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Wine. Pastis. Cognac. When it comes to sippables with a kick, the French have got it going on. Whether before, during or after dinner in Paris, there’s a homegrown libation that fits the bill. But beyond a few drops of crème de cassis in a glass of white wine or a splash of water in Pastis, the French have traditionally been a bit résistant when it comes to diluting their prized spirits with other liquids.
Historically, France lays claim to the invention of some cocktail greats during a period when American-style drinking was the trend. The nearly forgotten Scofflaw and a variation of the French 75 both hail from L’Hexagone, but now generally enjoy much wider support abroad. Demanding patrons have always been able to find something acceptable in high-end hotels and many still consider the Hemingway Bar at the Ritz the quintessential cocktail bar. But for the most part, over the last several decades the cocktail-curious have had little choice but to trudge to Harry’s with its claims of inventing the Bloody Mary.
After lagging behind cultural epicenters like New York and London for years, Paris is now joining the new cocktail wave with gusto. Craft cocktail bars are coming onto the scene and recently the capital city began hosting its annual Cocktail Spirit fair, bringing in big industry names and thousands of inquisitive spectators and participants. The resurgence of imbibing interest means more options when it comes to cocktailing in the capital.
Cocktails will never topple wine as the Parisian drink of choice. But, in a city this size, it’s nice to know there’s now a decent choice when it comes to well-made drinks.
Paris’s new wave of cocktail bars:
Le Magnifique publicity photo
Le Magnifique, Paris 1st and Le Secret, Paris 8th
25, rue de Richelieu
Le Magnifique appeared on the scene a couple of years ago, complete with viewing box at the imposing black door where you buzz for entrance. Once inside, the ambiance is vaguely exclusive but relaxed and the list of cocktails inspired by world-famous bartender Colin Field (Paris Ritz Hemingway Bar) far surpasses the standard Parisian cocktail offerings. These tasty tipples come at a price, but fortunately, the folks behind le Magnifique have also branched out with another worthwhile cocktail pursuit: le Secret (16, avenue de Friedland, Paris 8th). Offering just slightly more accessible prices and friendly, knowledgeable staff, le Magnifique bar doesn’t disappoint when it comes to topnotch drinks and tasty bar snacks.
Le Carmen publicity photo
Le Carmen, Paris 9th
22, rue de Douai
Le Carmen is a newcomer worth watching. Just steps away from the seedy sex shops of Pigalle, this former hôtel particulier has been transformed into an impressive night spot by French film set designer Antoine Platteau. While the drop-dead gorgeous setting is enough to pack in the pretty people, the cocktails are pulling their weight as well. They’ve installed some promising talent and spirits behind the bar and provide an elegant change of pace from the usual suspects in the area. Le Carmen looks set to attract busy later evening crowds with their lineup of music and entertainment as well.
La Conserverie, Paris 2nd
37 bis, rue du Sentier
La Conserverie is a discreet two-level restaurant/bar that consistently gets good marks from both its laid-back clientele as well as industry types who head there for an after-shift drink. Its elegant, eclectic, utility-chic décor invites the clientele to settle back into comfortably funky sofas and chairs to enjoy both the drinks and the atmosphere in this modern-day Parisian lounge. For a bit more sustenance with your sipping, the restaurant turns out delicious dishes from their menu of conserves. And, weekends usually bring in DJs for upbeat music and bigger crowds.
Minibar, Paris 3rd
20, rue de Picardie
Minibar has opened their doors in 2010 and is a prime example of the direction that up-and-coming Paris nightspots are heading as a result of the new cocktail wave. Behind the bar, they’re focusing on more than just the standards and making an effort to step up the cocktails. The menu may be geared towards a younger Paris crowd (think Mojitos or fruity and sweet options) but they’re still made with care and consideration. The artsy vibe, the pretty drinks and the loud and lively music will surely garner a crowd of loyal locals seeking something a bit more offbeat for Paris drinking options.
Curio Parlor publicity photo
Experimental Cocktail Club, Paris 2nd; Curio Parlor, Paris 5th and Prescription Cocktail Club, Paris 6th
37, rue St Sauveur
The Experimental Cocktail Club simply can’t be ignored when discussing the resurgence of cocktail consumption in Paris. Highly influential in kick-starting the new cocktail trend, this speakeasy-style hot spot opened in 2007 and has been amassing an impressive following ever since. While the late-night weekend crowds may be more interested in the funky DJs than the serious drinks, the trio of friends behind this bar doesn’t sway from their underlying concept of superior cocktails.
This “experiment” proved so successful that soon after, they opened their second bar, Curio Parlor (photo above) (16, rue des Bernardins, Paris 5th) and then a third: Prescription Cocktail Club (23, rue Mazarine, Paris 6th.)
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