The Cocktail Bars of Paris: A Guide by Arrondissement

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The Cocktail Bars of Paris: A Guide by Arrondissement

For generations there was nothing to rival the list of French wines found in the bistros and brasseries of Paris, but since the early 2000s, there’s been a new kid on the block – the cocktail bar. The French have been distilling liqueurs and spirits for centuries but always looked to other countries when it came to intoxicating combinations. The first French guide to mixing drinks in “the American, English, and Italian mode” was published in 1889 by Parisian Emile Lefeuvre. In 1920s Paris, cocktails ran freely when adventuresome American bartenders, unemployed due to Prohibition at home, were eager to share their methods and recipes. But, alas, cocktail culture soon languished with the exception of few stalwarts, Harry’s New York Bar and Bar Hemingway at the Ritz.

Now, everything old is new again. There are hundreds of bars in Paris dedicated to the cocktail. Some pay tribute to the clandestine speakeasy of old. Others are cutting-edge modern. Some focus on. Asian flavors and South American spirits, with a trend toward organic, natural, ingredients. Many mixologists have a hand in making their own infusions and essences on site. It’s pure alchemy.

With the welcome news that bars and restaurant terrasses will be reopening on May 19 as part of the lifting of pandemic restrictions, we’re fêting these great drinking dens with the ultimate guide. Here we drink our way through Paris, sampling stand-outs in each arrondissement. From the wild and woolly to world class, for the well-heeled, hipster, or abstainer, there’s a cocktail bar for everyone in Paris.

1st Arrondissement

Bar Isadora

60 rue Jean Jacques Rousseau, 75001

Bar Isadora is gorgeous, roaring-20s kind of place, popular with a thirties kind of crowd, many who consider it to be the top cocktail bar in Paris. Bar Isadora is a chic and cheerful destination tucked into the very heart of the city. On the unique drinks list is the Mata Hari, concocted from gin, Chartreuse and Asian pandan syrup, with rich vanilla tones. Featuring an upbeat and well-curated soundtrack, the bar staff at Isadora will soon be ‘spinning’ the classic fine à l’eau into something new by creating a fine oil of coconut, verjus, and home-grown grape syrup to add to premium cognac. Isadora’s small kitchen provides a fresh daily menu; organic and homemade. They are known for their impeccable service.

Photo courtesy of Jefrey’s cocktail bar

2nd Arrondissement

Jefrey’s Cocktail Bar

14 Rue Saint-Sauveur, 75002

A dapper classic cocktail and whiskey bar spread over two intimate floors in the Montorgueil district of Paris, Jefrey’s makes old favorites and astonishing seasonal concoctions. Regular whiskey enthusiasts and English-speaking travelers enjoy the jazz and hip-hop sounds as the evening develops. Jefrey’s “Ink Menu” features 12 cocktails inspired by tattoo artists. If cocktails are your poison then rue Saint-Saveur is the place to be.

 

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The Experimental Cocktail Club

37 rue Saint-Sauveur, 75002

No list of cocktail bars is complete without mentioning The Experimental Cocktail Club. It’s where many young Parisian bartenders have cut their teeth. Innovative, audacious recipes are concocted at this comfortable speak-easy themed bar, considered the home of the rebirth of cocktail culture in Paris. Those bitters you puzzle about in the gourmet shop – these mixologists know what to do with them. This place is an institution.

Exterior shot of Le Mary Celeste. Photo credit © George Stevens

3rd Arrondissement

Le Mary Celeste

1 rue Commines, 75003.

In 2020, Le Mary Celeste was once again shortlisted for the Best International Restaurant Bar by the Tales of the Cocktail Foundation. Mary Celeste is named after a ghost ship found adrift with a hold fully stocked with alcohol – a perfect name for a cocktail and seafood bar. Their invigorating Rise and Shine is crafted from Mescal, licorice liqueur, coffee powder and lemon. The Rain Dog is made from bourbon, Amaro Diesus liqueur, syrup, lemon, Angostura bitters and mint. The interior of Le Mary Celeste is centered around a counter – a hip place for sampling drinks and oysters.

Photo courtesy of Bisou

Bisou

15 Boulevard du Temple, 75003

The eye-catching bar Bisou doesn’t have a menu, but share your preferences with the mixologist behind the marble bar and they’ll make anything that suits your fancy for about €15 a pop. The décor is pretty, pink, fun and flamingoes. The cocktails may be adventurous and high-flying, but Bisou takes a sustainable approach and only works with organic, locally sourced products. All their syrups and juices are made in house, they strive to create zero waste and have long said goodbye to plastic straws. It’s like having a boyfriend who listens to you. The romantic patio at Bisou is dripping with hanging plants and ambience.

