Paris Cocktails & Food Pairings: Pasdeloup

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Pasdeloup
108, rue Amelot
75011 Paris

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All summer we were hearing about a handful of very promising openings to come. And, while we’re still waiting for most of them, Pasdeloup led the pack by opening doors a couple of months ago.

This casually chic spot boasts some of the city’s best bar talent thanks to Amanda Boucher, previously of Candelaria (which just took a spot on the worlds 50 top bars list – again). Amanda has displayed an enthusiasm, inquisitiveness and study over the past several years allowing her to hone her skills to impressive levels.

IMG_4911At Pasdeloup, she has created a menu of around 10 cocktails at 12 Euros each. There is no pandering to the masses with a simple fruit+vodka choice. Their vodka cocktail includes vinegar, as well as cocchi Americano and pisco which results in something refreshing, bracing and a little bit unexpected for the general drinking public. A look at the rest of the menu shows a competent and calculated sense of balance within individual cocktails as well as throughout the menu. Many of the cocktails are pre-batched, making for more consistency. Those looking for the classics will have no problem here, as confirmed with my usual martini order.

IMG_4908Additionally, they created a small selection of four cocktail and food pairings like a Spritz du moment paired with Shitake for 14 Euros. Of special note is the Chevreau complet (22 Euros), which comes with the “A” cocktail (otherwise, unavailable outside of the pairing). This dry, sparkling drink is not intended to be served alone, but only alongside the chevreau sandwich to offset its meaty richness. The results are rather lipsmackingly good.

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Parisian Coffee and Cocktail Adventures: Lockwood

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Lockwood
73 Rue d’Aboukir
75002 Paris

With the emergence of a new breed of coffee bar, cocktails aren’t the only notable drinking trend to hit the capital over the past few years. Recently, three brothers have capitalized on both crazes in creating the Lockwood.

IMG_9233Paris’ latest It-spot combines three different drinking styles all under one roof with Brûlerie Belleville coffee and light snacks during the day, easy-going aperitif options early evening and serious cocktails from 8 p.m. onwards in the downstairs bar.

Upstairs, a large, clean glass front brightens things up while mellow wood tones and soft light keep it warm. Bottles hang from bungee cords above a small bar (reminding me of the setup up at the Tippling Club….), coffee filters serve as lampshades and customers cluster around high tables. Slip down the back stairs and you’ll find a collection of stone-vaulted rooms with low chairs and tables and a larger central bar. There the vibe is more conducive to nighttime drinking. The Lockwood feels both Parisian and international at the same time, which is no big surprise considering the team’s collective experience includes time at Silencio, Ten Belles, plus a few international endeavors.

IMG_9227The night I stopped in with Laurance, Thibaut and Regis, we started upstairs where the menu offers a dozen drinks that kick the night off nicely. The aperitif aspect is obvious with options including bitters like Aperol Spritz, Campari Orange, or Americano. There’s a Paloma on the menu, which has been coming into cocktail play a bit more recently plus a couple of hot options like mulled wine or Irish Coffee. My martini was enjoyable as were the Whiskey Pomme (Buffalo Trace and apple juice from the owners’ family orchards) and a Negroni. While there are no surprises, they are none needed to deliver a good drinking experience. It’s a solid and satisfying selection of aperitifs ranging from 7 to 12 Euros plus some beer, bubbles and wines.

IMG_9255The larger downstairs bar does things a bit differently with just under 20 cocktails at 11 to 15 Euros. The Zacapa old fashioned (old fashioned variation with Zacapa rum 23, house syrup of apple & cinnamon, orange and angostura) was nice, although ever so slightly sweet for my taste. The Whet Appetite is a similar to some options we’ve seen around Paris with its  combo of tequila, cool cucumber and a Tabasco heat. Their rendition of the Penicillin delivers the familiar smoke and honey flavors you’d expect.

IMG_9258Ingredients are fresh and preparation considerate. They aren’t overextending themselves but rather focusing on a manageable menu, which is key to successfully pulling off a concept that focuses on doing different things simultaneously.

On the night I was there, I not only enjoyed myself but noted there were plenty of booze and bar biz people in as well – which I take as a good sign. At this point, Paris is probably not desperate for another cocktail bar.  And, that’s why Lockwood is exactly the type of place the city now needs.  Its relaxed attitude, understated cool, and focus on quality ingredients are the right combination to satisfy the coffee connoisseur, casual early evening drinker as well as the late night bar crawler. Given their initial showing and reception, they are set to be a popular and prevalent force on the Paris drinking scene.  Fortunately they open from 8am onwards making it a venue worth a visit anytime of the day.

