Champagne in a Bubble Paris Adventures: le Bulle du Collectionneur

main bubble cocktailsle Bulle du Collectionneur
Hotel du Collectionneur
51 rue de Courcelles
75008 Paris

Paris cocktails1The Bubble is back!  A few years ago, we stopped into the Hilton Hotel Bubble Bar.  Since then, the hotel has gained a star and changed its name, but it has kept the winter tradition of blowing up the courtyard bubble for a festive cold weather coupe de champagne.

While on our last visit it was a white, winter wonder land sponsored by Tattinger, this year it’s a sexy darker decor with Moet on offer with the option of tiny plates of tasty snacks.  Otherwise the space and setup are basically the same as the previous occasion.

exterior bubble cocktailsDuring the day it’s a tea bar with sweet snacks like Christophe Adam eclairs or Bruno de Lorgues truffles. And this year it remains open until March.

At 24+ a glass of champagne it’s a bit of an indulgent evening.  But, worth it if you’re looking to stretch out the holiday feeling by escaping into this fairytale like little bubble hidden away in a sweet courtyard.

Convivial Cocktail Adventures: l’Eclair

photo credit: l'Eclair FB page

photo credit: l’Eclair FB page

l’Eclair
32 rue Cler
75007 Paris

Remember when I mentioned that 52 Martinis was going to be available soon in French over at Alambic? It took a bit of time to find someone who was up to translating “forest-speak” into French speak.  And when they did, Sebastian and I got together at l’Eclair for (what else?) a cocktail and to meet my 52 Martinis French counterpart, Sophie.

IMG_2281Late last year, l’Eclair popped up on the cute cobblestone street, rue Cler, which is better known for its markets than mixology. On first glance, it appears to be just another typical Paris cafe, with a busy terrace, strategically distressed decor and a lively crowd of young frenchies chatting over cheap glasses of wine.  But, there’s more to this spot than initially meets the eye.

Firstly, the gin selection hints at something a bit more ambitious than the usual with Beefeater, Beefeater 24, Plymouth, Plymouth Navy and Hendricks.  While that might not be enough to endlessly entertain serious ginhounds, it’s surely a step beyond the typical terrace offerings.

The menu, as well, offers something a bit more than you might expect with a dozen cocktails for a tenner of enough variety to please a range of patrons from the easily accessible Basil Power (apple aromatized vodka, fresh basil, strawberry puree & syrup) to something that takes a bit more of an acquired taste like the house negroni.  Additionally they feature four Havana rum based tiki drinks and three “Decadence Martinis” such as the Porn Star Martini and its accompanying shooter of champagne.

IMG_2284While I would have liked a choice of garnish and possibly a colder glass, my Beefeater martini with olives was well-made and a nice surprise in such unassuming circumstances – and further proof that a better kind of cocktail continues to infiltrate more mainstream bar culture.  Sebastian’s 666 (Jim Beam Devil’s Cut, Saint Germain, honey citrus) and Sophie’s tiki drink were nicely presented and well enough made. The tiki felt light in alcohol, but these kinds of drinks can tend to be sneaky in this way.

They feature a fun selection of food like big burgers alongside crispy fries wrapped in newspaper print or croque monsieur’s made with bread from organic bakery, Moisan.  We opted for a platter Viande de Grisons from Davoli as we moved onto our next round, which showcased where the interest really lies….

IMG_2298L’Eclair offers four different shareable cocktails in 1 litre batches, which of course we had to try.  Our Kentucky Lemonade Pitcher (Maker’s Mark, fresh mint, syrup, lemon and ginger ale) arrived in a heavy metal Maker’s Mark branded pitcher with matching julep tins packed with plenty of crushed ice and fresh mint. The drink could have easily served a table of six, making it a good deal at 30 Euros. Other options include the Pernod Green Beast, served in a special Pernod cage or the more pedestrian Sangria.

Overall, the selection at l’Eclair is above average. While cocktillians might not find any surprises on the menu, customers will find that they are serving some atypically fun fair for a fairly typical café. If you’re looking to share some sips and nibbles with good company as we were, it’s a very handy address to have.