4th Arrondissment

 

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Sherry Butt

20 Rue Beautreillis, 75004

Concealed behind a Marais façade, Sherry Butt consists of dark, mirrored rooms and a bar featuring a distinguished selection of world-renowned whiskies. Adherents to the “less is more philosophy,” the two experienced bartenders make most of the limited cocktail menu, which includes a selection of intriguing flavors they make themselves. Using a laboratory device called the Rotovap, they create homemade distillations and extracts like syrup of pine nuts, syrup of champagne and a spirit made from Japanese plums. Sherry Butt is on-trend with carbonations and natural fermentations that rival Kombucha. The Khalassi made of Peruvian Pisco, coconut-cardamom lassi, vanilla syrup, roasted pistachios and dried rose petals sounds fascinating. DJs spin the tunes on the weekends, fine tuning the music to the atmosphere at the time.

5th Arrondissement

Solera

283 Rue Saint-Jacques, 75005

A short walk from the Port-Royal RER station, just south of the Luxembourg Gardens, Solera is a friendly venue worthy of your time. It’s an unforgettable food/drink experience. The bartenders come from a high-end background but get down with creative cocktails. They can make you a personalized cocktail or mocktail in a specialty container. The Masterpiece is a balanced mix of Gin, ginger cordial, crème de pêche, organic tonic, bitter plum and Thai basil. It’s served in a snail-shaped vessel smoked under a cloche of dried verbena. The tasteful, frondy, neo art-deco interior glows blue. The under 40 crowd relaxes to a tipsy French soundtrack.

 6th Arrondissement

 

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Tiger

13 rue Princesse,  75006

“Welcome to the Jungle of Gin,” Tiger Bar’s website says. Located on a pretty street rife with other bistros, Tiger is the pre-eminent gin bar in Paris. No gin joint of a bygone era, Tiger is an aesthetically pleasing fusion of blond wood and Japanese spa aesthetic where each gin cocktail is a new experience. They have a 100 varieties of gin, so hey, a new gin every week. They have 13 signature gin cocktails. The wait staff really knows their stuff.

7th Arrondissement

 

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Le Gatsby

64 Avenue Bosquet, 75007

Le Gatsby is a great find. It’s a tiny, crisp place with many 1920s and 30s touches –  club chairs, a smoking room, art deco lamps. Vincent the bartender recreates the Roaring Twenties with cocktails named after ‘20s icons. The Baker – no doubt Josephine – features Vodka, Cointreau, Strawberry puree, egg white and Perrier. The Edith features Hendrick’s Gin, dry Noilly Prat, Suze aperitif and Maraschino liqueur. And The Chaplin is made from two varieties of rum with lemon juice, blueberry puree and chestnut syrup.

8th Arrondissement

Jacopo/Le Bar Cache

5 bis Rue Vernet, 75008

Located in the ritzy part of Paris just off the Champs Élysées, Jacopo is a young, cool bistro with an industrial chic décor, with touches of zingy blue and amazing food. But it’s beyond the bank of refrigerators and down cement stairs that customers will find Le Bar Cache, one of Paris’s trendy hidden bars. Rigged up like an American speakeasy with antiques, candelabras and large leather sofas, one can imbibe creations like the Frelon Vert – Grey Goose Vodka, matcha tea, lemon and pineapple juice, Benedictine, and Chartreuse. Or Le Japonais – Bombay Sapphire gin, cucumber juice, Wasabi, lemon juice and homemade ginger cordial. Sounds almost healthy.

9th Arrondissement

The Lulu White Drinking Club

12 Rue Frochot, 75009

This bar, specializing in absinthe-laced cocktails, takes its name from the New Orleans’ brothel madam Lulu White and Lulu’s a bit of a motif here with images from her 1920s mugshot at every turn. Lulu White’s English-speaking staff and turn-of-the-last century décor of mirrors and mahogany make this bar a world apart from the sometimes insalubrious Pigalle. The select menu offers only nine original cocktails, including the Knock on Wood, made with cognac, Armagnac and absinthe, and the Vaudeville, a giddy blend of rum and tequila with a sugary lemon tang. Then there’s absinthe to sample plus dancing to Jazz, Blues and other New Orleans inspired specialties.

