For our January episode, we’re celebrating the upcoming 4th annual Paris Cocktail Week (20 – 27 January 2018) and talking to local industry personality Joshua Fontaine about the current state of the Paris cocktail scene.
Josh and partners Adam Tsou and Carina Soto Velásquez make up the trio behind Quixotic Projects, the group that brought Paris some of its most popular cocktail bars and a couple of restaurants with strong drinks programs. They’re responsible for Candelaria, Glass, le Mary Celeste, Hero and most recently les Grands Verres. We talk about how the drinks scene has changed, what’s happening now and the current eco-approach. If you missed the pilot episode of Paris Cocktail Talk where we first talked to Josh about the state of Paris Cocktails back in January of 2016, you can listen to it here.
Paris Cocktail Week will take place from 20 – 27 January 2018 and includes discounted drinks in 75 bars across town, classes, events and even a specially distilled bottled cocktail available at Monoprix during the month. We’ll be covering it on the site with suggestions for how to make the most of it so subscribe to 52Martinis if you want to be kept up to date when that comes out.
Additional links mentioned in the show:
World Paris Radio edits and produces Paris Cocktail Talk – in addition to plenty more English radio shows.
Emily Dilling assists with production and show notes – and don’t forget to check out her own podcast and blog Paris Paysanne.
The theme music, The River, is courtesy of Son Little.
We want to deliver the kind of cocktail talk that you find interesting, so feel free to leave comments in the section below or drop us a line if there are subjects you would like to see us covering.
And, as usual, we encourage you to drink responsibly!
Forest Collins: Welcome to Paris Cocktail Talk, the show brought to you by 52 Martinis, an online guide to the best cocktail bars in Paris and other small-batch spirits news from France. I’m Forest Collins, and I’m here to talk to you about drinks in Paris and other related cocktail topics. So, happy new year. It’s January, so I thought you might think that you were done with the holiday hustle and you’re ready to put your feet up, but not so fast, because this month it’s the city’s fourth annual Cocktail Week. It runs from 20 to 27 January. That means that there are not only 150 drink specials in 75 bars all over town, but there are also masterclasses, bottled cocktails for sale, and all kinds of events to immerse yourself in if you want to get a little bit more familiar with the world of cocktails. All you need to do to take advantage of all of this is sign up their website, which is pariscocktailweek.fr, and then you’ll get a Cocktail Week pass and more information on the program and how to join along.
To celebrate this fourth year running of Paris Cocktail Week and the continual growth of the Paris cocktail scene, I’ve invited Josh Fontaine into the studio to talk about the event itself, and the current state of French cocktails. Josh is one of the three people behind the Quixotic Projects group, along with Carina and Adam. It’s a group that has brought some of the most successful bars and drinks programs to the city, with a large collection of notable venues like Candelaria, Glass, the Mary Celeste, Hero and Les Grands Verres.
For our pilot episode, a couple of years ago we also talked to Josh. Along with Josh, we had a couple of other guests on the show, Thierry Daniel, who is one of the people behind the Paris Cocktail Week, and Thibaut Neuman, who now writes about food and drinks for Atabula (?) and is, like me, a pretty active consumer and really enjoys exploring the Paris food and drink scene. So that’s a good one to look back to and listen to or re-listen to if you want more information on the French drink scene. We’ll link to it in the show notes so you can find it easily.
So anyway, now that you know what kind of fun is in store for you this upcoming month, let’s get on with chatting with Josh and get his take on where the Paris cocktail scene stands now.
So, Josh, thanks for coming down and talking to me today.
Josh Fontaine: You’re welcome. Glad to be here.
Forest Collins: Last time we talked, it was a couple of years ago. It was actually for the pilot of Paris Cocktail Talk. Back then, we were also talking about the state of Paris cocktails. I just re-listened to that this afternoon. At the time, you felt like Paris had stepped up, was basically on par with other cities. You also said you didn’t feel like you saw any specific trends, but that people were carving out their own niches and creating their own identities, and that you would like to see more bars touching places where we weren’t seeing them so much. We kind of had concentrations of bars in certain areas. Do you want to tell me a little bit about how you’re seeing the Paris cocktail scene now?
