Naughty Research Cocktail Adventures: le 25eme Heure

Le 25eme Heure
4, rue de l’Arc-de-Triomphe
75017 Paris

Sometimes I’m overwhelmed by an overabundance of information: blogs, books, guides, and reviews on eating, drinking, sleeping, clubbing, and shopping. It’s all covered. Everything. Everywhere. But a truly good information source is more than a mouthpiece; it’s a filter.  And, that’s what I like about the Naughty Guides for Ladies.  Author, Heather Stimmler-Hall, has a clear vision of what she’s delivering with her guide and does it well.  Recently, Heather, her photographer Kirsten, and I caught up for a drink and some cocktail research for the update to the Naughty Paris guide at one of the city’s latest ‘secret’ addresses, le 25eme Heure.

While just a short walk from the Arc de Triomphe, the unmarked exterior, ring-for-entry policy and quiet side street location give le 25eme Heure a remote and hidden air.  Once inside, patrons are enveloped by matte black decor as well as music from the DJ booth.  At the far end, funky 50’s style chairs surround a low table with built in champagne buckets and patrons mill about the bar, drawn by its glowing, bottle-lined shelves.

Over a Monkey 47/Noilly Prat martini, rolled and with a twist, one of the owners, Ugo, explained their concept.  Le 25eme Heure is one of the latest Paris bars to set up shop with the intention of keeping it real.  Their cocktail approach is meant to be more all encompassing, i.e. they won’t refuse to make a mojito.  However after a mojito, head barman, Benjamin, (previously of le Carmen) may gently nudge patrons to follow up with something else: something novel, yet maintaining a mojito essence.  And working without a cocktail menu as they do, my guess is they do get a lot of requests for mojitos.

The bar stock is on the small side, but combined with the fresh ingredients and homemade syrups Benjamin has enough to play with to create unique cocktails at around 12 Euros a drink.  A limited selection of beer, wine and champagne are also on offer.

This bar will appeal to those who like the nightlife, but don’t see the allure of clubs overrun by up-their-own-arse clientele.  It’s accessibly clandestine and feels more intimate and discrete than some of the bigger clubs that you’ll find off the Champs; a more laid back alternative. Similar to the (now closed) le 29 in its somewhat off-the-beaten path locale and wee-hours possibilities, it’s more of a destination drinking spot for late nights and winter months that may prove to be the next nocturnal playground for Parisian night owls up for setting their own trends. Plus the cozy fumoir downstairs means smokers can stay all night without slipping out for a ‘breath of fresh air.’

So, will 25eme make the cut for the new Naughty Paris update? We’ll have to wait and see if it makes it through that ‘filter’, which keeps her readers loyal.  And, that is what will make the 25eme Heure a success, too.  If they stick with their ethos of an all-encompassing drinking policy, personalized service and friendly manner, they’ll end up with a loyal following that will happily make this drinking detour.

Panoramic Cocktail Adventures: La Vue

La Vue
3 Place Gen Koenig
75017 Paris
01 40 68 51 98

The last time I drank at the Hotel Concorde Lafayette I was slurping Smurfs.  So, after the recent overhaul of this lofty lounge, I once again took the elevator up to the 34th floor to see what Italian designer Pier Luigi Copat and Cocktail Zone’s Mixologist of the Year for 2009, Stephen Martin, would bring to the new bar.

No sign of the prior old-school style remains. In its place is an updated version of Miami Vice meets the Jetsons. A modern 11,000-glass rod chandelier dominates the room diffusing an alternating array of pastel to near neon green, pink and violet light.  Retro chairs are grouped around simple, low, round tables and tall stools line the 15-meter long sleek metal bar.

I pulled up a stool alongside the wall-to-wall window for a martini with Bombay Original, which was icy cold and made with pleasing gin to vermouth proportions. The gin selection seems to have a little something for everyone with Bombay Original, Gordon’s, Beefeater, Bombay Sapphire, Tanqueray, Tanqueray 10, Hayman’s Old Tom, Hendricks and Sipsmith. But, even with the panoramic view, 25 Euros is a high price tag for a well-made martini. I’d also like to see a few bar snacks come with a drink in that range.

The menu is a mix of old and historically significant recipes, mass-appealers like the mojito and house creations ranging from vanilla-flavored vodka choices to bitters or bourbon based imbibes that will please a more mature palate (one of which comes with the instructions not to drink it unless you are over 50.)  Martin’s menu illustrates his familiarity with the cocktail world with homage to Schumann (Gimlet a la Schumann’s) and a shout out to cocktail historian, David Wondrich, for the Chanticleer cocktail.

