Boxer Cocktail Adventures: le Calbar

IMG_3795Calbar
82 rue de Charenton
75012 Paris

IMG_3803The word of the day for the non-French speaking readers is Caleçon, which means “boxers”. And not long ago, two young frenchies combined the concept of “calecon” with “bar” to create the Calbar; where the boys behind the bar sport boxers shorts.  I first stopped in several months back to have some fun for a Monkey Hour.  I later stopped in on a typical evening to see if there is something more to this nightspot than just nice legs.

I arrived just at opening while owners, Christophe and Thierry, were mid-interview with a local film crew, but they still made sure to break for a meet and greet. The first dozen drinks listed are the “Calbar Drinks” at 11 Euros a pop.  Following that is an extensive selection of cocktails categorized by spirit at 9 Euros. It sounds like having worked with their first menu for some time now, they may have future plans to revamp with more intuitive price/cocktail categories.

IMG_3792Having already sampled a good martini  on my prior visit, I went for le Julep (Nikka from the barrel, fresh mint, brown sugar & angostura).  While I prefer mine served in a julep cup (this was a glass), they, otherwise, ticked all the boxes for me with great ingredients and perfect prep. I followed up with a “Surprise Me,” for which the boys create a cocktail based on your tastes.  I give them a thumbs up for making something that included bolder flavors like Antiqua, Absinthe and Campari rather than falling back on something easy like booze+fruit juice.

The décor nice and casual with a small, industrial chic entry way and a nicely done back section with cozy sofas and quirky curios on the walls. They’re serving up some tasty little snacks like club sandwiches or meat and cheese platters. The spirit selection is small but solid with some good gin choices (Beefeater, Tanqueray, Tanqueray 10, Monkey 47, Number 3, Bombay Sapphire and Hendrick’s) And, the boys behind the bar have luxury hotel IMG_3802experience so they know a thing or two about customer service.

Basically, it’s one of the many new laid back bars that are making good drinks while dropping the exclusive-feel that seems to sneak into the cocktail lounge scene. It’s a sweet little spot for neighborhood locals that also has enough going on to cater to those with more adventurous cocktail palates. In short, the friendly duo behind this bar are highly focused on keeping their customers happy.  But, I am curious as to what will happen if they ever hire any lady bartenders!

Mini-shout down: Novotel Bercy

Novotel Bercy
85, de Bercy
75012 Paris
Tel: 01 43 42 30 00

Forest fact: I have a soft spot for average, bog standard, budget chain hotels you find scattered along the freeways of middle America. You know the ones I mean: they always have sufficient strip mall & General Dollar Store action close by, there’s all you can eat breakfast buffets and a fine selection of Bigelow teas on tap all day long in reception. I totally get into it and use all the amenities possible. I’m the one who actually uses the 3 machines in the empty fitness center & skips down the nappy, brown carpeted hallway to visit the hot tub room. And, the ice machines…ah, the ice machines, don’t even get me started.

So, the Novotel Bercy, while a slight step up from a Holiday Inn and with no strip malls in site, reminds me of the cheesy, brightly lit, average businessman’s hotel. But, for as much as I love these places, the Novotel Bercy: not so much. I’ve been sitting on this post for several weeks with a bit of a ‘why bother’ attitude. But I’ve decided it merits a little shout-down to prevent others from following in my footsteps. Back in January, Kate come up from Geneva and took me to a concert at Bercy for my birthday (thanks, Kate!) The concert fell on a Wednesday, so tried to squeeze in a quickie cocktail adventure prior to the show. I didn’t have any ideas for around Bercy & the few I came up with didn’t work (temporary closures, etc.) So I thought a hotel bar is always a semi-safe bet.

I was wrong. Although Gin and Tonic is the first featured cocktail on their list of 6 cocktails at 6.95, there’s no gin in the house. There’s actually not much at all to choose from in the house. I took a cuba libre. Unusual for Paris: the barman was very heavy handed with his pour. The general vibe is a bit depressing even if the barman was friendly enough. So it was a great concert, but crap cocktails. And, I’m still on the lookout for cocktail spots in the area…so share if you’ve had better cocktail luck around Bercy!

Mini-Shout Out: La Gazetta

La Gazetta
29, Rue De Cotte
75012 Paris
Tel: 01 43 47 47 05

Good restaurant bars can be hard to find, but La Gazetta just might offer up something worthwhile on the drinking front. Although I didn’t do a full cocktail-recon, we had a round of pre-dinner drinks at the bar before tucking into their enjoyable five course tasting menu.

