20 rue Beautreillis
2005, NYC: Audrey Saunders opens the Pegu Club at a time when gin has fallen out of favor and makes a significant impact on the classic cocktail revival, playing a role in revitalizing an unfashionable spirit and providing a playground for many a good barman who subsequently move on to establish some of the world’s best cocktail spots. (Jim Meehan, PDT; Toby Maloney, Violet Hour.)
2012: As Paris catches up with its contemporaries on a cocktail level, we’re seeing a similar spawn and spread from a central establishment here. The ECC group has employed some topnotch talent, who have since left the nest to create their own successful cocktail destinations such as Candelaria and l’Entrée des Artists, both of which are opening highly anticipated second bars soon. And, Sherry Butt, the latest creation from ECC protégés Cathleen and Amaury (previously of Curio and Px), shows us a new round of Paris bar staff breaking out on their own.
I stopped into Sherry Butt with Thibaut, a few days after their recent opening, to see what these kids were up to. The space is good. Stylishly comfortable sofas allow for plenty of seating around distressed coffee tables. High ceilings, hard wood floors and stone walls provide character without being too elaborate, and multiple mirrors open the space up. The bar itself is pleasingly simple with a focus on the large glass refrigerator – nice touch. They’ve managed to maintain a lounge feel but achieved a brighter, lighter and fresher ambience thanks to the window ceiling. It’s also a space that’s conducive to the occasional DJ, which they’ll be bringing in.
The front page of the menu features whisky flights, with four suggested selections plus an option to create your own. For cocktails, you’ve got eleven creations at 12 to 13 Euros each based on a good range of spirits (with brands specified on the menu) and featuring a lot of syrups made on site, including a Champagne one (which I found interesting.) I started with my usual and got a very nice Sipsmith/Dolin stirred martini with a twist and a good proportion of vermouth to gin. Gin selection includes Old Raj, Hayman’s, Junipero, Hendrick’s, Plymouth, Tanqueray Ten, Broker’s. Thibaut had the Hustler Negroni (gin, Campari, amaro, dry vermouth, Ferrand dry curacao, and dandelion bitters). I like a good negroni so my initial thought at reading all of those ingredients was is might be a bit fussy for my taste. But, it was good with an appetite-whetting bitter bite.
I followed up with the La Pibole (Rittenhouse, dry curacao, byrrh, and Peychauds), which was pleasant and exemplifies a continuing trend of incorporating old-school French aperitifs into cocktails. While some of these can result in unfamiliar or bitter flavors making them a harder sell, I enjoy them so I’m happy to see them continuing to crop up. (I also like the name because it sounds like “L’Happy Bowl” – a little bowl of happiness. However, I don’t believe this was the intention and it adds nothing to this review. Welcome to my inner world with its running commentary) Ice water is served alongside drinks, which the American in me much appreciates. Although having lived in France for a decade, I’m also used to bar snacks accompanying my apero and think it would be a good touch here, even if it were just pretzels.
I wasn’t surprised to find that the drinks are nice here. Given the experience and skills of the bunch behind it, I expect it. What I am a little worried about are the prices. Now don’t get me wrong: these are fair prices for cocktails. They are in line with lots of other cocktail stops in town. And, that’s what’s concerning: there are many more cocktail options in town these days and I think new places must now work even harder to differentiate themselves. Also, they are somewhat close to bar-heavy Bastille area where a (generally mediocre) cocktail can be had for a fiver.
What could make them really stand out are their plans for a limited bar menu of small plates. Given the success of places like Grazie and Candelaria with their combo of cocktails plus straightforward but really good food (pizza, tacos) and considering the popularity of some of the city’s newer wine bars featuring fabulous small plates (Frenchie, Verjus), I think Sherry Butt would do well to move in this direction. I don’t think there’s really a cocktail bar at the moment seriously doing a successful hybrid of good tapas and cocktails. I also think that would bring in an earlier evening crowd.
So if you find yourself near Bastille, do yourself a favor and skip the crap cocktails at cut-rate prices and give Sherry Butt a try. They are off to a promising start and, if they focus on reading their early customer base and adapt and react as necessary, they could assert quite a personality. They grow up so fast, don’t they?