And since our visit a few months ago, Sophie has translated a ton of my posts and now moved on to continue her studies. So, a big thanks to her for all her hard work – she’ll be a tough translation act to follow!

 

 

Polynesian Cocktail Adventures: Dirty Dick

IMG_3126Dirty Dick
10 Rue Frochot
75009 Paris

IMG_3122Change is good. And, I’ve seen some especially good change when it comes to the Pigalle in the last few years.  Paris’ red-light district has gone from cocktail dead zone to cocktail destination thanks to the arrival of bars like Glass, Kremlin and Rock’n'Roll Circus.  And the latest place to bring a bit of kicky change to the area? The naughtily named Dirty Dick, which is giving Pigalle some Polynesian personality with its tiki themed bar and drinks. I can get down with a bit of South Seas style sipping, so I stopped in with one of my fav drinking partners to check things out.

IMG_3123With several busy bars already under their belts, the team behind the Dirty Dick went all out with their latest venture. While the typical touches like rattan furniture, palm tree wall paper, and tiki masks, give it the appropriate island feel, they’ve added some extras that knock the deco up a notch. Two tall totem poles – specially carved for the space and weighing a hefty 350 kilos each – frame a lush wall of tropical plants. American artist, David “Gonzo” Gonzalez created another kind of lush wall with his mural of a flirty bikini bottom-clad beach beauty. A sweet soundtrack of tropical bird tweets loops in the loos. And, the night we were there, the place was already packed with neighborhood locals enjoying the festive vibe and fun drinks.

IMG_2887The friendly team behind the bar – including Scotty (previously of the UFO) and Christina (of the Kremlin) – know how to do a good time as well as a good drink.  Before looking at the menu, I sheepishly ordered a dry martini. Being in a tiki joint, I “should” go for one of the rum creations… but, you know, the martini thing, it’s what I do. But guess what? There’s already one on the menu with their special grapefruit spin. Class. My Edinburgh martini was served with a twist and a shot of extra vermouth on the side at 10 Euros. Nice.

After that, I was ready to move onto the rum-based Cutback Conquest, which offers the satisfying balance of a well-made sour made more mature and interesting thanks to the Guinness reduction’s bitter beer bite, spiking through the otherwise easy-going cocktail for a pleasant surprise. The rest of the menu also reflects this element of the unexpected or a juxtaposition of sorts: An elegant un-refinedness, if you will (as opposed to an unrefined IMG_2888elegance). This classy kitsch works perfectly for a tiki bar. With its ass-kicking punches poured into over the top ceramic mugs, tiki, by nature is not a subtle cocktail culture. But a truly good tiki drink can celebrate both its fun factor as well as showcase something more interesting and complex – and that’s where Dirty Dick is going.

The menu features 17 cocktails with a good mix of classics and house creations, mainly based (of course) on rum, but with other options including vodka, tequila, whiskey, etc.  Lighthearted descriptions don’t divulge everything, but instead evoke a feeling or idea. Prices range from 6 to 14 Euros, based roughly on the amount of liquor in your libation; while the Ba-Tiki-Da at 6 Euros has about 5 centiliters of booze, the Slurricane at 14 Euros has close to 12 (watch out!).

IMG_3121Additionally, they offer up three convivial punch bowls for sharing that sound both fun and deadly like the Amazombie, based on the original Zombie, which promises to turn the “living into dead,” or the She Sells Sea Shells sold in a conch shell. And it just gets better with a selection of over 52 different rums on the shelf. Also of note, they are open 7/7 and have a well-ventilated smoking room in the back.

Dirty Dick shows that this group of bars and its associated staff have the know-how to put together a worthy watering hole and have managed to make a classy tiki joint without losing personality or credibility. Two thumbs up. The only problem is that now that another new great drinking destination has opened up in the area, I’ve just moved to a new neighborhood. So, I just keep reminding myself that “Change is good, right?” … and fortunately, my new place is on a direct metro line to Dirty Dick.