Josh Fontaine: I would say that regarding the concentrations, I would say that they’re still kind of in the same areas. But there has been a little bit of movement up towards Belleville, which is where I live, happily, with our friends Sullivan, and the guys over there. And over at Combat as well, which is just a few doors up from my house. But besides that, there hasn’t been too many new openings, at least openings that I’ve been super excited about. There’s still huge swaths of Paris that are maybe underserved, still the Left Bank and Montparnasse, and places like that, and even Montmartre, and areas that are quite popular with Parisians and visitors. But I haven’t seen too many new openings that are really being widely talked about maybe in the last year or so. There hasn’t been maybe too much innovation either. Maybe I’m forgetting some things. But the place that we’ve been going recently that we kind of like, is the bar in the Hôtel de Crillon, which just reopened.
Forest Collins: I was just there. They’ve done a really nice job.
Josh Fontaine: Yeah, and it’s maybe the first international level cocktail bar in a hotel, maybe, in Paris, in a palace, in a big kind of five-star hotel, to kind of compete on the level of London or something like that, where it’s not super innovative, but at least there’s good service, the drinks are, while they’re expensive, they’re well made, which is a bit of a difference from a lot of other hotels. And maybe the Ritz reopening wasn’t as amazing as everyone expected it to be. So I think they hit it out of the park at de Crillon, though I don’t go there really to drink cocktails, but to drink champagne because they have probably the best Grower Champagne list in Paris right now. It’s also affordable.
Forest Collins: That’s good to know. I also like the Grower Champagne, but the last few visits I was down at de Crillon, I was there specifically to check out the cocktails, and I thought they were pretty much nailing the classics. What I also liked, is they batch their martinis early on in the evening, and some people might like the ritual, and I really appreciate this, of seeing a martini be made. But I also sort of recognize, especially in hotel bars, I feel like sometimes you need that preparation in advance because people swap in and out behind the bar, so I felt like for me, that was a more of a guarantee of consistency. I feel like it’s sometimes tough to always be consistent, and hotel bars especially, if I’m going to roll up at five, sometimes they don’t always have the same staff early as opposed to late. So anyway, I appreciated that. And yeah, I do think they’ve done a really nice job with it.
Now, we’re mainly talking about the state of Paris cocktails right now because this month is Paris Cocktail Week. Even though maybe you feel like you haven’t seen a lot of stuff on the Left Bank, I do think that Paris Cocktail Week, they’re making a pretty big effort. I don’t know if you’ve talked to them a lot or seen, but I just read the press release earlier this week, and it looks like their theme is to unite the Left Bank and the Right Bank with this theme of naturalité. Have you heard about this? You know what I’m talking about?
Josh Fontaine: I haven’t seen that, no. I’ve just been talking to them mainly about the event that we’re doing at Grands Verres. But besides that, I haven’t followed it extremely closely.
Forest Collins: Okay. Well, I want to come back, and I want to find out what you’re doing at Grands Verres. But also, this touches on Grands Verres a lot because from what I understand, from reading the press release, when I first saw the word naturalité, I didn’t really know what they meant about applying that to bars. But it sounds like it’s this sort of catch-all phrase for being better to the world, having an environmental focus, sustainability, seasonality. They highlighted six bars that are doing things where they really are recycling, and they’re minimizing waste. One of the bars that they talked about was Les Grands Verres. Since that seems to be a big theme in this month’s Paris Cocktail Week, can you maybe tell the listeners a little bit about … I know that’s really important to you as a group, and especially so at your latest venue. Can you tell us a little bit about what you’re doing in terms of environmental I guess practices at Les Grands Verres?
Josh Fontaine: Yeah. When we opened, or I guess when we started the project, we knew it was going to be quite a … something on a little bit of a bigger scale than our other projects. We were concerned about … It’s something that we’ve been looking at in our other bars, but they’re much smaller, obviously. It’s something that we’ve been looking at over the years, which is reducing our carbon footprint, our waste, our water waste, all these kinds of things. We knew we were going to generate a lot more there than anywhere else.
