27 Rue Pierre Fontaine
When le Depanneur opened a few decades back as a late night “American” joint it served cheap drinks and pulled in a post club crowd. After a brief closure, its recent reopening generated a high level of expectation thanks to the people and places involved. Nightlife power player Olivier Demarle brought in the culinary creativity of Cantine California, the designer responsible for the Candelaria and Mary Celeste, and mixologist Benjamin Chiche previously of le Carmen and le 25eme Heure. Put all this talent together in a locale that already has a historical following in one of the city’s hip ‘hoods and there’s bound to be some expectations.
The new le Depanneur still has some of the same feel while brightening things up and aiming for a somewhat SoCal style. Windows running the length of the walls let in a pleasant cross breeze. Lighter wood booths and beams provide a casual feel that works well with the strategically placed potted cacti. And the shiny metal exterior trim with rounded corners gives a retro touch worthy of the American diners that inspired the original.
Behind the bar, Benjamin has developed a menu of a dozen 12 Euros cocktails, each with Cali-inspired names like Mission Cup or Pasadena Peligrosa. Half are based on Calle 23 tequila and the remainders represent a mix of other base spirits. I’m familiar with his style and practice of creating custom cocktails so I was confident ordering my standard. Gin choices include Tanqueray, Tanqueray 10, Hayman’s Sloe Gin, Hayman’s Old Tom, Mare, Hendrick’s, Monkey 47 and the Botanist. I enjoyed a 4 to 1, Tanqueray/Dolin, rolled, with a twist. Benjamin believes that – after performing side-by-side tests – rolling is superior to stirring as it better aerates the drink. While I haven’t done similar tests to form my own opinion, I appreciate someone who forms their own based on experience and experimentation.
Next, I took an Alta Vista Tomy, which follows the trend of incorporating cool cucumber with a bit of heat for a refreshing combo with a bite. The multiple ingredients (Tequila, Mezcal, lime juice, Piment d’espellette syrup, Aperol and cucumber) are each discernible in the drink and play together nicely. On a subsequent visit I tried the North Park Julep, which was well presented, but less interesting to me. It was sweeter than I expected with less of the strength that I’m used to in a Julep. Of note, the heat wave was happening when I visited so the lack of punch could have been due to the ice melting faster and more dilution than usual.
I think it could be interesting for their menu to incorporate a cocktail with fewer ingredients and a slightly lower price (G&T, anyone?). With some of the recently opened bars working a broader range of prices (Moonshiner or Dirty Dick, for example) and the competition from le Mansart across the street, I think the safety net of a simple cocktail under a tenner could be a smart option. They also devote a good part of the menu to tequilas, which are sold by the shot, glass or bottle. Although it looks like they still may need some time for the actual stock to catch up with what’s listed on the menu.
In keeping with the current burger craze and under the direction of one of the city’s more popular food trucks, Cantine California, they’re featuring burgers, chips and guac, and tacos. I tried the Cali’Classic and the Dude (which I preferred.) As I’m mainly here about the cocktails, I won’t spend a lot of time talking food. But I have heard a very wide range of opinions on the burgers so far, which demonstrates a couple of things: 1. Everyone has their opinion on what makes a better burger 2. The danger of high expectations is that it’s hard for any hamburger to live up to the hype.
Something I’ve noticed about Demarle establishments is that they seem to vary in quality at times. Having visited their other ventures (le Secret, le Magnifique, Café Chic, La Villa), I’ve found some great, some lacking and some that swing between the two depending on the staff at the time. Perhaps this is because they hire well-known professionals to consult on the concept (for example: Colin Field consulting on their le Magnifique menu) but lack some consistency in the follow up.
So, I hope that with this latest, he will be able to consistently capitalize on Benjamin’s cocktail skills and get more consistent reviews on the burgers. But, considering the buzz its already generated and its hipster SoPi location, they will have no problem consistently packing in a good crowd.