Tactile Cocktail Adventures: Touch’in Paris

Touch’in Paris
20, rue vignon
75009 PARIS

I’m in awe of technology and how it has altered our perception of time and space in such a short span. I’m also aware of what the Internet has brought to global cocktail culture: a larger more accessible pool of collective information meaning a quicker trickle-down effect from cosmopolitan cities and cocktail gurus to all corners of the world. Now, the recently opened Touch’in Paris is further capitalizing on the combination of cocktails and computers by taking the iPad-as-menu concept one step further with tactile table tops.  So, I stopped into the city’s latest concept bar to see if techno-tipples are the way forward.

I arrived at this Madeleine area address to find a bistro more traditional than technological and wondered if I had been misinformed, until I was directed to the bar downstairs.  What I expected to be a blinged out and buzzing arcade of gimmicky gadgets and flashing lights, turned out to be a much more appealing understated mix of old and new with sleek tabletops glowing in dim lighting beneath a vaulted stone ceiling. The barman gave me an introduction to the tactile screens, but my first technological glitch was the absence of a martini on the menu.  So, I reverted back to old-fashioned ordering.  As I sipped a nicely made Noilly Prat/Tanqueray 10 martini stirred and with a twist, I explored the electronic options.

These new-fangled tables do more than just offer cocktail options.  Customers can play games, order cabs, call for a barman or connect to Facebook. (Apparently – I didn’t have much luck with this option)  Languages are available in both French and English, which is handy for timid travellers. You’ll spend 12 Euros for the pleasure of sliding a drink from one of the four categories into the order line.

“Tendence” cocktails offer choices like the Porn Star martini and Zombie; “Ladies’ Drinks” offer four sweet, fruit or light options; “Old School” includes variations on the likes of juleps, side cars, or horse’s necks and the “Inclassable”  suggest creations like the Ballade en Provence with its “mystery ingredients.” It looks like they are incorporating a lot of fresh ingredients into the mix and not shying away from a variety of base ingredients or interesting additions, which makes it seem as if they are trying to develop a menu that can stand on its own without relying solely on the concept to attract clients.  Gin selection is rather slim with Bombay Sapphire, Tanqueray 10 and Beefeater on hand.  But, with a total of 17 choices of catchy names and classic variations, Touch’in will have enough options for the majority of customers to find a viable option. My gut reaction is that they will pull in a crowd of more concept curious than cocktail connoisseurs.

The touch screens do bring a couple of advantages to the experience.  Presumably they mean a first ordered, first served policy as orders go directly to the bar once completed.  So, no milling about trying to catch the staff’s attention. And, the connectivity they provide for information and cabs could be useful considering I was getting no reception on my iPhone. But for this modern technology to really bring something “to the table,” I think more could be done. A “build your own drink” option allowing for selection of spirits, preparation and proportions would appeal to those who want to be a bit more specific about what’s going into their glass.  Also, adding more beyond just French and English options could help in breaking down language barriers. And speaking of breaking down barriers, the ability to message other tables (as was already instated by Lo Sushi ages ago) for a bit of geeky flirting could be fun. And, finally the piece de resistance would be a system of payment that could be made directly at the table.

I applaud Touch’in for trying to stay ahead of the curve and I dig that it’s hidden beneath the more traditional bistro.  Also, the bars I enjoy in this neighborhood (le Forum, L’Etage, Baudelaire, …) are all on the pricier side.  So, this is a good option for something more reasonably priced but still drinkable in the area. But, while the drinks are decent and the service and decor quite nice, the tactile novelty isn’t enough for me to make this a regular destination personally. But, if this is your thing, go for it.  In the meantime, I’ll just be waiting for the machines take over the world.  And, when they do, I hope they can make a good martini.

Tiki Cocktail Adventures: Tiki Lounge

Le Tiki Lounge
26 bis rue de la Fontaine au Roi
75011 Paris

Since 1931 when Ernest Raymond Beaumont Gantt aka Don the Beachcomber set up the first tiny tiki joint in Hollywood, this kitschy culture has been injecting a bit of South Pacific fun into cocktails and given birth to some of world’s most notorious rum based drinks like the mai tai and the Zombie. Tiki style bars and drinks have experienced a resurgence over the past several years with hotspots like PKNY (New York) and – my favorite – Smugglers Cove (San Francisco) garnering international attention for their transcendent tiki drinks. This month Paris has finally taken to the trend with its first dedicated tiki bar: Tiki Lounge.