We started looking at ways, both in the kitchen and the bar, to reduce that. One of the main things, everybody kind of focuses on some of the … Not everybody. A lot of people focus, when they’re trying to reduce their waste, on kind of the small issues such as straws or napkins or coasters, which we do as well, of course, especially in our other bars, but we tried to kind of take a step back and look at the bigger picture, and find out what was actually filling up our trash cans. A lot of that stuff is not that glamorous, but it’s mostly to do with packaging and deliveries and all these kinds of … and a lot of recycling that doesn’t necessarily need to be there in the first place.
So we did a little bit of research, especially on the legality of things, and we found out that in Paris and in France, there’s not a restriction on the size of bottles or the size of containers that you can receive alcohol in, like there is in the States. So we contacted some of our friends at distilleries, and started organizing a system of getting deliveries in bulk of all of our spirits. So we’ve eliminated right there a huge part of the environmental footprint, whether it has to do with packaging or transportation. I think we’ve only gotten one or two spirit deliveries since we’ve opened, and we’ve been open for six months. So obviously instead of, at a place like Candelaria, we’ll get maybe just relating to alcohol and beer and wine, five to eight deliveries per week, at Grands Verres we’ll have five to eight per year.
We’ve also eliminated all of the cardboard that goes along with that. So all the cardboard that the alcohol gets packed in, a lot of times you’ll have individual boxes for each bottle on top of it, which will all then be plastic-wrapped and shrink-wrapped on a pallet. Of course, everything comes in a bottle, that includes glue and a label and a cap and the shrink wrap over the cap. So all that has been eliminated, and we just have reusable large containers that we refill the bottles that we use for service. All of our soft drinks are made in-house. We don’t have any Perrier or Evian or anything like that, it’s all filtered and carbonated in-house. We don’t have any wine by the glass in bottle. All our wine by the glass is in KeyKegs, which are a hundred percent recyclable, and obviously they weigh a lot less than glass, so therefore reducing the carbon footprint a little bit more. All of our beer is in kegs as well, which are all reusable. Cider also on tap.
Yeah. That’s a good start. Obviously metal straws, reusable coasters, no napkins, all the garnishes are edible, so there’s nothing that’s just there to look pretty. We have a giant two-block ice machine, so it’s much more … uses a lot less water to make the same amount of ice, which is then harvested and cut down for shaking and for every drink that we have. So that’s a start, but I guess I won’t keep going.
Forest Collins: Well, it’s a good start. I’ve been really impressed with what you’ve been doing there. I like the fact that you’ve gone deeper. I know it’s really easy to kind of just fall back on straws and coasters because that’s the things that people see and they notice, and then you can bring it right to their attention, “Oh, this is why we don’t have that,” and it’s kind of almost a good selling point, but you’re doing a lot more behind that.
Which is a good start for everybody, and I encourage that everywhere, but you know, we’re not also trying to hide what we’re doing or anything then. I mean, it’d be great if more bars were doing the same.
Forest Collins: I don’t think you’re trying to hide it. I just feel like sometimes I guess it’s a lot of work and thought that goes into something like that. It’s easy to do the small things that customers see immediately, but not so easy to do the things behind the scenes, so I think that that’s …
Josh Fontaine: Yeah. It’s more work on our end, as far as logistics and organization, than just calling up Maison du whiskey and placing an order.
Forest Collins: Yeah. Well, good job. You’re doing better things for the environment, and that’s a good thing. In terms of cocktail trends, just in general, I mean, things swing like they do in all kinds of trends. At one point in time, everybody was looking at overproof, and now we’re really appreciating low octane, and there’s a big movement towards non-alcoholic cocktails. Ice was all the rage. Now you’re doing things where you’re looking at being a little bit more careful about how you’re using it, and some places are recycling ice. So yeah, they all swing kind of madly. What do you think? Do you have any thoughts on upcoming trends, which way things are going to swing in the next year or two?
