25 Rue Jean Giraudoux
75016 Paris, France
01 47 23 47 22
Articles abound on the ‘speakeasy’ bar trend; some proclaimings it’s in, others proclaiming it’s over. I think it’s over. That’s not to say I don’t highly enjoy many of the places touted as modern day speakeasies. But, a little variety is good and I don’t think a bar need necessarily employ faux-prohibition tactics to prove their cocktail cred. However, a bar with the name ‘Speakeasy’ is going to catch my attention.
With red velour stools, dark leather sofas, nightly jazz and a discreet fumoir, the Speakeasy attempts to transport clients back in time to the smoky, jazz-filled Chicagoan dens of iniquity of the twenties. The menu features over 20 cocktails, including the usuals like margaritas and mojitos and more unique house creations at 14 Euros each. Nothing looked exceptional and some were hovering suspiciously close to spodie territory such as the Gin Imperial (Bombay, Malibu, grenadine, pineapple juice, mandarin imperial, raspberry juice and tonic water.) Although what was exceptional for this generally expensive area was a happy hour (17h30 – 19h30, all cocktails 8 Euros)
I was very early and set off solo for my first drink. Cheerful besuited staff set out dishes of chips and jarred salsa. I don’t like jarred salsa. It simply does’t taste good. I ate some anyway and washed it down with the glass of ice water the barman had thoughtfully put in front of me. I’ve been living here long enough to know better. It wasn’t water. This was my martini: sweet vermouth over ice with a big lemon chunk in it. I think he may have dropped in a few drops of gin because I had asked for a ‘dry gin martini.’ It’s is a shame because there are more than a few gins I would happily put in my mouth from those listed on their menu (Gordon’s, Tanqueray, Beefeater, Tanqueray 10, Bombay Sapphire, Pink 47 and Hendricks.) However there is one gin they list which has me a baffled. I have never heard of (and find no information on) “Cavendish” which they also have listed on the menu as a gin. [note: Paul-Eric of Sipeasy just notified me that this is the private label gin of France Boisson]
Mel and Vio arrived and took two drinks whose names and don’t recall and which left them nonplussed. Unable to find anything imbibe-inspiring on the menu I went the when-in-Rome route with the amicably votre, a crazy concoction of whisky, light rum, Malibu, pineapple juice, blue curacao & strawberry juice. I was hoping to be pleasantly surprised. I wasn’t. And the color. Anyone ever see the modern day freak show that is the Jim rose circus? The color recalls Matt “The Tube” Crowley’s act. I’ll leave you to look the description of that one up at your leisure in case you’re having lunch right now.
A fellow blogger Cat – who hits some nice bars – reported a very good experience there. And with the friendly staff, good tunes and relaxed atmoshphere, I have no doubt that one could pass an enjoyable evening here with the right drink orders. (wine? Whisky?) So perhaps it’s hit and miss here.
And, I imagine speakeasies during prohibition had that same range in quality. In some cases, the liquor restrictions forced a flourish of creativity as bartenders invented new recipes with limited resources. But those with less cash or connections were unlikely to be celebrating this new bout of cocktail creativity and probably ended up in sketchy speakeasies with even sketchier spirits. At this Speakeasy: Cat had a good experience and I had a bad one. At Prohibition era speakeasies: Sometimes you get a legendary Last Word cocktail. But then sometimes you get bathtub gin related deaths. So perhaps this place – with its bads as well as goods – is actually more representative of real speakeasies than I initially thought.
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!