Paris is a city that I’ve struggled with in the past if I’m honest: I always wanted to love it, but it never quite did it for me. Well I can safely say that it has finally won me over, and as you might have guessed it’s all because of the cocktail scene and the amazing bartenders that seem to have sprung up from nowhere in the last year.
I think it’s fair to say that with one or two notable exceptions, Paris has traditionally been a city with an underwhelming cocktail scene, given its size and international reputation. Sure there was Le Forum and Candelaria, and of course it has it’s historical cocktail bars such as Harry’s and the Ritz, but by comparison to other large cities it just felt like the number of truly great bars was lacking, and there wasn’t the energy or excitement in the cocktail scene that you find in other cities such as London, Sydney or New York.
In the last year or two though the cocktail culture has begun to grow and develop, and in the last year especially it has positively exploded. New bars have opened, bartenders have stepped up their game, and now Paris is one of the most exciting cities to drink in. In fact I can’t remember feeling so inspired by a cocktail scene since I discovered the amazing bar culture in Copenhagen back in 2009. There can be no doubting that Paris is coming in to it’s own when you see that 5 bars from the World’s 50 Best Bars 2013 are from this city.
So why now and what’s so great about it? Well I think that after a long period of time where cocktails weren’t part of the drinking culture of the city, a small hand full of pioneers have taken a chance and really shown Paris what cocktails and cocktail bars are all about. With Candelaria setting the bar high, Experimental Cocktail Club taking cocktails to a new level and Bar le Coq as an international collaboration that has brought a new level of media and industry attention to the city, suddenly there’s a buzz about drinking cocktails in Paris, and lots of talented bartenders are coming out of the woodwork to step up to the challenge. So below you’ll find a handful of my favourite bars and a couple of drinks that made me smile while I was there, I hope it inspires you to visit Paris and check out one of the most exciting cocktail scenes in Europe.
A relative new comer to the scene having opened just last year, as the name suggests you’ll find this little gem of a bar, well, behind a little red door. Reminiscent of the old East London style, you’ll find exposed brickwork and a bit of street art thrown in to this cozy drinking den, but somehow it’s all finished of with a touch of French style. The atmosphere is rocking on busy weekend nights, but during the week it feels more intimate and cozy. The drinks are spot on and best of all the staff are friendly and know their stuff.
The Cocktails are really as good as you’d expect with big names from the industry such as Julien and Jill Lafond involved with setting up and running the place. The team both on the floor and behind the stick made me feel instantly welcome, and several hours after my first visit when we ended up in Glass together at the end of the night, we quickly became good friends. They’re the kind of people you want to drink with and they run a bar that you’ll find it hard to leave.
The drinks selection here is fantastic too, and you can trust the bartenders to point you in the right direction, if like me you find it hard to pick with so many great choices on the list. The Do Not Violette was amazing, with Ilegal Mezcal, Ocho Tequila, bitters, amaro and crème de violette coming together to create something truly memorable. They know their classics too, and leaving the drinks choice to the bartender was a safe bet, as the bourbon based concoction they came up with left a grin on my face.
Little Red Door is a bar you’ll walk into and want to fall in love with, and once the first round of drinks arrives you’ll never want to leave.
Don’t tell any of the other bars reviewed here, but Candelaria is still my favourite Paris hang out. Hidden through the back door of a small Mexican street food place, this is a dark and enticing bar that sucks you in and keeps you there until the small hours. The owners behind this spot also own a couple of other very different bars and restaurants in Paris, all with their own unique charms, but Candelaria is special.
Part of its charm is of course that it’s hidden away and a little tricky to find, but there’s so much more than that. The team who work the room are amazing, bringing the perfect balance of skill and knowledge, with a big hit of personality and fun. Amanda Boucher, who heads up the bar is one of the most engaging hosts I’ve ever met as well as one hell of a bartender, and in all the times I’ve visited over the past couple of years I’ve never met a member of her team who I didn’t instantly like.