 

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.

Shellfish Cocktail Adventures: the Mary Celeste

mc 005Mary Celeste
1 rue Commines
75003 Paris

mc 004I’ve been talking a lot lately about Paris turning a new cocktail page and coming out ahead of trends rather than bowing to them. And once again, the group behind the Candelaria provides a very fine example of just that with their third venture, a restaurant and bar, which showcases their ability to come up with fresh fare.

While I love a low-light lounge or a dark divey bar, the open, airy and light space that is the Mary Celeste brightens the bar scene with something new. Large windows let in plenty of light to the main floor, which features a friendly island bar. A downstairs area, where the tiny kitchen is located, handles the runoff from the main floor.

mc 011Owners, Josh, Adam & Carina, have put together a topnotch international team, including notable barman Carlos Madriz (previously of l’Hotel) and Chef Haan Palcu-Chang (previously of Le Verre Volé as well as Europe’s only Michelin-starred Thai restaurant.)   Palcu-Chang’s creative small plates -including offerings like homemade Kimchee which demonstrate his passion for Asian cuisine – are available from 7pm onwards.  But, from 5pm to 7pm, it’s “Oyster Happy Hour” with fresh terroir-focused oysters at a buck a bivalve! The oysters, served alongside tasty, crisp flat bread and Palcu-Chang’s mignonette, which incorporates coriander and a bit of heat, were delicious enough to convince me to indulge in them two nights in a row. I’m digging both the oyster concept and the fact that they open earlier than most bars.  But, we’re here to talk cocktails…

mc 007My first experience was an opening night event, and the place was packed with friends and fans of the group enjoying free Brooklyn pours, beer cocktails and oysters at happy hour prices.  My Oliver’s Twist exemplifies Carlos’ innate talent for creating well balanced cocktails with the Brooklyn lager, Rabarbaro, lemon and Tabasco bringing a successful combination of sweet, bitter, sour and heat that stands up to the oysters and their accompanying mignonette.  As I sipped and slurped, the sounds of the Steve Miller band on vinyl filled the air thanks to the vintage Lenco turntable. Sweet!

I returned the following night for Oyster Happy Hour to see how some of their cocktails stacked up to the tasty sea creatures. Carlos mc 012suggested a Dear Apollonia (grappa, Manzanilla sherry & crème de peche) as something that would please a martini-loving palette. Not only does that describe my palette, but a martini can be an ideal pairing with oysters. I know that just the mention of grappa can make the un-initiated tremble. However, the quality of the spirit and the addition of the crème de peche make for a lighter more approachable drink that works for newbies as well as more experienced cocktail drinkers. Plus, considering the mignonette, it’s a better pairing with these oysters than a straightforward martini.

I progressed to a Nord Sud, which was eliciting praise from a fellow drinker and shows off a nice balance of apple brandy, sherry fino, homemade grenadine and citrus.  I finished with the Dottore Cipriano, made with herby vermouth, mescal and enough amero to make it interesting without overpowering. And the smokey touch of the mescal made it a perfect and somehow comforting finish to this trio.

mc 015While plenty of people will go for the Single Ladies (Absolut, muscadet syrup and lemon), the menu of 10 or so cocktails at 12 Euros proves a nice vehicle for introducing customers to less common ingredients like ameros, vermouths and sherries. Carlos explained that they are going for more aperitif-style cocktails that veer more towards something delicate than in-your-face. They also feature beers from Brooklyn Brewery and a selection of natural wines. And I hear that Simon will be heading over to cover on Carlos’ days off, which means the Mary Celeste packs serious talent behind the stick seven nights a week.

I suspect that the combination of the more lighthearted approach to the decor and drinks and the trust-inspiring integrity of this group when it comes to scrutinizing the quality of ingredients, means this venture will appeal to a wider audience without compromising the quality that hardcore foodies and cocktillians demand. The Mary Celeste is a breath of fresh air, well worth a detour and I look forward to many more Happy Hours at the bar.

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.

Alternative Cocktail Adventures: Little Red Door

Little Red Door
60 Rue Charlot
75003 Paris

It’s been a busy few months.  Between a few weeks of holiday and other fun stuff like openings, social events, cocktail competitions and interesting interviews the blog writing had to take backseat for a few weeks.  But, I’m back and ready to spill on some of the city’s new spots, like Little Red Door, where I met up with Kasia recently for some taste testing.