Josh Fontaine: Not particularly. I mean, I think maybe the trends thing is over, and people are just doing what they like to do, instead of kind of every time someone says, “Okay, we need a room temperature cocktail on the menu,” so then everyone puts a room temperature cocktail. And then we need … half the menu needs to be non-alcoholic. And then there’s I guess a new product out, so everybody uses that. I feel like at this point, I don’t know, I guess maybe it’s good. Everybody needs a hook for the press, and there needs to be something else to talk about, or else people get bored talking about cocktail bars. But I don’t see a huge trend yet emerging in the next few months, at least in Paris. I haven’t seen anything either internationally really either that’s kind of breaking the mold and wowing everybody. Sorry.
Forest Collins: No. I think that that’s, for me, something I’ve thought about lately.
Josh Fontaine: I think everybody’s working around the same kind of ideas…
Forest Collins: Well, nothing’s very insular these days, so once somebody does something in one place, somebody’s going to hear about it pretty quickly in another place, maybe be inspired, maybe riff on it, maybe not. I went out recently, and I was in some random restaurant. I opened up the menu and I’m like, “Oh, they have a dry martini. I don’t know this place. I don’t know if it’s going to be good. I’m going to try it anyway because, well, just because that’s who I am.” It was pretty good. And then I thought, “Well, okay, my work here is done. I’ve been bitching for 10 years that you can’t find a good martini, now they’re all over the place, so what else are you going to do?”
Not that obviously martinis have appeared on the menu because of me, but I do think that it’s sort of indicative of the idea that maybe now cocktails are becoming integrated into drinks programs, and it’s not this sort of destination cocktail, but you know, now lots of hotels, restaurants, are recognizing that maybe that’s just another leg of the stool. You’ve got some beer, you’ve got some wine, you’ve got some cocktails, and maybe they need to pay attention to it. What do you think about that, how cocktails are working with drinks programs, food programs? I’m assuming that’s something that you feel strongly enough about, because all of your venues have a pretty strong food element, if not it’s a restaurant basically. With Les Grands Verres, I’d say, is a restaurant with a bar.
Josh Fontaine: Les Grands Verres and Hero are both restaurants. Yeah. I mean, that’s something we’ve been talking about for a while in Paris, how it hasn’t been … things are a little bit more specialized here. But you know, like any anglophone country for a long time, it’s just like a normal thing to have a bar in your restaurant, I mean, for a hundred years, and have good cocktails and good wine, and be well rounded. So yeah, I guess it’s a little bit of playing catch-up, instead of just going to a bar and drinking solely cocktails, like you can go to a restaurant and start with an apéritif, and then have some wine, and have a digestif at the end.
But yeah, you definitely see cocktails more and more, and people are … I had somebody call me today about cocktails on tap for his new place, to give him a little bit advice regarding that. And even in the new Bouillon Pigalle, they have a barrel-aged Americano and vieux carre on the menu for €6 each, which are not particularly good, but they’re on the menu at least, which is a little bit different, especially for a place that’s kind of reviving a old genre of Paris bistro. So that was interesting to see. But yeah, I think classics showing up on a lot more menus is interesting, and the spritz phenomenon is good in one way because I don’t know, it changes from the mojito trend, and people have something else to drink.
Forest Collins: Yeah. I actually, I enjoy the spritz phenomenon because I’ve been telling people, “Hey, let’s drink these spritz,” for many years, and they’d come around and go, “Oh, what’s this? Don’t like it.” But you know, once it was heavily, heavily marketed, now everybody’s drinking a spritz. So I feel like that was a phenomenon that was pretty heavily pushed, if you know what I’m saying.
Josh Fontaine: Oh, yeah. It’s total marketing. But, you know, it worked.