The cocktail menu also works la Vue’s lux angle with its separation of regular spirits listings from the “luxury best spirits.” For a fiver or so more, you can go from ‘bottom shelf’ to big spender with a Sipsmith gin, Banks Rhum, Calle 23 Tequila or Purity Vodka. All of these attention-getter brands are prevalent at cocktail salons and conferences.  However, for my taste there’s some disparity in the selection.  For example, while I think Sipsmith is an excellent choice in gin, Banks Rhum is better for mixing and I would have chosen something that could stand alone stronger for a ‘luxury rhum.’

The night of my visit shortly after their launch was a mix of splashy scenesters and view-seeking tourists.  And the view is spectacular. But, at a price.

Oriental Express Cocktail Adventures: Wagon Bleu

Wagon Bleu
7 rue Boursault
75017 Paris
01 45 22 35 25

In the course of 52 Martinis research, I frequent a lot of bars that get good buzz. But sometimes I like to try a wild card in hopes I’ll find an undiscovered treasure. I hadn’t heard anything drinks-wise about the Wagon Bleu. In fact, I hadn’t heard anything about it at all. But, when I stumbled across it online, two things drew me to it: 1. It’s partially housed in a restored train car from the Orient Express circa 1925. 2. It boasts the ‘longest happy hour in Paris!

It turns out that the romantic train car portion is tucked away in the back of the establishment for dinner only. So Matt, Vio, Mel and I settled into the pretty standard cafe/bar front area where Hall & Oates music sets the mood. So, the closest we got to experiencing train-themed drinking was feeling the rumble through the floor of trains passing by on the tracks situated just below the bar/restaurant.
The drinks menu features 11 uninspired “classics” that put me in broken-record mode [“caipis, mojitos, cosmos, sex on the beach, etc., etc.] as well as 5 “specials” that are mojito riffs with a lone Long Island icetea to break up the monotony. Each section features a mystery drink with the Crazy Wagon, which is whatever the barman feels like, and L’Omerta with its claims that “you’ll never know” what’s in it – and with a name like that might just be a subtle nod to the Corsican slant to their menu. Cocktails range from 8 to 9.50 Euros and they also feature a selection of rhum and vodka arrange at 4 Euros a shot or for the bargain price of 35 Euros for 10.

There is no dry vermouth behind the bar, so I went straight for a margarita instead of the usual. Notwithstanding the gummy-gator garnish, it was better than I expected. For the rest of the evening, we ordered up tapas of tapanade and buglidicci (fried bits of corsican cheese, brocciu) and dabbled with the happy hour menu. From 16h00 to 21h00, prices drop to 4.80€ for a pint of blonde, 5,80€ for a pint of Abbaye and 5€ for a mojito, caipirinha or ti-punch. While nothing exciting, all were acceptable for the price and fueled a fun few hours of over fried cheese.

For the time we spent there, the place started buzzing with local regulars who chatted with the friendly staff. So, while there were no undiscovered treasures in the cocktails or food, the happy hour could be interesting for those in the neighborhood looking to throw back some reasonably priced pints over a lengthy happy hour.

Wednesday Cocktail Adventure: Hotel Concorde Lafayette

Hotel Concorde Lafayette
3 Place du General Koenig
75017 Paris

La la, la la la la, la la la, la la.

10 points to anyone who guesses what I’m singing right now! Who knows what those points go to, but if you’re competitive like I am, you’ll give it a try anyway. I’ll get into why I’m singing that later.

t’s Christmas time – I want fun and festive and fancy! So, this week we decided to visit the panoramic lounge of the hotel Concorde Lafayette hoping that might fit the bill. Sure, I couldn’t exactly see all the Christmas lights strung up throughout the city from the 33rd floor of this hotel, but I could see Paris twinkling beneath me.

I arrived to find Matt already ensconced in one of the cozy seats in this surprisingly busy bar. Every row of banquette style seating facing the window wall was full of Eiffel tower-watchers. Incidentally, the new light show for the tower isn’t very interesting. (Melanie pointed out that perhaps we were getting the backside of the show?) Démodé décor aside, I liked the private feel of the undulating long booths. Everyone gets their own little curve in which to congregate. And, in a different mindset I might have totally dug the cheesy feel of the 70’s style of this hopping hotel lounge.

Matt had already started on a so-so sidecar and after a glance at the menu, I took my usual. My Bombay Sapphire martini was very light on the vermouth and came with a twist in an icy glass. I was slightly suspicious at first, but pleased enough by it. I pretty much singlehandedly ate all of the mixed nuts and marinated olives that came with our drinks.