Just past the friendly doorman, you’ll find a whimsically miniature red door.  While most guests will slip into this seductive space via the normal sized door to the left, apparently a select few regulars will be given the keys to this mini-entrance. With discrete attitude, LRD sticks to the speakeasy style prevalent within Paris’ recent cocktail scene but amps it up with some stylish detail.  These days, it’s not unusual to see lovely glassware or bitters decanted in simple bottles on a bar top.  However, here the furniture has been handpicked and imported from London and the light fixtures specifically designed for the space. But the pieces de resistances are the plush velvet barstools, which are not so much stools as impossibly comfortable armchairs. Dim lighting, various levels and intimate groupings of chic chairs and sofas make it a sexy little space for small groups or a quiet couples night out.

With Romain, previously of the Experimental Cocktail Club, and Ben behind the bar, drinks are made with TLC.  On my first visit, the menu was not yet finalized, so I started with a nicely prepared No. 3 martini. However, the other orders better exemplify the team’s skill at gently encouraging patrons to try something just a little different. Since Kasia had been considering a dark and stormy, Ben suggested an alternative with smoky whisky and ginger beer. Her hubby ordered up a cacacha based sangree, which he’d been turned onto as an alternative to a caipi on a prior night.  Like their drinks, their spirits selection veers away from the mainstream and they pride themselves on ‘high-quality and specialized’ spirits.

I returned later for the opening night party and launch of first menu. At the time the choice included five drinks based on a range of high-end spirits and quality ingredients with enough variety to appeal to a range of tastes. The cocktail menu will change on a regular basis with a continued focus on creating unique cocktails.  The team will also be working with an aromaticien in developing interesting profiles for their creations.

For non-cocktail drinkers, LRD’s wine places a special focus on Languedocs and their selection of artisanal beer comes from Cave a Bulles. They have plans to bring in food, which will be a nice addition.  With barstools as comfortable as these, customers will need something to accompany a full evening’s worth of cocktails.

Overall, it’s a nice space, with well-made drinks going for standard Paris cocktail prices, of 12 to 13 Euros.  While I like the fact that some of the city’s latest bars are dropping cocktail prices slightly, LRD is doing enough to justify these prices. And bonus: with some of my other cocktails favs like Candelaria, le Coq, l’Entrée des Artistes and Grazie within reasonable walking distance, this little corner of the city is shaping up as a great place for a cocktail crawl.

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.

Last of the Summer Cocktail Adventures: le Quarante Trois

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good Times Cocktail Adventures: Red House

Red House
1 bis rue de la forge royale
75011 Paris
01 43 67 06 43

A renewed dialogue on customer service in the cocktail industry has been happening over the past few years. The idea of placing more importance on the cocktail than the customer has resulted in a growing number of grumbling guests and some amusing viral videos. But, the conversation is happening on both sides of the bar, with the topic cropping up more in forums, drinks seminars and industry discussion focusing on giving the customer what they want.  As a result, some of Paris’ newly opened bars are building their business on claims of great drinks minus the attitude.  It seems, “speakeasy-fatigue” is leaving customers looking for a bit fun over fancy.

As a customer, I get that.  And, when I’m looking for a bit of fun over fancy, I head to the Red House. This latest addition to the Cheap Blonde group (Stolly’s, Bottle Shop and the Lizard Lounge) has been pulling in a nice and diverse crowd since opening about a year ago. At the helm, Joe puts a lot of personality into the place, with its longhorns overseeing the bar and a solid list of 17 or so classics and house creations.  In this House, you can order a shot, a beer or a rum and coke without judgment – but you can also order a martini which will be made competently.

Red House’s appeal is more large-scale than upscale.  And while they’re not necessarily courting the cocktail crowd, there is enough here to keep someone like me entertained.  The spirits selection is smaller than in most of the city’s best cocktail bars, but it goes beyond the bottom shelf basics that you’ll find in most of the city’s laid back watering holes.

The casual beer crowd will be happy to take something on tap, while the more demanding drinker will notice the bar shelf devoted to bitters, the selection of cocktail books, and solid spirit selection.  Gins include Beefeater, Tanqueray, Hendricks’s, Hayman’s and Bombay Sapphire.  Vermouth’s include Martinis, Noilly Prat, Dolin and Punt e Mes.  What makes Red House different from more cocktail-centric bars is that they have a little something for everyone as opposed to a lot of something for a few.

I’ve visited on more than one occasion and have had the chance to sample a lot of their selection including juleps, aviations, negronis, Joe’s barbecue-infused booze, the exceedingly popular Wild West Side (tequila, lime, cucumber and pepper) as well as the aforementioned shots, beers, and rum and cokes. On my most recent visit, I kicked things off with a stirred Tanqueray/Noilly Prat with a lemon twist.  Another big selling point: occasional themed nights such as New Orleans or tiki parties and a happy hour when prices drop to a very affordable 5 Euros.