Tiki Lounge is kitted out with all the appropriate decor details: masks and carvings, creaky rattan furniture, and ceramic mugs. Blowfish lamps hang from the ceiling alongside glass floats. On the night of my visit, a few customers sat at the small thatched bar chatting with the friendly owners while south seas sounding music – with a bit of Tom Waits thrown into the mix – played in the background.

Thanks to the tiki theme, the menu diverges from the usual multiple vodka-based choices and features mainly rum. While they do offer a few things like caipis, mojitos and cosmos, the nine tiki options are front and center. All but two are rum-based, with the exceptions being a Waikiki Breeze with tequila and an Eastern Sour with whisky. Most of their classic tiki cocktails like the mai tai, missionary’s downfall and pina colada mainly adhere to simplified standard recipes. Drink prices are 8 Euros and drop to 5.5 Euros during the 18h – 20h30 happy hour.

I started with one of tiki’s most familiar and debated drinks: the mai tai (theirs contains two types of rum, orgeat and ‘citrus.’) While this isn’t the exact recipe I might use, I was pleasantly surprised. Based on experience I was preparing for an overly sweet alcohol masking mix. But, you could taste the rum through the light touch of orgeat and citrus and I enjoyed it (espeically at happy hour price). They also offer their own “Tiki Lounge Mai Tai” which includes pineapple juice and grenadine. I was less impressed with the tequila based Waikiki Breeze and I was really hoping one of my drinks would have come in a coconut shell or tiki mug. While we were sampling, the crowd was growing and an hour or so later, the place was busy with a hipstamatic young crowd who were probably grooving on the themed vibe as much as (or more than?) the drinks.

Thanks to the friendly atmosphere and novel (to Paris) ambience, I enjoyed my visit. However, I think there are some areas where they could amp things up the drinks front. I’d like to see their current offering of 5 rums bumped up. I think a more extensive offering of tiki drinks diverging from just the most popular ones could be interesting. And, just for fun, I’d like to see their bar munchies move from crisps, carrots and dip to something more theme-appropriate.

From a strictly drinks perspective, the Tiki Lounge can’t compete with some of the internationally known big boys of tikidom or even some of the bars in town like Prescription or Curio who occasionally feature a tiki option on menu and have the range of rums and necessary ingredients to pull them off with aplomb. But for nightcrawlers seeking the whole tiki experience – deco and all – this is currently the only place in town to get it. It may be just baby steps, but it is a valid start to the tiki trend in Paris.

Snow Globe Cocktail Adventures: Hilton Bubble Bar

Hilton Arc de Triomphe Bubble Bar
51 rue de Courcelles
75008 Paris

For some festive fun, the Hilton Arc de Triomphe has installed a Tattinger sponsored ephemeral champagne bar in their courtyard. From 1 December to 15 January guests can enjoy swank sipping inside a snow globe.

In this unseasonably warm winter, faux snow and Christmas trees add a welcome holiday feel. Within, it’s a white, light, bright winter wonderland. Fake fur throws cover ample sofas and warming rugs are tucked beneath each table in case you need something extra cozy under which to snuggle.

For this type of operation, I appreciate the simplicity of the one and only drinking option: Champagne. There are three choices: Tattinger Brut Reserve (20 Euros), Tattinger Rose (21 Euros) or Tattinger Brut Millesime (28 Euros). For a few Euros extra, add on the “bulle fraicheur” (barsnack in a ball.) On my visit the bulle was a bread stick wrapped in a thin slice of duck breast on a generous mound of mascarpone dip.