We had a good turnout of newbies, regulars and occasional visitors all coming for holiday wishes and pre-vacation check-ins. That means we got to sample several things off of the cocktail menu, which run about 14.50 Euros a drink.

But here’s the problem: all the drinks pretty much seem the same to me. They’re served in the same glasses with the same garnishes and the same colors. Violaine started with a Princesse (rum, coconut milk, banana juice, grapefruit and red Curaçao.) I won’t even bother describing the rest of the drinks ordered because they all tasted like a riff on that.

I was feeling a bit adventurous, so instead of sticking with another martini, which was not bad, or trying something I know I would like for my 2nd round, I decided to go with one of the “Concorde Cocktails” which seemed to be a mélange of whatever wasn’t selling behind the bar.

My “Hello Paris” arrived (with further nut and olive reinforcements) and I was immediately in love with the colors: but for fun, not for drinking. This mix of rum, banana liqueur, coconut liqueur, banana juice, grapefruit juice, strawberry syrup, and blue Curaçao was about as bad as it sounds. We decided the way to go would be to mix this crazy rainbow up.

The finished product was an extremely blue drink with a layer of red at the bottom. It looked like someone had taken Papa Smurf, thrown him in a blender, put a pineapple slice on the mix and served it to me. (Hint: here’s where the “la la” comes in). Matt tasted it and said “I can’t believe you’re drinking that disgusting drink!” And, I’m much pickier than Matt when it comes to drinks.

We were all happy to see each other and I was happy with my martini, but for the rest, we were all somewhat non-plussed. Melanie was the winner with her order of the Chicago 1934 (cognac, grand marnier, lemon juice and ginger ale) Even the view is a bit obscured by the lights reflecting off the window panes.

Maybe stop in for a martini if you’re in the area and dying for a view (or just missed your bus to Beauvais, which I’ve been known to do). But, otherwise, skip it for serious cocktails. So, next week, I’m letting Matt (who has been my longest standing partner in crime for Wednesday drinks) choose the bar. It couldn’t get much worse. I just drank a Smurf.

Wednesday Cocktail Adventure: Flute

19, Rue de l’étoile
75017 Paris
Tel : 01 45 72 10 14

I have very few guiding life principles. Aside from general stuff, you know like being a nice person, blah, blah, blah, I can think of three things that I hold as personal self-evident truths: 1. Never turn down a chance to go to Italy. 2. Never turn down a chance to get on a boat. 3. Always make time for good friends. I’ve been a bit too busy these days. Too much work, too many projects, too much laundry. Since most of my fellow testers are on holiday right now, I almost cancelled Wednesday Cocktail Adventures this week to try and find some extra time to get my life in order. But at the request of some very good friends to accompany them to Flute, I decided that catching up with my friends was more important than catching up with my laundry. So, off I went….

I have already reviewed Flute on eGullet when it first opened. So, while not a new destination for me, it was good to return to suss out the current situation. Flute is primarily a champagne bar, with a wide range of bubbly at reasonable prices. The Paris Flute has been open for a couple of years – the two other Flutes in New York have been open for 10+ years. The tiny downstairs area holds no more than a handful of people pressed up against the bar, so the larger upstairs area is where most of the clients install themselves. Previously they suggested reserving for drinks, but I think the place has become a bit more casual these days.

I was particularly taken by Flute on my first visit and it even held a spot on my top five list for some time. That bartender has since moved on and been replaced by handsome & accommodating Antonio. I’ll skip the details about how great it was in the beginning because things have changed a bit. You can still see the work of the prior barman in the house creations listed on the menu, which are tasty, balanced and interesting. However, Antonio’s strong point is super friendly service & attention to recipes. This was evidenced by my completely warm martini (no shaking, no stirring, no nothing) which was not something on the already established menu. I asked him to put it back in the shaker and stir it, which he did with no problem or defensiveness. He asked me a few questions about martinis in general and was sincerely curious and inquisitive. I give him an A+ for effort, but I can’t really give him high marks for his own cocktail making skills.

Still, I believe the bar is an interesting stop for a cocktail – or even better some champagne. They don’t have a lot of stock, but what they have is nice. The champagne cocktails are refreshing and well-made.

Live jazz music entertains on some evenings and Sundays is “American Night” when their New York staff who are in Paris for the moment get behind the bar. (I wonder how that might change the cocktail options.) They’re boastful of their mojitos & will be having a tasting with a large variety of of rums at the end of August. They still have their Tuesday happy hour with a 2nd drink offered, which is a good deal considering the regular prices at 12 – 14 Euros.

If you’re in the area, stop in with some good friends and have Antonio make you something off the already established menu and he’ll do it to right. Just don’t expect him to freestyle anything.