I’ve taken friends in who have become repeat customers as a result not just of the good drinks at 8 Euros but because of the down-home, good times attitude that permeates the place.  When I ask industry folks about their favorite bars it’s often not the latest on the cocktail lists, but fun dive bars and laid-back neighborhood locals.  And, the last time we were there, a few celebrities were among the customers partaking in the casual party vibe. And that goes to show that while a sophisticated cocktail soirée can be sublime, everybody – from your average customer, to cocktail fanatics to the downright famous – loves a good time. And that’s what Red House does right.

Art Deco Cocktail Adventures: L’Etage at Les Jalles – CLOSED

L’Etage
14 Rue des Capucines
75002 Paris
01 42 61 66 71

I don’t really spend all of my time drinking and eating.  I also spend a lot of time reading, researching, writing and talking about drinking and eating.  So, naturally, I hear a lot of buzz. When a friend recently called for a restaurant recommendation that was new and cool and trendy and busy and good (in other words: buzzy), I immediately thought of the latest venture from the duo behind the exceedingly popular Volnay: les Jalles.  In the last month, the blogosphere has been nicely noisy about this new eatery.  However, what piqued my curiosity was not the reportedly fantastic food.  It was the buzz I had been hearing about their bar, l’Etage for months prior from some notable cocktail names.

A few days after they opened, Kate and I made our way through the tasteful art deco dining room of les Jalles, up the back stairs to l’Etage to see what hid behind the hype.  We found ourselves in a sophisticated and seductive space, where period appropriate paintings pop against dark walls and sexy staff stands behind the shiny bar in somberly elegant uniform.

Classy style carries through to the menu with its small but strong selection of eight drinks, including a crusta, a julep and a cobbler made with choice ingredients. The man behind the menu is bar manager, Simon, previously of la Conserverie. And, patrons can confidently go off menu considering he not only honed his skills at a great Paris cocktail spot, but has also worked the circuit abroad, including stints in both Australia and London.

My martini was not the first I’ve had from Simon, but was just as consistently good as the previous ones. When he recommended a Martinez as my follow up, I was happy to go that route and mentioned that it ranked highly among my most memorable cocktail experiences, thanks to one several years back London bar, Montgomery Place.  Coincidentally, turns out that’s also the bar he worked in London, so he stirred up a Martinez that was reminiscent of the one I recalled so fondly.  I, also, of course enjoyed a sip Kate’s Bwa-Lele (two types of rum, velvet falernum, lime and tiki bitters) and was particularly impressed with the presentation of her Calvados Crusta, which came in a glass entirely coated with fine sugar.

I stopped in for another visit last night and Simon started me off with a personalized concoction of gin, Suze, celery bitters, Noilly Pratt and fresh coriander.  This wouldn’t be a drink for everyone, but it was just right for me: something strong, dry and bitter with a fresh & herby nose thanks to the coriander.  I followed with a Sazerac, for which they normally use Rittenhouse Rye, but in this case, Simon broke out a bottle of Michter’s US1 Straight Rye that he had just brought back from New York. I found the Michter’s a bit sweeter and less complex than many ryes, which made for an easily sippable Sazerac that will please a larger range of palettes.  Word is that the menu will be updated soon, but the Bwa-Lele and Crusta will likely remain.

An absinthe fountain on the bar gets occasional use.  On a side note, I think it would be great to see more bars doing absinthe drips.  While it’s becoming more common to see fountains in bars and many consider it a bit passé in the constant quest for something new and unusual in the cocktail world, I don’t believe it’s been fully explored and pushed beyond its novelty aspect.  In a city whose population is familiar with Pernod and which is historically no stranger to the green fairy, more bars could cultivate a taste for it in their customer base.

Drink prices are slightly above average at 16 Euros each, but those wanting the atmosphere with something a little less spendy can enjoy an aperitif at a reasonable 5 to 9 Euros.

L’Etage will attract a crowd of sophisticated urbanites looking to while away a few hours over a well made drink and listening to smoky jazz numbers from the current musical attraction and French chanteuse, Caroline Nin.

Despite high quality quaffs, excellent bar staff and an elegant environment, the bar is still relatively undiscovered as everyone rushes to the restaurant downstairs.  But, my guess is that won’t last for long once the bar buzz gets going. So, get there before everyone else does.