La Gazetta is linked with the Fumoir & the former China Club (not the current one, which looks exactly the same.) Yet the cocktails here pleased me more than those at the Fumoir. My martini was well-made with NP and Tanqueray. While Tanqueray is not my first choice for a martini, it’s a good one and much better than Gordon’s, which you’ll get in many Paris bars. Nicky had a very well executed margarita. A bowl of olives accompanied our order. I believe the prices were around 9 Euros.

The small bar area is clean, pretty & jovial and I think it definitely merits a closer look. I will and get back there in the future to sample more but would love to hear any comments on in it in the meantime.

Wednesday Night Cocktail Adventure: le China

Le China

50 Rue de Charenton
75012 Paris

Tel : 01 43 46 08 09

I’m back …. and, so is the China Club! But, you’d be forgiven for thinking they were still closed since the old website saying so remains online. They do have a new site, but the first thing you’ll come across on mostgooglesearches isthe original. Yeah, we know: sometimes the Internet lies.

I always enjoyed the China Club back in the day. I’m not sure why they closed, but the space, under new ownership and no longer called the “China Club” but “Le China” retains all of the originaldecor and charm of the original. They’ve still got a hiply classical feel with heavy red velvet drapes, warm leather sofas and the crisp black and white tiled floor. Warm wood furniture adds to the comfortable elegance of this locale and the lighting is dim enough to avoid the interrogation room feeling of many French establishments. The ambiance is accessible chic: it feels a little special without being intimidating. The ground level is spacious, calm and on my visits – which generally take place in early evening – rather empty. The lower level offers up the same cool deco and probably pulls in a sizable young and pretty crowd with their free nightly concerts. I think this spot could work for an quiet tête à tête or a bigger, lively group depending on when and where you deposit yourself here.

Le China does a decent happy hour price-wise, assuming you want to order two of the same thing. From 6 to 8pm you can have your second cocktail free: not the second drink of your choice, but the same as your first order. So, if you’re going for the classic dry martini off their menu at 10 Euros, you can end up with effectively two at 5 Euros each. Not a bad price, but less of a steal if you’re not in the mood for back to back martinis. But, I was pleased with my Tanqueray martini with a twist so i did have a second. I’d say this is the best 5 Euros martini I’ll ever get in Paris. And while you’re sipping, beautiful waitstaff bring tasty olives that we think were marinated in sesame oil & chili sauce.

The non-happy hour prices range from 10 – 12 Euros with a few interesting sections including “New York prohibition cocktails”, “classics” and house creations. I don’t fully understand the the “Prohibition cocktails” category since it includes drinks created as recently as last year. (perhaps they mean prohibition-inspired?)* The classics include some solid basics like martini, martinez & old fashioned. Violaine tried the raspberry daiquiri off the “classics”, which was made with fresh raspberries and was simple and refreshing. The food menu appears reasonable and features a range of dim sum, noodles, buns, etc.

Overall, if you’re looking for a chilled out hideaway from the typical Paris drinking spots, this somewhat forgotten old standby deserves a revisit.

* update 6/9/2011 Happy hour is no longer two for one and just 1/2 price drinks & prices have raised to 12 Euros.

Wednesday Cocktail Adventures: le Tarmac

Le Tarmac
33 rue de Lyon
Paris 12ème
Tél : 01 43 41 97 70

Is Big Brother watching us? Even while we’re drinking cocktails?

When I arrived at le Tarmac and found Ritu already there, she showed me her receipt for her monthly metro pass. She pointed out that the receipt shows the activity for this month and last month and felt it is a bit “big brother” to have all of her movements recorded. I agreed, but we both conceded that there is probably much more information about our private lives “out there” and accessible to others. But, onto more important matters at hand, I asked the barman if he could make a “dry martini.” He said of course and moments later came back with a long glass, filled with plenty of ice, a lemon chunk and liquid that had a slight yellow tinge. He left. I suspiciously sipped. Ritu could tell from my facial expression alone after that first sip that I was not loving my ‘martini’ and I told her it was nothing but a glass full of dry vermouth. A few minutes later the barman returned to our table and asked me if there was something wrong with my martini. Now the bartender was nowhere nearby when I tasted, my back was him so he couldn’t see my expression, we weren’t speaking loudly and there were plenty of other people thronged around the bar to prevent the drifting of my conversation to his ears. Were the tables bugged? Was big brother really watching?