The space holds a maximum of 35 guests at a time and has a no-reservations policy. Going at opening (18h00) means you’ll enjoy the place in relative peace. Later it gets livelier with larger groups – and more fun with sound. The acoustics of the bubble are those of a whispering gallery: every conversation is amplified and sounds moves about the space in strange ways. Friendly doormen carefully monitor entries and exits via the two door system to make sure one door remains closed at all times. Apparently if both doors are open at once, the dome deflates!

So, if you need a holiday spirit hit, this is it.

Vintage Cocktail Adventures: l’Entree des Artistes


l’Entree des Artistes

8 rue de Crussol
75011 Paris

The Paris cocktail scene has
done a lot of growing up over the past 4 years. We’ve gone from a handful of successful forerunners to a nicely growing network of drinking options. Paris bar talent is expanding internationally with the ECC setting up shop in both the UK and the US. And we’re seeing international cocktail trends showing up in bars here locally – the latest of which is aged cocktails. The first mixology maostro to experiment with bottling a premixed cocktail and leaving it to age was Tony Conigliaro at 69 Colebrook Rowe in London. Jeffrey Morgenthaler followed up with more barrel aged cocktail trials in Portland, Oregon. And now, Paris l
ocals can weigh in on whether or not a few weeks of storage can improve the taste of their tipples at the newly opened l’Entree des Artistes.


The team behind this laid-back locale, hit the ground running with pre-opening anticipation on the part of Paris cocktillians. Fabien, having honed his skills at Prescription Cocktail Club, teams his bar skills with Edouard, who handles the wine side. The result: a relaxed, low key, pint-sized cocktail bar with a significant food and wine list as well.

I stopped in last week with a few friends to form my own opinions on the ‘vintage’ drinks. My friends were surprized when i led them to the place telling me it used to be a ‘divey’ bar where’d they’d hang out for cheep beers. It’s been renovated, but not so much that it’s lost the laid-back local frenchie feel. The casual space is enhanced with well chosen touches like the antique cash register and swank bar accoutrements. Also, on my visit, I ran into Thierry Daniel of Liquid Liquid/Cocktail Spirits doing his own sampling, which is a good sign that the drinks are worth trying.


I tried a negroni and a vieux carre, both of which had been aged in barrels for 6 weeks. The aging brings a mellow and interesting melange of flavors that i think make them worth the 14 – 15 Euros price tag. However, patrons looking for something a little less invasive on the pocketbook, can play with their impressive menu of cocktails at 10 – 11 Euros each. And the standard cocktail menu offerings are no less interesting with options like the Mon Vieux Tabac (Peychaud’s bitters, Bob’s Bitters licorice, tabacco liqueur, Carpano Anica Formula, Cognan Grosperrin and Rittenhouse Rye 100). Clearly this is no mojito mecca. Given the care that’s going into these drinks, l’Entree des Artistes currently rates as one of Paris’ best values for money in cocktail options.


I see a bright future for these boys amongst the serious cocktail crowd as well as residents looking for a refreshing change of pace from the so many just so-so bars in the Oberkampf area. And, while I like to see local bars bringing in already established cocktail practices, I’m also looking forward to spending more time there to explore what they can bring to the cocktail trends themselves.

Chocolate Cocktail Adventures: Un Dimanche a Paris (BAR IS CLOSED, RESTAURANT STILL OPEN)

Un Dimanche a Paris
4-6-8 Cour du Commerce Saint André
75006 Paris
Tél: 01 56 81 18 18

Admittedly, I have my vices. However, sweets aren’t one of them. I’m by no means a chocoholic and can easily pass up the dessert cart for any cheese plate. So while I wouldn’t trek across town to check out a chocolatière, this Pierre Cluizel spot piqued my interest. First, blogger buzz brought it to my attention. Then I got an email from the friendly Claire over at Cognac Ferrand suggesting I try their cocktails. And, finally I read this post which mentioned (among other pertinent things, of course) the size of the barman’s waist. Wouldn’t you be curious?

I was. So, I set off to un Dimanche a Paris for an early evening drink (the lounge opens at 4pm) to assess both the barman and his skills with Heather and David as my cohorts. The first floor of this slick, bright chocolate concept store houses the shop, restaurant and tearoom. Upstairs is the laid back lounge with its blond wood floors and comfortable jewel tone sofas and chairs which invite lingering. The highlight in the center is a portion of the over 800 year old Philippe August tower showcased behind plexiglass.

