Aviation inspired Paris Cocktail Adventures: L’oiseau Blanc at the Peninsula Hotel

Paris viewsL’oiseau Blanc bar of the Peninsula Hotel
19 Avenue Kléber
Paris 75116

Let’s try something a little different around here. As most of you know, I’ve been busy with The Chamber activities, various freelance writing gigs, the usual fun with friends and a few other 52-related projects that I really need to finish up. Also, it seems like people are spending less time reading long posts and more time looking at quick pictures and summaries. So, I’m moving to a shorter and more factual format on a trial basis. This means I’ll be getting back to more regular posts. Like this one for the L’oiseau Blanc…

martini and fruit cocktailsThe luxury hotel Peninsula has made Paris its European point of entry, introducing a few new drinking and dining options to the city. The rooftop restaurant and bar, L’oiseau Blanc, was named after the French plane that attempted to make the first non-stop flight from Paris to New York in 1927 but mysteriously disappeared. Fittingly, the bar is kitted out with aviation themed decor and old pictures of the airplane. It offers up a 360 degree few of Paris in a sophisticated and staid space. The drinks menu features around a dozen drinks ranging from appropriate classics (Aviation, anyone?) to twists on classics like their Take Off (gin, sweet vermouth and bitters). Here you’ll find the excellent service and hush hush feel that high-end hotels are known for. But the big draw? The spectacular terrace with to-die-for views. But go early as I have a feeling they keep a lot of those seats reserved for hotel guests.

Cocktails: B
Service: A
Ambience: B-
Cocktail Prices: 22 – 25 Euros

Now that you’ve had a little taste of the possible direction I’ll be taking the posts, do weigh in and let me know what you think of this approach.

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!

Sparkling Cocktail Adventures: Ciel de Paris

Ciel de Paris (Tour Montparnasse)
33 Avenue du Maine
75015 Paris

While I love a good cocktail, sometimes something else seems more appropriate. Last time I checked in on the Ciel de Paris of the Tour Montparnasse, I noted that not only had it gotten a bit tatty, but that it’s a setting better suited to sipping champagne than knocking back cocktails. It seems someone else felt the same way as it’s undergone a lengthy remodel to update the décor and is now billed as a Champagne bar.

The recent renovation resulted in futuristically retro feel for this Paris institution. Gone are the scuffs and scrapes of the predominantly black space; replaced by a more sophisticated palette of muted taupe and beige. The freestanding central bar remains, but now only champagne is poured here and any mixing action takes place elsewhere behind the scenes. The revamp has lightened the environment, while managing to maintain the best bits of its prior incarnation. And the very best bit is by far the breathtaking view.

The drinks menu is naturally dominated by Champagne and a section of “Bellinis” such as the eponymous “Ciel de Paris” (St Germain, Grand Marnier, Campari and Champagne). For those who simply can’t cope without a cocktail, there is a rather lengthy selection of options including house specialties and classics. Since Thibault and Wendy were with me, we got a chance to go all three ways. Thibault took a Bellini, which was nicely presented, although a bit sweet for my taste. The fact that my martini came with an offensive ice cube and a big black straw, reaffirmed my belief that this venue is made for champagne. So, Wendy made the right choice with just that. With their focus on bubbly, the spirits selection is – not surprisingly – sparse, with a scant gin choice of Gordon’s or Bombay Sapphire. A plate of pate de fruit and mini-muffin cakes accompanied our drinks.

Service was friendly and I appreciate the fact that they didn’t use the remodel as an excuse to excessively jack up drink prices (as opposed to other recent revamps like Bar La Vue.) Prices remain in a 14 to 16 Euros range and are entirely justifiable given the location. Champagne by the glasses goes from 17 to 30 Euros.

The Ciel de Paris once claimed to be the highest restaurant in Paris. While newer spots have taken that title, they are still up there. So, when in a bar that’s reaching for the stars, what better to order than a glass full of them? So, much like the gorgeous view, my impression remains the same on the drinks: Stick with the something that sparkles to go with the sparkling view of the city below.

