual and different purpose – especially if their original purpose is a bit seedy and sordid. So, Delaville, with its naughty brothel past, was sure to pique my curiosity. The extremely large, basic outdoor terrace of this multi-room, multi level cafe, bar and restaurant belies the funky interior combination of faded 19th century grandeur and modern artsy design.

Past the terrace is the veranda, which in summer opens up to offer even more breezy seating during warmer months. Beyond the veranda, bar area beckons with its old school mosaics, high ceilings and over-sized mirrors. To the side is a restaurant with distressed touches and warm lighting. And, finally in the back you can chill out in the thoroughly modern, red vinyl lounge with kitschy animal heads mounted on the wall while listening to guest dj’s from Thurs – Saturday. Fancy staircase fans shouldn’t miss the beautiful one tucked between the restaurant and lounge, which unfortunately due to the layout of the restaurant doesn’t really get showcased.

This week I met up with just Jodie first, who I hadn’t seen since she had left for an extended Australian holiday four months ago. (welcome back, jod!). So, we sat up at the modern metal bar for a bit of girlie cocktail catching up. Their menu consists of basic spirits disguised with bright fruit juices and syrups and really just made up too heavily…perhaps like the ladies that worked this space in days gone by. Drink names like Full Moon Party, Acid Punch, and Midori Illussion recall something one might drop at a rave a opposed to something swanky one might sip. Prices range from 8 to 9 Euros. I asked if they could do a dry martini and was told yes and then served a Bombay Sapphire (the only gin in the house) and sweet vermouth mix. At least the glass was chilled. I asked if they had dry vermouth and then got a better Bombay/Noilly Prat martini, shaken into a chilled glass with an olive garnish. Jodie went for one of the fruity ones. A large glass of marinated olives came with our orders.

As Jodie was leaving, Matt arrived. He ordered a sidecar, which the barman asked me how to make. I tried the Chinese Lily (tequila, litchi liqueur, citrus & orgeat). I had hoped the tequila/litchi might be an interesting combination, but the whole drink was completely overwhelmed by litchi flavor with no real alcohol kick or tequila taste. I don’t even remember the second drink that Matt got off the fruity menu: it was orange and tasted vaguely of apple.

During the day, I’d guess this place brings in a wide age range of patrons. In the evening, my guess is that the prices, pseudo grungy oldschool glamor, alcohol flavor masking drinks & weekend dj’s, guarantee a mainly twenty-something crowd. i didn’t test it, but their site says they have free wifi which is also a nice bonus. And, it’s just across from the Rex making it a decent stop for a beer before or after shows there – especially if that falls within 18h00 to 20h00 when draft pints are served for the price of demis.

While I wasn’t wowed by the libations, Delaville has some good things going for it. If the charcuterie plates or the burgers listed on the menu are any good, this seems like it would be a fun summer stop with ample terrace seating for a quick bite and a simple drink. But, despite its racy past, it’s not making any sexy cocktails.

Wednesday Cocktail Adventure: Prune de Nuit

Prune de Nuit
12 rue Marie et Louise
75010 Paris
Tel : 01 40 03 63 27

Although curious by nature, I have no desire to know what people are saying behind my back. If it’s something bad, I don’t want to know. If it’s something good, then I’ll just feel an irrational responsibility to live up to someone else’s expectations. Similarly, I get a little nervous sometimes when I’m blogging on a bar recommended by someone I know. I really want my post to live up to their expectations of the bar. But, what if it sucks, and I blog that and the person takes it as a personal affront and never speaks to me again? And what, then, if I need a blood transfusion and it turns out I’ve got a rare blood type and this person has the SAME blood type? However, we’re no longer speaking because of my nefarious post, so they don’t give me the transfusion? Well, fret not, gentle readers. I have not yet lost a potential blood donor!

This week I stopped by the Prune de Nuit, which was recommended by Sasha over at ParisIncognito. She thought it would be up my alley. When I arrived, I immediately saw why she might think so. The arrangements of tiny twinkling lights, the hot pink wall behind the bar and the glowing tables provide a unpretentiously fun ambiance. The banquettes and bar stools are hip and comfy. The purple glowing bar doesn’t scream “we’re going to charge you through the nose” (like the one at Pershing Hall) but rather it says, “We’re fun and a bit funky, but down to earth.” So far, so good.

The cocktail menu, however, did concern me a bit. It wasn’t the 15 choices, which is a decent enough number for a bar that doesn’t tout itself as a cocktail destination, but rather the abundance of cosmo variations and vodka based drinks. For many serious cocktail enthusiasts, there are great cocktails and there are vodka cocktails but never the twain shall meet. In fact, there are many who take this as a measurement of how serious you really are about cocktails. I’m of two minds about this. As my drinking tastes mature, I appreciate that there are many more interesting spirits to put into your drinks and would opt for pretty much anything over vodka. On the other hand, it’s only cocktails, folks, not world peace, so I’ve been known to try and enjoy some vodka drinks myself. So…the vodka heavy menu did not doom it, just encouraged me to watch the barman a bit closer to see what he could do.

And, his martini making did not disappoint. I expected him to reach for Gordon’s, but – surprise – there was none behind this bar. He pulled down the Tanqueray and Noilly Pratt for my martini which was stirred and poured into into a nicely chilled glass. He topped it off with an olive and served it up with some killer bar snacks of chips and guacamole, tiny chicken wings, and olives. He followed up to see if the drink was okay, which is always appreciated. And, I proclaimed it ‘super’.