10th Arrondissement

 

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Gravity Bar

44 Rue des Vinaigriers, 75010

Near Canal Saint-Martin, the bartenders at this small space are adept at shaking up the classics or creating their own cocktails, like Cream Pie, made with Madeira, crème de cacao, crème de menthe and almond-flavored crème fraîche. At Gravity the motif isn’t outer space, but skate park where swooping waves of gravity-defying plywood extend above the space and the half-moon bar.  They’ve got great looking food too. Summertime cocktails have names like Pink Pool, Mr. Greenthumb and Clockwork Soda – created from Rum, Almond, Lime and Mandarin Bergamot Soda. Drinks are listed not by spirit but by sensation.

11th Arrondissement

Moonshiner

5 rue Sedain, 75011.

Once you make it past the tempting smells emanating from Da Vita pizzeria, you’ll find Moonshiner, a kind of lush speakeasy accessible through the restaurant’s cold storage door. They stay true to their Prohibition vibe, but no password is required. During Covid they’ve had a cocktail delivery service which in itself seems almost as spurious as a 1920s booze can. The Lover’s Last Sip is comprised of Botanist gin, Lillet Blanc infused with strawberries, Rinquinquin – a peachy aperitif – and basil.

12th Arrondissement

Le Calbar

82 rue de Charenton, 75012

Here the waiters serve you without trousers, but with a shirt and a bow tie and, phew, boxers. Who can help but laugh? The Calbar Qui Rit (the Laughing Calbar) is beverage made from Plantation rum, coconut and pandan water, lemon juice and decorated with silver palettes. If you order a Surprise Me, watch out – one of the bartenders will make you a special creation. Although their dress code is rather ridiculous they have great taste in music and work in a cool industrial chic setting. There are four non-alcoholic choices including The Grasshopper made from mint, white chocolate and cream.

13th Arrondissement

 

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 La Folie en Tete

33 Rue de la Butte aux Cailles, 75013

La Folie en Tête is a small, young-at-heart bar located on a cobblestone hill of Butte aux Cailles. Its relaxed space where the inexpensive cocktails and the kindness of the waiters attract regular customers. There’s a real village feel to this locale. La Folie En Tête has been in place since 1991. The walls of the bar are decked in a variety of musical instruments and the bar highlights World music with samplings of rock and jazz. Some regulars come back to jam – and they have a 6-track CD to prove it. The Caïpi-Fresh – caïpiroska – a typical South American cocktail prepared with fresh fruits: kiwi, strawberry or raspberry is just 6 €. I said it was inexpensive. La Folie en Tête translates to “Madness in the Head.”

The interior of Café Bohème. Courtesy of Café Bohème and photo credit © Dreammy_lifestyle

14th Arrondissement

Café Bohème

19 Boulevard Edgar Quinet, 75014.

The interior of Café Bohème rivals its patio as a light and airy place evocative of boho teatime and cakes. Cocktails include the Violet Spritz, with violet liqueur, prosecco and ginger ale; the Tulipe, with gin, Aperol, lemon and grapefruit juice or the signature strawberry, raspberry and passion fruit Mojito. The bar offers an array of fresh juices and the alcohol free Arthur, named after Rimbaud. Café Bohème aims to be whimsical, and succeeds in not being overly so. The bar is tastefully festooned with lacy lampshades and dried flowers. With its light-handed palette it stands out from its other neighbors on the boulevard, which largely appears to be patio-central in the shadow of the Tour Montparnasse.

15th Arrondissement

 

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Oogy Wawa

4 rue Auguste Dorchain, 75015.

There are many fine restaurants in the quiet 15th arrondissement, Le Cherine, and Le Veraison, par exemple, but the only dedicated cocktail bar of note is Le Zero de Conduite, where the game-playing clientele suck on cocktail smoothies served in baby bottles. If you must, it’s located at located at 102 rue du Theatre. If you want to save yourself from this kind of regression, the district does boast the only cocktail supply shop in Paris, Oogy Wawa, offering a wide selection of bar equipment and cocktail ingredients if you’d rather mix your own drink. If you’re wondering ,Oogy Wawa is “Cheers!” in the Zulu language.

16th Arrondissement

 

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Cravan

17 rue Jean de la Fontaine, 75016

Named after a part-time boxer and erstwhile poet in post-World War I Paris, Arthur Cravan was wilder than his uncle Oscar Wilde and treated life like performance art. Today the cocktail bar named for Cravan is housed in an Art Nouveau building designed by one of the movement’s paragons – Hector Guimard. Amid a cool palette of old tiles and silvered mirrors, the experienced owners create sleek cocktails behind the zinc bar – reminiscent of the zesty ‘20s – like the French 75 made from gin, absinthe and Champagne or The Yellow with gin, gentian and yellow chartreuse. Conde Nast Traveler called it one of The Best New Bars in the World.