Forest Collins: But yeah, it’s good. And it is a nice change. And I like a spritz, so I’m not going to complain that you can find them everywhere, so I think that’s okay. So seeing these things everywhere, that’s great, but I’m also kind of wondering personally if there really is a bigger challenge in France, or maybe in Western Europe, to integrate cocktails into sort of your everyday restaurant, café experience, because wine’s really cheap here. You can get really good wine that doesn’t cost as much as … I mean, it’s the inverse, you know, as going to the States. You’re going to pay a lot for a nice glass of wine, and you can get a cocktail for a relatively good price. And maybe London, although I haven’t really paid that much attention lately in the UK to wine prices, but it feels like it’s always going to be a slightly more of a challenge to integrate that into really into gastronomic traditions, when you really have good quality for less, basically, in terms of wine.
Josh Fontaine: Yeah, I suppose so. But that’s also I guess assuming that people just want to get drunk for the cheapest price possible, which I think is not necessarily the case, especially now that we’re coming out of the crise financiere], and tourism is up I guess 17% since last year or something like that. So I think that the people … I mean, obviously there is a large group of people that just want the cheapest thing, or are just looking more for the experience of sitting around and drinking in a aperitif than necessarily paying attention to what they’re drinking. But for the people that care a little bit, I don’t think like … if I want a cocktail, I’m going to drink cocktail, even if it’s €12 and the glass of wine is €6, or something like that. Most places that you go that have cocktails and wine, the wine is probably not going to be €3, and the cocktail 14. It’s going to be a little bit closer than that.
So I would say that the people that are frequenting it maybe are not necessarily choosing. Like if some places specialized in both, like I don’t know, Mary Celeste, to make a good example. If someone’s going there, they’re not necessarily going to be like, “I’ll have a €7 glass of wine, but a €12 cocktail’s too expensive for me, so I just want to drink no matter what.” So I think people just follow what they’re in the mood for, at this point, at least the customers that are coming to cocktail-focused places. But yeah, maybe at Bouillon Pigalle, when you have a pitcher of wine for 3.50, and the cocktail is €6, then that will be … that’s maybe not the clientele that will be making that distinction. But yeah, at this point, I think it’s pretty much just what you feel like, disregarding price.
Forest Collins: Why don’t you tell the listeners a little bit about what you’ve got planned at Les Grands Verres for Paris Cocktail Week?
Josh Fontaine: Yeah. We’re doing a … I guess there’s a private dinner with our friends Alex and Monica are coming over to do a private dinner. We’re doing it a little bit differently. Instead of having the chef make a menu and having them make drinks for it, they’re going to make all the drinks, and then the chef is going to pair the food to the drinks. Because it’s Cocktail Week, the evening is going to be drink-led, and then followed by the food afterwards. And then later that same night, they’re going to be doing a collaborative guest bartending with Yasant and Aaron and Tristan and our whole team, and those two behind the bar, and just each group will have a few of their drinks on the menu, and just have fun, invite everybody down. It should be a good night.
Forest Collins: Sounds like it will be a good night. Maybe I will make sure I get down there. I will try to get out and do some of the Paris cocktail stuff this week, or this month. In terms of Paris Cocktail Week, any advice for listeners on how to best take advantage of it, how to take advantage of Cocktail Week things in general? I know you probably don’t know the … I don’t know the whole program off the top of my head, but any useful tips or tricks?
Josh Fontaine: Get your pass early. Maybe plan out the bars that you’re interested in each neighborhood, and plan out two or three days that week where you do the Marais and the 10th and 11th, and then maybe do something more on the 2nd to 9th kind of area, and then why not try a Left Bank journey, and drink your Perrier to stay alive?
Forest Collins: Yes. I always recommend, I usually do a bit of a how to best benefit, how to get the most out of the Cocktail Week. I will be doing an article on that, and yes, saying make sure to stay hydrated. Drink water. Don’t just drink booze all week. But yeah. But I did notice, there’s a fair number of places on the Left Bank this year on the list, so maybe more for exploring. I live on the Left Bank now.
Josh Fontaine: Maybe I’ll go over to Left Bank. I don’t know. Might see me over there.