Rooftop View Cocktail Adventures: Lounge Bar

Lounge Bar at l’Hôtel Novotel Montparnasse
257 Rue de Vaugirard
75015 Paris

I want to have it all. You know the saying “You can have a great job, relationship and apartment.  Just not all at the same time?” So it is with bars. You can find good locations, good drinks and good prices.  But, not always in the same place.

Tucked away in a lesser-visited area in the 15eme atop the Novotel Montparnasse, the Lounge Bar offers up an expansive panorama from its 7th floor terrace.  The clean green and white décor is modern and comfortable with a whiff of hotel bar.  But, the real stunner is the view when the outdoor seating opens during summer months.

The cocktail menu, however, is less expansive with a rather limited spirits choice and a selection of ten drinks comprising Trends (cosmo, mojito, pina colada, and Long Island Ice Tea), LBV Concepts (peach caipiroska, etc.) and a couple of champagne cocktails.

Unfortunately during my visit there was no ice in the bar.  That meant a martini or pretty much any other drink on the menu was out of the question. I went with a gin and tonic because – as the barman suggested – the tonic was cold.  I knew even at the time, I should have skipped the cocktail.  I don’t like Schweppes and my need for ice has already been documented.

So it probably goes without saying that I was non-plussed by my drink. I arrived at opening time (5pm) so I assume they would have had ice later. While any bar should be prepared for customers during all opening hours, a hotel bar should be even better equipped considering guest expectations and 24 hour access to hotel facilities (which presumably include a restaurant.)

Yet there was something of interest on the menu in addition to the Coca-Cola by JP Gaultier – a concept I don’t really get – and the interdiction of flash photos after 10pm.  The Lounge Bar has a happy hour, which offers their 12 – 16 Euros cocktails at two for one until 8pm.  And, that’s not something you often find in a terrace hotel bar with a view like this.

So, I’ll stop in again, skip the cocktails and sip a glass of something bubbly overlooking the city. Because while the view is lovely and the happy hour prices are nice, you apparently can’t have it all at the Lounge Bar.

Rooftop Cocktail Adventures: le 7th

le 7th, Terrass Hotel

12-14 rue Joseph-de-Maistre
75018 Paris
Tél. : +33 1.46.06.72.85

I think it’s important to (at least try to) be aware of our faults and to correct them. One of my current personal fault projects: I’m a little bit of a grudge holder. So, when the restaurant atop the Terrass Hotel started fluctuating too much in service and quality for the price, I stopped indulging in their rooftop dining and mentally crossed them off my list of possible eats. That doesn’t mean I wasn’t longing for a bit of terrace time with them, but I was loath to pay full whack for a meal or talk my way into one of the very few spots for a drink to get it. And, then like an ex strolling back into my life with promise of change, they came up with their latest summer scheme.

No longer are reservations or long meal commitments necessary to enjoy the expansive view. The Terrass Hotel was now teasing me back with its latest rooftop transformation: le 7th. All summer, the rooftop terrace serves exclusively as a no reservations cocktail bar and lounge with the option of finger foods, burgers, salads and pasta should you feel peckish. Maybe we could get back together after all? I met up there with Wednesday regulars Matt, Vio and Mel as well as visiting style-meister cocktillians (and more) Howie and Tawny, to find out.

Once I made it past the multiple lobby staff and onto the roof, I immediately remembered what brought us together in the first place. The view is special. The faux-grass green matting gives the impression of stepping onto a healthy (but well manicured) lawn and the space is open, airy and relaxed. And, clearly this place has caught more than just my eye. The night of our reunion was a busy one with an abundance of the suit and earpiece crowd.