17th Arrondissement

 

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Pistache

23 rue Boursault, 75017.

Playing both sides of the street is Pizco Batignolles, with Pistache – le petit cocktail bar across rue Boursault from Pistache – the petit apero at No. 24. At Pistache – le petit cocktail, the airy, appealing space is decorated with brass and teal, and an orange tree complements the jungle print motif. There’s a real garden in behind the cocktail bar.  The service is excellent with a friendly welcome. It’s a real neighborhood place.

18th Arrondissement

Le Très Particulier

23 Avenue Junot, Pavillon D. 75018

Le Très Particulier, tucked away in a grove of city trees on the slopes of Montmartre, is a sumptuous lounge and solarium, part of the hotel complex of the same name. In this ivy-draped space, Le Très Particulier’s head bartender Valentin Vignolles will expertly create something special for the curious, younger crowd, as well as their affluent guests. Ingredients include natural, homemade concoctions – infusions, syrups and perfumed sugars. Their eponymous house cocktail is created from gin, elderflower cordial, tonic, and lemon verbena. The rest of the drinks on the menu are inspired by film titles. The West Egg will set you back €18. The Honey Bunny and Pineapple Express are non-alcoholic drinks that also reflect contemporary movies. Buzz the intercom to gain access to the bar and the exemplary Très Particulier restaurant with a seasonal menu created by chef Gabriele Faiella.

19th Arrondissement

La Pavillon Puebla

Avenue Darcel, Parc des Buttes-Chaumont, 75019

The drinks menu at La Pavillon Puebla, located in the Parc des Buttes-Chaumont, features beverages with a South American twist despite the appealing venue being more like a 19th-century Parisian guinguette. Surrounding a stone-clad house, the terraces at La Pavillon Puebla are set under shady chestnuts where garlands of lights twinkle after twilight over the dance floor. The eclectic décor features boho benches and cushions, velvet couches, along with wrought iron bistro tables. The Blondin cocktail walks the tightrope of Mezcal, Pimms, spice syrup, lemon juice and hellfire bitters. There’s the classic Dark and Stormy and the contrasting mocktail, the Clear and Sunny. The Pavillon is very casual and very pretty.

Combat

63 Rue de Belleville, 75019

No camo and macho posturing at Combat; instead you’ll find the creative cocktail project of three female friends, apprenticed at the famed Experimental Cocktail Club. Combat is bright, modern and subtly decorated. Mustard-colored tiles frame a long shelf displaying Combat’s range of spirits. The stainless steel bar resembles a laboratory dedicated to mixology. Currently, Combat’s signature recipe is the savory, smoky Quatresse made with sage, Suze aperitif, simple syrup, lemon, and the peaty Laphroaig Scotch whisky. They also specialize in aperitif cocktails; typically something dry and a little bitter. The bar is located in what was once the Quartier du Combat, an area where wild animals were once baited to fight. It’s also a nod to the fight the three young owners had to put up to open the bar.

20th Arrondissement

La Commune Punch Club

80 Boulevard de Belleville, 75020

La Commune is a punch club where many of their house concoctions are beautifully presented to your table in classic punch bowls, where individual cups are filled with alcoholic elixirs, made from the likes of vodka, juice, green tea, cucumber syrup and Kaffir lime. Individual drinks like The Bramble combine gin with lemon juice and blackberry crème. The floor to ceiling windows, curtains of greenery and fairy lights give La Commune the feel of a perennial patio. The club also offers history and art talks and tours.

Lead photo credit : Photo courtesy of Bar Isadora

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A freelance writer and amateur historian, Hazel knew she wanted to focus on the lives of French artists and femme fatales after an epiphany at the Musée d'Orsay. A life-long learner, she is a recent graduate of Art History from the University of Toronto. Now she is searching for a real-life art history mystery to solve.

Comments

  • Barnaby Conrad
    2021-05-20 06:42:54
    Barnaby Conrad
    Great reportting! Cocktail culture in Paris has come a long way since I lived in Paris (1982-87) and then returned to San Francisco to write ABSINTHE: HISTORY IN A BOTTLE (1989) and THE MARTINI in 1995 (both by Chronicle Books). Paris has come a long way since "Sank Roo Do Noo". And Hazel Smith is the one to write the book about Paris cocktail culture! Sincerment, Barnaby Conrad

    REPLY

    • Hazel Smith
      2021-05-26 09:06:05
      Hazel Smith
      Thanks Barnaby. What a dream that would be. Everything in moderation... including moderation!

      REPLY