A cocktail oasis in postwar Europe. That was Paris in the 1920s. Henry’s, Sherry Cobbler, Dingo Bar and other establishments seduced throngs of locals, bright young Brits, and homesick Americans. The International Bar Flies, a legendary drinking fraternity led by US journalist O.O. McIntyre, was born at Harry’s New York Bar, with a loose membership of hacks, authors and celebrities. The cocktail-supping might have continued had an aggressive marketing campaign by the post-phylloxera wine industry not persuaded the French they were really a nation of wine drinkers. Except for a paltry few, such as the Ritz Bar and Harry’s, Paris’s great cocktail bars faded.
Over the past decade, a new cocktail trend swept from Vancouver to New York, London to Tokyo, but left the French capital largely untouched. Then came the Experimental Cocktail Club (37 rue Saint-Saveur, 2nd arrondissement) and Curio Parlor (16 Rue des Bernardins, 5th). Opened by a savvy trio of recent business school grads – Romée de Goriainoff, Olivier Bon and Pierre-Charles Cros – ECC is a bijou bar in which 19th-century exposed stone, timber beams and an upright piano are transported into the present by elaborate perspex chandeliers. Curio Parlor is similarly quirky, with taxidermy and other oddities filling up the labyrinthine interior. Both venues serve a mix of classic cocktails and new creations closely based on historic drinks.
The latest hit, Bar Le Coq, was opened a few months ago by French mixologist Eric Fossard and his London contemporary Tony Conigliaro. A raft of outstanding bars has emerged from my fellow drinks colleagues in the past year, making Paris a cocktail destination once again – as this small selection of the best will attest.
Bar Le Coq (12 Rue du Château d’Eau, 10th) is the brainchild of Conigliaro, famed for London’s 69 Colebrooke Row and Zetter Townhouse, in partnership with Fossard and Thierry Daniel, creator of Lyon’s Antic Wine and Georges Five. Subtle nods to Parisian 1970s decadence line the room, a floor-to-ceiling photo of iconic Yé-Yé girl Françoise Hardy leans against a wall and the bar’s centrepiece is a vase filled with dozens of white roses. The drinks are divided between the “white list” (new creations such as the Almond Piña Colada and the Fig Leaf Collins) and the “black list” (classic cocktails). Don’t miss the charcuterie and cheese selections.
An off-the-beaten-path modern roadhouse, Le Glass (7 rue Frochot, 9th), sports a superb whisky selection served alongside craft beers and Brooklyn Lager. The place attracts young Parisians in plaid shirts and savvy American university students. The DJ plays rock’n’roll, while the kitchen offers a menu of organic hot dogs. Bartenders churn out creative cocktails such as the Tattoo You (mescal, ginger, grapefruit, lime and smoked beer) as well as boilermakers (whisky shots with American lager chasers).
Modern art shows that change each month set the tone at Little Red Door (60 rue Charlot, 3rd). Exposed brick and plush banquettes frame the space, while oversized blue velvet stools are possibly the city’s comfiest bar seating. Try the Do Not Violette, with mescal and crème de violette; the Raise, with Cognac, house syrup and PX sherry; or one of their many artisanal beers. Tapas-sized offerings include vegetable vol au vents, quesadillas, roast peppers and crudités.
To find Candelaria (52 rue de Saintonge, 3rd) look for a little Mexican takeaway with fluorescent lighting and a handful of seats. Pass these and go through the low unmarked door at the rear. A few steps lead down into a cellar-like space with old exposed stone and a simple bar in one corner. Expect standing room only as this tequila and mescal bar is extremely popular and the few tables fill by 8pm.
Opened in February this year, Le Mary Céleste (1 rue Commines, 3rd) is an oyster bar with windows wrapping around most of the small space and a 360° bar offering plenty of seats around the main attraction – the baskets of fresh oysters. The cocktail list is very good, but many customers opt for a classic pairing of oysters and craft porter. One of the most surprising touches: the mignonette sauce usually placed in the centre of the oyster platter has been replaced with an infinitely better lemon grass nuoc nam.
A metallic gold bar runs nearly the length of a sleek brasserie called Restaurant Beaucoup (7 rue Froissart, 3rd). However, the best spot for drinks is found past the grill at the back and up a flight of stairs. The first room is reminiscent of a Las Vegas suite’s sitting room. The second, similarly open-plan room, is finished with a jet-black bar and a reasonably good whisky selection.
At Sherry Butt (20 rue Beautreillis, 4th), the large black leather couches feel intimate thanks to pinpoint lighting and dark walls. Though the decor is somewhat New York post-industrial, the bartenders couldn’t be more serious about the liquid cuisine. A shortlist of the bartender’s favourites is writ large on a chalkboard above the bar.
Jared Brown is master distiller of Sipsmith Gin