Forest Collins: Yeah. I’ll catch up with you in the bars there. But yeah, it’s nice to see some more things popping up there and spreading out a little bit. When I lived up in on Montmartre, it was before Dirty Dick, before Glass, before anything opened. And right about the time I moved was about a year after all of the fun places started opening. So people kept saying, “Oh, aren’t you sad you’re leaving now that all the good bars are opening?” But I always kind of held out the hope that good bars would follow me, and eventually we’ll get some better bars on the Left Bank. Don’t look at me like that, it’s possible.
Josh Fontaine: It’s hard to beat the concentration of places in Pigalle right now for diversity and quality, and you have the hotels as well, and you have wine bars, and good places to eat. It’s a good area. A good little …
Forest Collins: Yeah. What do you think it is that stops so many places on the Left Bank? I mean, is it just it’s a high concentration of more of a kind of residential area with less young people that are going out? Or …
Josh Fontaine: Yeah. Definitely. I mean, higher rents, higher fonds de commerce. It’s just bigger barrier to get in, and there’s not … The people that are creating a lot of new businesses right now, are creating businesses in areas that they live in. They’re not creating businesses on the other side of town, except for when we do something like at Palais de Tokyo]. But if I live in Belleville, or if I live in the 9th, I’m not going to necessarily open my first bar in the 7th, because like-
Forest Collins: Sure. But it’s weird on higher rents because like I moved away from the 18th because … in terms of rent, obviously it’s different when you have a business … my rent is much cheaper now. I have way more space, and I pay lot less than I did in my tiny studio just steps away from Glass. I probably am much healthier because I moved farther away from so many of the bars. But yeah, it’s cheaper for me to live in a place where I guess maybe the rent is higher for other places.
Josh Fontaine: Yeah. I mean, I’m just talking maybe more about near Saint Germain or the areas that I would first think of kind of opening a place. But yeah, I’m sure out in the 13th or 15th or something, there’s great deals to be had. But then, you know, your more residential neighborhoods, more familial neighborhoods, and then you’re going to have possibly … I mean, everybody has noise problems, so that doesn’t really change, but maybe more problems with the noise, with the police, and maybe not a clientele that is going to frequent your bar Sunday through Wednesday.
Forest Collins: Sure.
Josh Fontaine: Or after 11 PM or something like that. So all considerations to take into account.
Forest Collins: Yeah. Wow. That’s okay. I actually like living in a quiet neighborhood, because I’m willing to travel for drinks. So it’s nice to go out for drinks and then come home to something that’s a little bit more quiet. So we’ll see. To be seenwhat happens on the Left Bank. But I will not take up any more of your time, unless there’s anything else that you feel like you want to add about kind of what’s happening in the cocktail scene right now, or anything that’s going to be happening with the upcoming Paris Cocktail Week.
Josh Fontaine: Nothing I can think of off the top of my head. Yeah. But looking forward to it, and then also Cocktail Spirits in June.
Forest Collins: Yes. Well, yeah. That’s a whole other thing-
Josh Fontaine: A whole other show. Yeah.
Forest Collins: … to, yeah. So yeah. To the listeners, we’ll put links to all of the Quixotic bars in the show notes, and links to everything about how to pop onto the Paris Cocktail Week website, and get registered so you can take advantage and have fun. Anyway, thanks Josh.
Josh Fontaine: Thanks for having me.
Forest Collins: That brings us to a close for this month. Thanks again to Josh for coming down. If you haven’t been to any or all of the Quixotic venues, I highly recommend them. I will put links to all of their bars in the show notes. I look forward to seeing you out and about for Paris Cocktail Week. If you want more Paris Cocktail Talk between episodes, head over to our website, www.52martinis.com. We’ll be putting up our guide to getting the best out of Paris Cocktail Week, with some tips and suggestions for how to navigate these types of cocktail events or weeks to your advantage, plus some of our favorite bars taking part that we think are worth a visit. We’ll put links to the week and other things discussed in our show notes.
As always, thank you to World Radio Paris for production editing. You can listen to us there, as well as a whole heap of other English radio programs. Emily Dilling for editorial assistance and show notes. Don’t forget, she has her own podcast called Paris Paysanne. And Son Little for the music. And of course, please don’t forget to drink responsibly. Until next time, cheers.