l’Herbarium Bar: Paris’ First Cocktail Perfumery

photo source: Hotel National des Arts et Metier

The intense, tattooed Italian Oscar Quagliarini is back in Paris and he’s running the drinks program at l’Herbarium, hip hotel bar and cocktail perfumery.

Photo source: Hotel National des Arts et Metiers

The Hôtel des Arts et Métiers opened late last year, immediately securing status as an HQ for pretty people of Paris who congregate over meals in the restaurants, admire the views from the lovely rooftop and order cocktails at the cozy L’Herbarium. At this bar, dim lights and fur throws give the space an intimate and flirty feel, while the torched wood and carbonized steel give it a not-unwelcome rough edge. It’s all gruff-sexy.

And what’s sexier than engaging all the senses? Oscar manages to pull in an olfactory angle with his cocktail perfume concept. In other hands, this angle might smack of try-hard gimmick; but this barman has been dabbling in aromatic sprays and perfume inspired potions since at least his days at Grazie. He has spent time at Grasse with perfumers as well as researched and written the first volume of a collection of three cocktail books exploring fragrance. This first book concentrates on plants and – thanks to illustrations by Sergio Garasi – is like a beautiful old botany textbook that you might find in some academic’s dusty attic. Future volumes will cover cocktails inspired by famous scents and tea and spices used in them.

So, how does this cocktail perfumery work? The menu is offered on a little fan of paper smelling sticks which outline the ingredients giving an indication of the ‘fragrance” for each drink. It’s a cute presentation, even if a little difficult to physically navigate. Customers can also test the cocktail fragrances on smelling strips lined up in apothecary bottles at the bar. Rather than going for a usual martini, I tried the Dirty Gimlet off the menu, which was good with an interesting juxtaposition of sweet fragrance but briny flavor. The Foret du Lac, on the other hand, made with gin and sandalwood and scots pine bud syrup and has a pleasantly woody and grounding feel and flavor. They’re not afraid to slap on a 15 Euros price tag – it’s a little higher than average for mixed drinks these days, though not shocking in a hot new hotel.

Beyond the bar, the team behind the hotel’s dining scene includes Julien Cohen (of Pizza Chic and Grazie) so the food in the restaurant is straight forward, fresh Italian fare. On the night I ate there with a friend, we started with the grilled octopus (very nice!) and I followed with a simple steak and side salad topped with shaved Parmesan. The creative force behind the dining also includes the John Pierre Lopez and Thomas Delafon duo, who are behind le Tres Honore and Bambou (which might explain the big, beautiful, glossy fashion crowd feel of the main spaces.)

This is not the first time we’ve seen cocktails and perfume cross paths. Most notably, Tony Conigliaro was mad-sciencing his own No.5 Champagne Cocktail at 69 Colebrook back in the day. And if Tony has tried it, that’s probably because there is something interesting to explore there.

And Oscar has taken his olfactory explorations and made the cocktail-perfume hybrid his own personal wheelhouse – one that’s worth checking out at least once. And more regularly should you find discover your “signature scent” here.

l’Herbarium
243, rue Saint-Martin
Paris 75003

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Cocktail Expert Forest Collins is the creator of 52martinis, an online guide to the best cocktail bars in Paris and other small batch spirits news from France. We've also recently launched an app so you can keep all that bar info in your pocket!