The second highlight was the charmingly good-looking barman, Mikael who greeted us and gave the rundown. All of their cocktails include chocolate and are served slightly warmer than usual to allow appreciation of its flavor in the drink. Instead of offering a set menu, Mikael determines customers’ likes and dislikes to create custom cocktails based on their tastes. And, he’s more than just an pleasantly animate cocktail menu – he’s also got some big names on his C.V. having previously worked abroad for both Alain Ducasse and Joel Robuchon.

My first cocktail was a martini-themed mixture of Potocki vodka, Combier eau de vie de cacao, chocolate and orange bitters and a housemade mixture of cocoa and Sichuan pepper. I don’t do chocolate martinis, but this was a step above the overly sweet choc-tails normally served and the peppery addition was a nice touch. Round two was a combo of tequila, grapefruit, Campari, orange and chocolate bitters. Unfortunately, I didn’t take notes on the cocktails he made for the others, but if I remember correctly, there was fruit involved. There are some interesting additions to the small bar stock that you won’t find in many bars, like the Monkey 47.

You definitely won’t get a standard martini or Manhattan here. What makes this bar stand out is the one-on-one interaction. Mikael is clearly enthusiastic about his work and takes pride in creating something unique for the clientele. In response to a few questions about Combier, he brought it out with a bottle of Cointreau alongside for us to taste the difference. David even scored a little bottle of Cointreau Cuisine to take home for a bit of cooking fun. We also got to sample a few of the sweets. Fortunately, the bar is quiet enough to allow for this kind of more personal dialogue with the customer. Although, as I’ve mentioned before, I do think that bars with no menus should have some indication of pricing, so customers have an idea of what they’re in for. In this case, you’re in for about 15 Euros a cocktail.

So, while I’m more of a cheese than chocolate girl, this is an interesting deviation from the standard cocktail fare for sophisticated sippers with a sweet tooth.

*update: Mikael is no longer working the bar here and is currently over at Flute

** update: The bar is now closed – the shop & restaurant are still open.

Taco Cocktail Adventures: Candelaria

Candelaria

52 rue de Saintonge
75003 Paris
03 42 74 41 28

I like a challenge. I like the satisfaction of a new and unusual discovery. In Paris, the wine is free-flowing and there are more palate pleasing French bistros than I can manage. And, while I’m a serious fan of both, some of my favorite consumables are a bit more elusive here: cocktails and Mexican food.

As if they intuited my unfulfilled cravings, enter duo Carina Soto Velasquez (previously of Experimental Cocktail Club) and Josh Fontaine (previously of Curio Parlor) and their new venture, Candalaria – Paris’ first taqeuria/cocktail bar combo! I’d been impatiently waiting for this opening for awhile and just to guild the lily on my first visit, I had the pleasure of sharing the table with some of Paris’ finest and funnest of residents and writers, Heather, David, Zeva, Meg, Phyllis, Lisa and Barbra.

We were lucky enough to score the only available table in this authentically bright and buzzing taqueria. The rest of the tiny taco joint was busting with hungry locals lined along the counter and partaking in spicy snacks. The friendly staff manage to maintain their cool through the mayhem to cook and serve a selection of tacos, tostados and Mexican beer. In short: Candelaria is delivering fun, festive and freakin’ good food.

After appeasing our appetites, we squeezed through the throngs to the unmarked door at the back: the door of juxtaposition. Here patrons pass from the fast and festive dining area into a nocturnal cocktail hideaway for sophisticated lounge lovers. At first glance of the menu (at 11 to 12 Euros/cocktail), you already know that there is serious cocktail intent behind it with special creations featured from the likes of Toby Cecchini and Joaquin Simo of the NYC’s Death & Co.

