Pigalle’s seediness attracts a slew of curious tourists and looky-loos who giggle at sex shop windows and dodge propositions from sketchy clubs. What other neighborhood’s more questionable side is celebrated by an eponymous vodka with a red light on the label? But, this little pocket of Paris is going through a gradual change. Hipster bars are replacing hostess clubs and it’s taking on trendy abbreviated monikers. Now it even has its own brand of champagne. Is Pigalle slowly cleaning up its act?!
Maybe. Recently the team behind UFO and l’Orange Mecanique set their sites on NoPi and turned a girlie club into Paris’ newest communist era themed bar, the Kremlin. Gone are the ladies in short skirts lingering by the door. They’ve been replaced by a lively lot of locals looking for a different kind of good time. Now, bar hoppers sink into flea-market furniture or play foosball while sipping drinks bearing soviet-inspired names.
The chalkboard menu offers fifteen cocktails. I started with a Stalin’s Final Word, which is a riff on a Final Ward made with Rittenhouse Rye and curiously topped with cinnamon. Proportions were good, ingredients were top shelf and execution was correct. Not only is a Final Ward an easy cocktail to enjoy, but the inclusion of its variation on the menu indicates some cocktail cognizance. It’s a drink more likely to be discussed on cocktail blogs and less likely to be found on your basic bobo bar menu.
On the other hand, they haven’t gotten it exactly right, calling it a Final Word (as opposed to Ward). That’s not an entirely uncommon mistake since it’s a riff on the Last Word. But, it still left me wondering: do they know what they are doing or not? I was less impressed with the martini: Broker’s gin shaken with a bit of Lillet resulting in a sweeter rather than dry drink.
Notwithstanding, I appreciate the fact that their menu is reaching beyond the basics at reasonable prices of 8 to 11 Euros with choices that are more inspired than many spots in the area. For example, the Red Star is a mix of mescal, fresh beetroot and Carpano Antica Formula. Again, not the stuff of standard menus in the city. Only five of the fifteen drinks are vodka-based, which I think is a reasonable number for a bar that channels Mother Russia.
And, while vodka comprises the largest range of brands, the other spirits provide some nice options given their small shelf space. The gins include Beefeater, Brokers and the limited edition Botanist. And once again, not what you would find on many Paris menus.
While, the Kremlin can’t compete with Paris’ upper echelon of cocktail bars, they don’t have to. They are a step above the average, turning out nice drinks, avoiding bottom shelf booze and bringing in a fun and lively crowd. This new nightspot is a good example of two things: The gentrification of Pigalle and the spread of better cocktail options and ingredients turning up in unexpected places as a result of the now full-blown Paris cocktail craze. Just as Pigalle straddles the seedy and scenester worlds, the Kremlin’s cocktail approach straddles the craft and the casual.