I followed my martini with le chic (raspberry juice, fig liqueur & champagne), which pleased me when I realized it wasn’t – as I feared it might be – overtly sweet. I proclaimed it interestingly tasty and yummy. By now I know the bartender/owner is named Bruno, so I ask my new friend, Bruno, about the “cocktail du jour.” He tells me he is in the process of creating it and offers me the drink he is currently making on the house. It was a very simple combination of fresh melon juice and vodka. While I would normally enjoy a drink with more complexity, I proclaimed this one (apparently I’m very into proclaiming today) ‘nice, refreshing and very sell-able” And, I meant it. It’s incredibly hot in Paris right now, that cooling little concoction was the best drink I had all night.

While Prune de Nuit is not a craft cocktail destination, I think Bruno is successfully working his cocktail skills behind the bar. And, here was the cincher for us: he’s just really nice. Mylene and Ritu, who both opted for the Chilean wine at 6 Euros/glass, enthused about the place. The prices were reasonable at 10 Euros a drink, but the addition of the many little munchies make this a very pleasing deal. While cocktail elitists may shy away from the many vodka based drinks on the menu, I think even they would find that this little unassuming place has just enough of the good stuff behind the bar to get a well made and enjoyable drink. Well played, Sasha – we can still exchange blood!

18/12 UPDATE: I was just speaking with a reader last night who was in the Prune de Nuit recently and said the drinks are quite up to snuff these days.  I haven’t had the opportunity to make it back in and try so just thought I’d pass that info on.

Wednesday Cocktail Adventures Part I: Hotel du Nord

Hotel du Nord

102, Quai de Jemmapes
75010 Paris

Tel : 01 40 40 78 78

I hate writing negative reviews. But, I hate arsey bartenders even more.

Hotel du Nord seemed to have potential. Renovated not long ago and located on the Canal St Martin, it’s a pleasant little locale that has managed to squeeze a few tables out front to create a small sidewalk terrace. Inside you’ll find a large restaurant area and a nice looking bar with a few tables for drinks. We arrived around 7 and the server who took our drink orders was friendly, pleasant and chatty. No complaints so far. Their cocktail menu offers up a selection of about 15 to 20 cocktails at around 8 or 9 Euros. Seeing the dirty martini listed, I asked the server if I could have a traditional martini with just the gin and vermouth. “Of course!” he says.

At around 10 minutes to 8:00 our drinks arrived. (yes, that means we were sitting at the table for almost an hour before the drinks came). Visually, my cloudy, ice filled cocktail in a snifter did not appear to be a dry martini. One taste confirmed my eyeballs’ suspicion. Wondering what I had been served, I went up to the bar and asked what was in my martini. The bartender told me it was a litchitini, with vodka and litchi syrup. I explained I had asked for a regular martini. At this point, he began scolding me for not ordering off the menu! I was a bit surprised. I (pretty nicely) explained, that I had asked the server for something particular, he said “of course”, 50 minutes later I got something else, so it didn’t seem to be entirely out of the realm of possibilities that I might ask what I got in lieu of my actual order. Over his grumbling, winging, whining and complaining, I said I didn’t realize it was a strictly “order off the menu” bar. I told him not to worry about changing, that this was fine and I’d drink what I’d been given. He then started yelling at the server across the bar, for the handful of clients to hear, that he should take better orders.

As I returned to my table with my super sweet litchitini in hand, he started calling after me loudly that if I wanted a different drink I had to stop drinking the one I was holding. I told him (again) not to bother. The manager (or owner?) had seen this and came over and said my litchi martini would be 4 euros instead of 8. He then asked us to pay up immediately because they needed this table for the restaurant. We finished our round of cocktails, which were all fine but not outstanding. The bartender seems to have a grasp on how to make the drinks on their list, but overall favors form over function. His drinks are visually impressive enough – not outstanding, but just enough – so that less demanding cocktail drinkers might be convinced they are getting better drinks than they really are.

Maybe he was having a bad day. Maybe he was tired. Maybe his girlfriend just dumped him. (and if not, maybe she should) But, as much as I wanted to like the Hotel du Nord, the bartender left a bad taste in my mouth – figuratively & literally.

Wedensday Cocktail Adventure: Baxo – CLOSED

Baxo
21, rue Juliette Dodu
75010 Paris
01 42 02 99 71

Baxo does not stock any gin. I think that means we pretty much know where this post is going already.

In anticipation of sunny skies and warm evenings, I’m on the hunt for lovely little terraces where I can enjoy my tipples! Having read on their website that they have a terrace, I made this my latest visit. The website version and the real version of this place are not exactly mirror images. Looking online I thought it might be a bit too loungey-chi-chi-neon-glam for my taste. But it also looked sort of cool and I figured – hey! – it might be even better in real life. It’s not.

In the light of day, the clear plastic wanna be stylish orange chairs look cheapish and potentially not very sturdy. The handful of tables on the sidewalk in front of the Baxo looked uninviting and cold. The menu features only vodka, rum & tequila based cocktails at around 8 Euros each.

I ordered the closest thing they had to my standard martini and got a dirty vodka martini off the menu. I was afraid to deviate from the menu because this place already struck me as a spot where the bartenders weren’t going too be too apt with free-styling things. And, I got the worst cocktail of my life. The warm and vile concoction was served in a martini glass complete with two little chips on the lip and finished off with the famous Paris plastic martini straw – even getting excessive and putting in two! WAY too much olive juice. I have no idea who might order this and enjoy it. Granted, I don’t usually order dirty martinis, so just maybe they are supposed to taste this way. (In which case, those of you who DO order them are crazy!) My two drinking partners for the night simply stuck with a glass of wine – one red, the other white. Neither raved about that, either, but, at 4 Euros a glass, there was slightly less financial damage done there.

Seriously, I like to remain positive, but the only good thing I can come up with for this place was the bartender was kind of nice and gave me directions to get to the nearest taxi stand where I could get to a dinner date and eat something to get the taste of that horrid drink out of my mouth!