The drinks menu features 17 classics such as martini, manhattan and negroni and 9 house creations including three mojito riffs, all at 14 Euros each. My usual first order was a disappointment of proportions. While, I like a bit of vermouth in my martini, this was too much. Of the three gins on offer (Bombay, Gordon’s and Tanqueray) my guess is they’re using Gordon’s for the martinis. Opinions varied on the other drinks. In the surprisingly good category were the gin fizz, manhattan and strawberry basil mojito. The caipi was another overly sweet disappointment and the planter’s punch tasted of spiked juicebox.

Like many places, pretty garnishes can initially distract from the actual quality of the drink. The attention to visual details and fluctuation in cocktail quality says to me that there are some good intentions behind the bar, but maybe a lack of range and/or knowledge when it comes to serious cocktail skills. Warm weather clients looking for a bit of summer fun without high end cocktail expectations, will enjoy perching above Paris with something cold in hand. But, I would personally love to see a bit more consistency and attention to some of the mixers.

A flute of Lanson Black Label champagne goes for 15 (white) or 16 (Rose), and wines by the glass at 5 to 7 Euros seem a steal when you take into account the view. But, if you want to stick with the cocktails, I’d recommend either a Basil Strawberry Mojito when warm summer evenings call for something with plenty of refreshing crushed ice or a Manhattan once the temp drops with the setting sun.

Opinions on service fluctuated as well. I found the servers helpful in getting us all situated around the table with everyone arriving at different times and attentive about taking orders. However, there were a couple of glitches with Matt’s final beer order and everyone found the pseudo-seriousness of the downstairs staff a bit daunting. Fluctuations aside, we had – as usual – a great time together testing and tasting. And, while I snapped the usual pics, Howie captured the moments on paper.

So, Hotel Terrace, I’m no longer holding a grudge. You seem to be making an effort to change. And, while I don’t know what our future together holds, I could maybe be down with a summer fling.

Wednesday Cocktail Adventures: Le Lucien of Hotel Fouquet

Le Lucien Bar, Fouquet Hotel
46 avenue George V
75008 Paris
01 40 69 60 00

The Bedazzler is a “cheap-ass rhinestone-studding tool favored by art teachers and over-excitable soccer moms everywhere, the biggest piece of crap sold on late-night TV since the Thighmaster, the reason women own shirts with glittery kitty-cats on them.” Oh how I wish I had come up with that totally apt description myself (even though, secretly, I’d like to own one.) So, the Bedazzler is the first thing I thought of when I came face to face with the lifesize panther standing guard at the entrance to Fouquet Hotel’s Bar Le Lucien:

This five star hotel at the very tip of the fancy “Triangle d’Or” is a (sometimes forced) melange of classic and modern design both inside and out. Once past the Swarovski encrusted kitty, we were able to better appreciate the mix of old-school style and trendy swank. Tasteful bookshelves line the walls and welcoming oversized, overstuffed chairs fill a room punctuated by modern ostentasia like the huge, blinged-out, lit-up Grey Goose bottle in a display case. The gorgeous terrace continues the theme of old+new a bit more successfully. Perhaps this bipolar decorating scheme reflects their (trademarked!?) concept of “Dignified Luxury”© which is a philosophy of providing luxury surroundings while remaining environmentally responsible. (Two extremes which I do give them big props for attempting to reconcile)

The cocktail menu begins with a page of bubbly-inspired choices, followed by a page of Grey Goose vodka cocktails, a page of Bombay Sapphire gin cocktails, and finally a page of various rhum, tequila and whiskey based cocktails. Each category contains four or five established cocktails (Singapore sling, cosmo, etc) and four or so house creations. A cocktail will set you back 24 Euros. The gin choice is a scant Hendricks, Tanqueray 10 and Bombay Sapphire. [and they are clearly pushing the Bombay and Grey Goose with whom they must have some kind of partnership] Barsnacks of garlic nuts, olives, crackers, hummus-filled pastries and smoked salmon with quinao were more impressive in abundance and presentation, than flavor.