Fear not, 52 martinis readers! As far as I know Parisian bars are not wired. A waitress had seen my expression when I took the first drink and went to the tell the barman that it didn’t look like I had gotten what I expected. I explained to the very nice and accommodating gentleman that I had wanted dry vermouth and gin mixed together. This is the point where he tells me that they do not have dry vermouth. (now, remember, I am drinking a glass of nothing but dry vermouth.) I explain to him that the stuff in that bottled labeled Martini is in fact vermouth.

Matt and Violaine arrived and ordered off the menu, which offers a dozen or so cocktails such as margaritas, bloody marys and americanos at 6 – 9 Euros. Matt had a daiquiri, Violaine a mojito and I had a margarita for my 2nd round. While none of these very average drinks dazzled, we were impressed by the friendly and helpful service. And, fortunately, it was happy hour, so the drinks turned out to be only 3 – 4 Euros each. The bar munchies are little plates of snacky crackers and dried fruit. They also do tapas plates at 2 – 3 Euros, so we ordered a few of these, which ranged from fine to good.

The atmosphere at le Tarmac is brightly lit and clean. Matt commented that the decor felt a bit cheap and I have to agree. In a nod to the name, pictures of airplanes adorned the walls. However, I’m not sure what the pictures of the double decker bus or the bunch of bananas are a nod to. I do like a bar with a terrace, so they have that going for them. Overall, this place should be a hit with a younger crowd who are swayed more by happy hour prices than high end cocktails. But, just so Big Brother knows, I probably won’t be going back there anytime soon.

Wednesday Cocktail Adventure: le Train Bleu

le Train Bleu
Gare de Lyon

There’s something about a combination of splendor and decline that attracts me. Several weeks ago, someone invited me for a drink & suggested le Train Bleu as a meeting spot. This person scored major points for location – I love le Train Bleu. I love that this restaurant is tucked away in the Gare de Lyon & you have no idea of the over-the-top, old-school splendor hidden inside behind the bright bleu neon sign above the entrance. I love the painted & guilded ceilings, the numerous huge comfy chairs grouped in cozy, private arrangments, and the massive chandelier lighting. I even love the fact that my friend told me she saw a mouse there when she had lunch a few months ago. Le Train Bleu (built in 1900!) transports you to a fantastic & historic space. But, as much as I enjoy le Train Bleu, I would never eat there. And, as of last Wednesday, I will never order another cocktail there.

The first thing I noticed on the drinks menu is the statement that all cocktails are made with a base of concentrated fruit juice. Below the fruit juice disclaimer, 8 cocktail suggestions are offerred at 14 Euros each, includinig a Manhattan, Margarita and the epynomous Train Bleu (made with blue curacao & raspberry infused vodka). A classic martini was not on the menu and here’s what I got when I ordered one:

1/2 warm Bombay Sapphire and 1/2 warm Noilly Pratt (neither shaken, nor stirred, nor garnished & served in a highball glass). Matt ordered a Train Bleu, which actually turns out to be more of a green color and, as I commented, tastes like fruit punch or Koolaid. Matt ameneded “but bad.” And, “Bad Koolaid” is not a cocktail compliment. Violaine, who also joined us, ordered a more traditional French apero of Italian Martini sweet vermouth and probably was the most successful pick of the bunch even though she felt there was too much ice. We sipped our drinks while munching on decent bar snacks (olives, pickled garlic cloves & peanuts) but opted out of the usual second round. I’d say these were the two worst cocktails we’ve had on our search. But, as Matt and I agreed, even the “unsuccessful” nights are an enjoyable part of the cocktail adventures.

That said, i still love le Train Bleu and recommend a visit. Skip the 20 Euros club sandwiches and definitely pass on the cocktails. But, appreciate this truly impressive location over a glass of wine, beer, coffee or tea. As for the tea, they seem to have an extensive collection offered on their specialty tea menu. They offer tea tastings and sell it loose, as well. The coffees, beers and wine all fell within a reasonable price range, for the location, of 5 to 10 Euros (with one exception of a glass of Saint Emilion Grand Cru Chateau l’Hermitage Lescour at 12.50 Euros) So despite my horrendous martini, go there. Just don’t order the cocktails and watch out for rodents.