Candelaria really set the bar for the rest of the Paris cocktail scene, and is still leading the charge by doing what they do best, making great drinks and creating good times. While the focus here is on tequila and Mezcal, you’ll find all spirit categories well represented, and the bartenders know how to use what they have on the back bar to create truly memorable drinks. The only problem with the drinks selection here is that you’ll find it hard to choose just one because they all sound good (and having worked my way through most of the list, they deliver on expectation every time too). Try the Guapo for a surprising agave based sour with a hint of heat and an almost savory spice, or go off menu with the amazing twist on the Last Word below. It's always worth chatting to the bartender as they might just introduce you to a little gem like this one.
15ml Calle 23 blanco tequila
15ml Alipus San Juan del Rio Mezcal
20ml Green Chartreuse
25ml fresh lime juice
Shake all ingredients with cubed ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass, before garnishing with a cherry and a lime twist.
As with all the drinks at Candelaria, this is a tasty little number is adictive, but trust me don't assume you've found your perfect drink until you've worked through the menu (at least once) and let the bartenders take you off menu (at least twice)… the only problem is remembering which drink you liked best, but that's just an excuse to visit them again and repeat the entire exercise the next time!
Ahhhhh this really is an old favourite, and was the first cocktail bar I ever visited in Paris. This may be more in the style of a hotel bar, and at first you might be forgiven for feeling it is a little bit formal and grown up, but from the moment you settle in to the bar and get chatting to the bartenders, you’ll realise that this is a fun place to drink.
The team here are, again, all excellent, and they know their craft well, what’s more they made sure that when I left them the first time I knew where else in town to visit and who to say hi to. There’s more of a grown up feeling to the space itself, with dark wood and waist coated bartenders, but they’re friendly and inviting, so pretty soon you’ll feel relaxed and ready to settle in for a few rounds.
Le Forum would definitely be a good place to take a date, but it also works for a late night stop off on your way back to your hotel, or to swing by for a mid evening tipple before ending up in Glass for some late night shenanigans.
The cocktail list is extensive, and there’s definitely something for everyone, from classics to their own creations, the drinks here are well balanced and well above average, and you’ll definitely be spoiled for choice. I find long cocktail lists hard to choose from, so I leave it to the bartenders to choose for me here, and on my last visit the 23 Jump Street and the Gene Snyder 1 both surprised and delighted me. Trust me this is a must visit bar when you’re in Paris.
This is the bar that I just couldn’t stay away from last time I was in town; in fact I visited it every night I was there. Another discretely signed bar (there’s literally just a tiny chalk board on the wall to tell you it’s there, this is my kind of place. Firstly it’s fairly small with different areas you can take over with a small group. More importantly the actual bar is the star of the show, (although you can choose to sit in the front area away from the bar if you wanted to… but why would you?) and the bartenders really bring the place to life. By the end of my first visit I felt like I’d known Sullivan, who served me, for a long time, he’s one of those rare bartenders who greets everyone with a smile, makes you feel welcome, and also happens to know his way around a bottle of booze too.
The drinks are written up on a huge chalkboard above the bar, and again they were all so inviting that I had to work my way through the list, and still couldn’t decide on a favourite. There’s food here too, with small sharing plates in the tapas style, which all hit the spot almost as well as the cocktails did.
Watching the bartenders work, I actually felt inspired by their care and attention to detail, but without the sometime serious attitude that can accompany a bar that makes great drinks. This is a place to have a good time in above all, and you feel like your happiness comes first, and the quality of the cocktails is just an added bonus. You can expect all the nice touches, hand carved ice balls, beautiful garnishes and carefully prepared drinks, but with the same relaxed attitude you would find in a local neighbourhood bar. In other words this place is great. All the drinks I had were spot on, but the Nutty by Nature really hit the spot for me, so I’ve included it below.
If you’re in Paris and want to drink cocktails, do yourself a favour and go to Sherry Butt, you won’t regret it!
NUTTY BY NATURE
20ml fino sherry
15ml eaux de noix liqueur
1 barspoon Amer Picon
2 dashes grapefruit bitters
Stir all ingredients over cubed ice, until well chilled and diluted, then strain into a rocks glass over a hand carved ice ball (cubes will do if you're doing this at home but it's a nice touch to have the authentic experience and watch the bartender carve your ice ball for you). Garnish with a nice large grapefruit twist.