Being familiar with both Josh and Carina’s work behind the bar, I skipped my usual martini to experience something that they hadn’t mixed for me previously. Carina graciously indulged us with a requested round of tall and tasty margaritas (even though they are not on the menu or normally available in the taqueria.) My second sampling was La Gueppe Verte (pepper infused tequila, cucumber, coriander, agave, lavender and lime.) I loved it. The balance of the pepper heat and cucumber refreshment was spot on. If it hadn’t been so busy, I may have showed less restraint and stayed on to try some of their other ten promising cocktails on offer. But we’d already had a full evening of food, beers and spirits, so I called it a night but was already planning a return for some serious cocktail exploration at the bar.

Josh, Carina and their crew have more than met my challenge of finding super Mexican nosh and superlative cocktails. So, now maybe I’ll find some other unusual nibbles to hunt for in Paris. But, in the meantime, I’ll definitely be indulging my taco and tipple cravings at Candelaria.

For more pictures and another take on our evening, you can check out Heather Stimmler-Hall’s post over at Secrets of Paris.

Dramatic Cocktail Adventures: Le Carmen

Le Carmen
22 rue de Douai

75009
Paris

I like classics: cocktails, cuisine, clothes, cars… But, I own up to being a bit of a novelty junkie as well. I don’t just want to know what’s “now”, I want to know what’s “next.” New venues are exciting, even more so if they’re nearly on my doorstep. So, I was clearly intrigued when le Carmen opened late last year in a discrete former hôtel particulier not far from the neon light of Pigalle.

At 8 sharp (opening hour), Matt, Vio, Amy, Shannon and I were ushered through the simple entrance by a serious doorman and delivered into elegantly theatrical surroundings. We passed the enormous bird cage and between two massive ionic columns, drawn to the glowing bar, center stage. Dramatic lighting, beautiful drapes, intimate arrangements of fashionable furniture and elegant accents such as the grand piano or heavy candelabras transport patrons to a milieu reminiscent of a film set. No surprise, considering the man behind the impressive transformation is Antoine Platteau, a famous French film set designer.

When we asked for the menu, the waitress told us there was none and offered to send over the “mixologue.” When a bartender is competent, menu-free drinking can be fun. And, this is an environment that could work a no-menu, more personalized service angle on certain levels. But, it’s also a setting that leaves customers wondering just how expensive cocktails might be. And, such a pretty place deters gauche questions of price, so patrons may hold back on “just one more” for fear of sticker shock. My solution would be to indicate price without providing detail – simply listing categories and prices and inviting customers to discuss cocktail options with the bartender. However, I fear that even such a solution will prove too difficult for a venue that looks set to start pulling in substantial crowds leaving insufficient time for one-on-one cocktail collaboration. So perhaps it’s better that I’ve been told they do plan on printing menus soon.

Resident barman, Benjamin (formerly of Paris ice bar, Kube), mixed up our first round, including a very nice martini with Haymans. We were impressed enough by round one, to give him free reign on the next. Round two was a success, with a couple notables. Vio’s drink which included spiced rum, sugar and pink grapefruit juice and was right up her ally. I appreciated the use of Bols genever in mine, which showed an awareness of my taste preferences but a willingness to stray from the obvious spirit choice of gin.

Benjamin is pleasant and enthusiastic about his work and cocktails. In the world of nightlife, superficial often trumps substance. So, I give le Carmen kudos for being more than just a pretty face. I’ll be curious to see what type of following it cultivates as it has the potential to pull in the beautiful crowd in need of a beautiful backdrop. Le Carmen falls into a space between cocktail bar and nightclub, with a coming lineup of music and dj’s and somewhat of a ‘late night’ feel. Closing hour is currently 2am, but that may be extended in the future. The music focus is fitting as this was also where the opera Carmen was written.

Upon paying we discovered the prices to be 12 to 15 Euros for cocktails, fair for the quality and location. Patrons preferring something a little less spendy can partake in the sophisticated swish with a glass of wine or beer at around 6 Euros. Without a menu, it’s harder to get an overall feel for their cocktail direction, so I’ll be stopping back in for further ‘research’ soon. Plus its classic but fresh feel simultaneous sates my cravings for both old and new.

(photos – except martini – are from le Carmen Facebook page by permission)