My Tanqueray 10/Noilly Prat martini came, stirred, cold and with the requested twist. I don’t love Tanqueray 10 in my martinis, but acknowledge that my tastes change over time so gave it another try. The drink was well-made. (I still would have preferred a different gin, but that’s my choice) I followed up with a So Easy…F (champagne with a cognac tea liqueur). Matt and Violaine’s drinks included the Bombay Fouquet (Gin, sweet vermouth, fresh basil, lemon juice, raspberry puree and passion fruit juice) and the Bombay Marrakech (Gin infused with Moroccan spices, fresh orange juice, grenadine, pineapple juice and fig jam).

The service was flawless and the staff seems to have a solid grasp of the cocktail menu – having both a real familiarity with the drinks and being able to suggest based on tastes. They’re using some interesting and unusual ingredients (eucalyptus water, fresh wasabi, egg whites, jasmine syrup) and beautiful garnishes (many of which are meant to be consumed to add to the experience of the drink). They’re even doing Cointreau Caviar.

Yet, while the drinks were excellent by Parisian standards, I still can’t bring myself to give them a fully enthusiastic two thumbs up. I can’t help but thinking the drinks could use a slight bit of tweaking (less citrus twist in my So Easy…F, more basil in Matt’s Bombay Marrakech.) to bring them to perfection. I get the impression that it is first and foremost a 5 star hotel and secondly a cocktail bar. And that, I believe, is the problem with a lot of upscale hotel bars: they’re damn good & you’re often bedazzled by the accessories and service, but they could be better for the price.

Wednesday Cocktail Adventures: Hotel Raphael

Bar Anglais at Hotel Raphael
17 Avenue Kléber
75116 Paris
01 53 64 32 00

I am not a snob. I just really enjoy what I enjoy. And, I really enjoy combo of a killer terrace view and a tasty, satisfying cocktail. Hearing I could get both these at the Hotel Raphael I convinced my cocktail crew to head over there and shell out for high priced drinks. Sadly, when we arrived, they informed us that the terrace bar was closed for a private party and steered us towards the downstairs Bar Anglais. This bar looked inviting as well, but with the dark wood and heavy thick curtains it seems more suited for sipping body-warming intoxicants on cool winter nights.

Onto the ordering. At 23 Euros, I didn’t think it was unusual to ask the server what kind of gin they use. I did, however, think it unusual that he would offer me a choice of unimpressive Gordon’s or Talisker (!?). Confused, I asked him if I could see the bottle of “Talisker Gin” and followed him up to the bar. As I suspected, there is no Talisker Gin behind the bar, but, as I explained to him, it’s whisky.

I ended up with a Tanqueray martini, which neither thrilled nor disgusted me. The proportion of gin to vermouth was acceptable and it came with a lemon twist. It was served in a non-chilled glass that was part of a Cointreau freebie promotional give-away. I’ve had better martinis for half the price at the Experimental, Curio, Mama Shelter, and the Why bar. So, here, I expect an attention to detail that merits the twice-as-high price. And, that doesn’t mean a cheapy glass that’s telling me to “Be Cointreau-lisious!” A similarly priced and much better martini at the George V comes with the extras that help justify the cost: special twists, beautiful glassware with impressive spoon rests and exceptional service. The only extras that came to our table here were some round cracker-type barsnacks and small pizza bites. (which, to be fair, were tasty)

I’ve waxed on in the past about the price at hotel bars partly being high to keep out the hoi polloi. So, did we feel like we were among the most elite and refined of the city? No. We were sitting across from a cleavage-tastic woman with a gropy old man who were putting on a suckface and grab show worthy of the back seat of a football player’s car on homecoming, while a group of scruffy teenage boys in baggy pants roamed the hallway.