This is a perfect drink as Summer gives way to Autumn as the nut liqueur and amaro give it great depth, and the cognac warms you up with every sip. Be warned it's dangerously drinkable, and you'll almost certainly find yourself wanting another one right away!
So you’ll be thinking ‘oh here we go, yet another tiki bar’ when you see this place, but trust me on this, you’re wrong. Yes they do everything that Tiki is known for, you can expect Hawaiian shirts, coconuts, pineapples and an overwhelming assortment of rum to choose from, but that’s not what’s at the heart of Dirty Dick. If I were to imagine the personification of all things tiki, I’d struggle to come up with someone more tiki than Scotty who runs the show here. He’s a larger than life character, is quick to smile, and quicker to put overproof rum in front of you, and is the epitome of what makes a great barman.
You see tiki bars should be about having fun, and if you fail to have fun around Scotty and his team then there’s something wrong with you! The boys behind the bar bang out seriously great drinks, while the sound system bangs out seriously good tunes. This is not the place for a quiet catch up with friends, it’s a place to let loose and have a good time with them instead. Just be warned that when the barman hands you a shot glass and shouts ‘to the face’ you’re likely to be drinking overproof rum, and your night is about to go sideways (in a great way!).
The drinks are as you’d expect, rum focused, tiki style, and fun to drink, but they’re also great quality cocktails, well made, and dangerously drinkable. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that the Pina Colada I had here was the best I’ve had for a long time, and the fiery hot toddy that I needed to help me fight the cold I was suffering, had me back on my feet in no time. The only reason you’ll ever want to leave this bar is because they’re closing and you need to cross the street to visit Glass… and there’s every chance you’ll see the team from Dirty Dick there as soon as they’ve cleaned the bar and locked the doors.
Oh dear Lord, what can I say about GLASS? This is a bar that will steal your soul and leave you damaged, but in oh such a fun way. If Glass had a moral compass, it would be broken, and probably point due south instead of north.
So now that we’ve established that Glass is a dangerous place to drink, but a fun place to be, let me try in some way to describe it. It’s a cocktail bar…. No a nightclub…. No a dive bar… Ummmmm yeah, it’s all of these and more. Glass is a small bar, open late, that feels like a bit of a dive bar that’s trying to be a nightclub, but really wants to be a cocktail bar. Owned by the guys behind Candelaria, this is another place with a great spirit selection, fantastic cocktail list, and bartenders who know what they’re doing. The thing is you could easily walk in and not realise it.
So here’s how it feels to me… I’ve been out in Paris all evening, had a few drinks here and there, a nice bite to eat, and then started ramping things up. I’m with a good group of friends and we’re getting lively as we’ve just ended up in Dirty Dick’s, but now it’s time to keep the party going to the small hours. I’ve had great drinks all night and don’t want to compromise on that side of things, but the night is calling out to party hard, so I’m not looking for a swanky cocktail bar, I’m looking for somewhere a little more seedy… Thank God for Glass then, because it offers you everything you need at that point in your night.
Be warned though, there’s almost no chance you’re leaving Glass sober, in fact you may not remember leaving at all, but the bits you do remember will make you smile. There’s bound to be a great DJ ramping things up, the beer selection is spot on, and when you suddenly decide that a Manhattan at 4:00am is what you need in your life (which it probably isn’t but sounds like a good idea at the time) then you’ll get a great one!
Glass is as dangerous as it is special, and to not have at least one late night adventure here would be a mistake! So go on get involved.
I’m actually sorry to cut this review short, as there are so many other bars that deserve a mention, Prescription Cocktail Club, ECC, Le Coq, and by the time I’m back there next month I wouldn’t be surprised to find that there are a half dozen new places to check out. The thing is that the Paris cocktail scene suddenly seems to have energy and life, and the bartenders I met there are feeding off of it and pushing themselves to do great things. Paris at long last I love you! It took a long a time, but it was worth the wait