Now, I should have just stopped here, but Matt arrived and ordered a side car (a bit light on the cointreau, but okay) and we were still waiting for Violaine. Their menu featured a handful of house creations, none of which looked interesting. However, with the unknown (to me) ingredient of Pisang Ambon in the Raphealite, I thought perhaps this was the one. I went up to the bartender and asked what this was. I was told that they did not know and they believed it to be either some kind of fruit juice or something “herbal”. Now given that the bottle had to be within arm’s reach from them, I’m unimpressed – and shocked – that they didn’t take it off the shelf and show it to me. Instead, they asked me “Why do you want to know? Do you want to order that cocktail?” I answered “Well, I don’t want to order it until I know what it is.” Unapologetically, she said “Sorry, I don’t know what that ingrediant is.” Forget it. I’ll just take a glass of red wine.

I returned to the table and waited for both Violaine and my wine. The server came back and asked me what I’d like. I, again, ordered a glass of red wine. Awhile later she came back with a glass of white wine. Once more, I told her I had ordered red. Violaine had just arrived and offered to take the white. With no appreciation for our saving of her foible, she left, presumably to get my red wine. I saw her taking out several orders and finally 35 minutes and 3 requests later, I got my glass of 11 Euros red wine.

Now, just to make things clear. Not only do I have no desire to be a snob, I couldn’t afford to be one if I wanted to. I have nothing in particular against tacky glassware, shmarmy sugar daddy dates, or sloppily dressed teens. I just don’t want to pay 23 Euros to see all these things while I’m drinking an unimpressive cocktail accompanied by bad service. I care what I spend my money on. And, apparently, I’m just the kind of client that the Bar Anglais doesn’t feel the need to bother with.

Ciel de Paris (Tour Montparnasse)

Ciel de Paris (Tour Montparnasse)
33, avenue du Maine
75015 Paris
Tel: +33 (0)1 40 64 77 64

“They should fix this place up” Rupa decided over our martinis at the Ciel de Paris. Seeing the scuffed bar and chairs, dated decor and dingy carpet, I agreed. But, the thing is, they don’t have to. Where else in Paris do you get this view over drinks? Once the sun goes down, the wear and tear is no longer apparent and you can just enjoy watching the city beneath you twinkle.

Last Tuesday, the two of us had met on the 56th floor of the Tour Montparnasse for the last night of her Parisian visit. Not being bound my usual Wednesday rules, I could have ordered anything, but took a martini anyway. I was not asked “shaken or stirred”, “lemon twist or olive” but instead “ice or no ice?” I choose “no ice”. I watched, from a distance, as the bartender made my drink at the nearby piano bar. What I got was a chilled glass, a good pour of Gordon’s, a whisper of Nouilly Pratt, stirred long enough to make it nice and cool. It was accompanied by a small dish of toasts and tapanade. My 15 Euros martini was perfectly acceptable, but I’ve had better at lower prices. Rupa joined me and ordered a martini as well. She specifically asked for olives – which they were out of – so got a lemon twist, which turned out to be a lime twist. As I watched them prepare hers I noticed they used Bombay instead of Gordon’s.

The staff, in general, were accommodating and friendly, with the exception of one young bartender, who although he professionally tried to hide his apparent disinterest in being there, clearly wanted to be somewhere else – but maybe he was just having a bad day. The ceiling of the bar/restaurant is covered with tiny points of light creating a starry sky effect and, following this theme, their drinks menu offers a range of astronomically named specialty cocktails (Eclipse, Jupiter, Orian, etc.) at 16 Euros each. They were all heavy on fruit juice, of which raspberry, orange and grapefruit were fresh – the rest of the larger selection, bottled. Although I didn’t try one of these, they seemed to be a popular choice as the majority of the cocktails I saw being made were these fancy and brightly colored concoctions. Many people were opting for non-alcoholic options of soft drinks and juices, which ranged from 8.50 to 9.50 Euros. Otherwise, the clientele seemed to be sticking strictly with champagne or wine. And, that’s probably what I’ll do on my next visit. While my martini wasn’t bad, this venue is more appropriate for a bit of bubbly.