The Paris Cocktail Craze: Mastering the Art of French Drinking

The Paris Cocktail Craze: Mastering the Art of French Drinking

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Doni Bellau at the Paris Cocktail Soirée
Doni Bellau at the Paris Cocktail Soirée and launch of her new book Paris Cocktails at Bespoke Bar on rue Oberkampf. © Meredith Mullins

Finding good cocktails and imaginative mixologists in Paris hasn’t always been easy—even though the first cocktails in Paris appeared nearly 200 years ago, and legendary drinkers, like Hemingway, always found their way to a bar that spoke their language.

For the most part, Paris was more of a wine and champagne kind of town.

But lately, the craft cocktail movement, creative concoctors, and the explosion of trendy neighborhood bars make mastering the art of drinking much easier.

Nico of Bespoke bar, Paris
Nico of Bespoke adds egg whites to the Smoking Machete. (Egg white in cocktail is the new “black.”) © Meredith Mullins

This mastery was the goal of Girls’ Guide to Paris founder Doni Belau. When approached by American publisher Cider Hill Press to tackle the subject of Paris cocktails, it was an offer she couldn’t refuse.

“They’re going to pay me to drink in Paris?” she said, smiling at her good fortune. “I can’t say no. It’s two things that almost everyone loves—Paris and cocktails.”

Valentin Calvel, bartender, Paris
Valentin Calvel—Doni Bellau’s choice for most creative Paris bartender, especially for his superb Bloody Mary. © Meredith Mullins

“The truth is I didn’t consider myself a cocktails expert before I wrote this book,” Doni admits. “I am a Paris expert because of the Girls’ Guide to Paris website (started in 2009) and I love a good martini. But, it wasn’t until I did the research—which included going to 55 bars in 6 weeks this past winter in Paris and interviewing many bartenders and mixologists—that I began to understand how intricate this craft has become. This generation’s bartenders are much more than a guy in a white coat pouring gin into a chilled glass.”

cocktails in Paris
The New Golden Age of Cocktails. © Meredith Mullins

Her research paid off (with liver intact). Paris Cocktails was released in September, a comprehensive and beautifully designed guide to cocktails, including recipes divulged by the best mixologists in Paris, rules of French cocktail culture, entertainment tips, tidbits of cocktail history, and helpful descriptions of the ambiance of her recommended bars.

As a taste tester in a short period of time, Doni learned early that she couldn’t down the whole drink, no matter how tasty it was. She adopted a firm “two-sip” maximum so she could keep to her schedule of reviewing two or three bars a night (6–9 drinks) and have notes that were relatively intelligible the morning after.

Bespoke cocktail, Paris
Bespoke’s Capri C’est Fini (rum, cherry tomatoes, basil, balsamic vinegar and more). © Meredith Mullins

She also learned quickly that the craft cocktail movement integrates the best of French food and drink traditions—carefully sourced products, inventive combinations to challenge sophisticated palates, and artful balance.

A few years ago, we would never have imagined duck fat washed blended whisky; rum with cherry tomatoes, basil, and balsamic vinegar; or garnishes of shiso, ginger, and organic rose petals. This new breed of passionate cocktail creators strives for “art in a glass.”

Doni Bellau, Paris Cocktails
Doni and one of her new favorites: the French gin Citadelle— hints of violet, sweet orange, and coriander. © Meredith Mullins

After all her research, Doni does have some favorites. She hesitates to offer bar recommendations, since, as she says, “Some are fancy, some are dive bars. Some are craft, some are classic. You need a lot of bars to match the myriad of moods and nights.”

Here are some highlights.

Paris cocktails
Bespoke’s Quack Me Up (a favorite at the cocktail soirée—lots of whisky). © Meredith Mullins

Three favorite drinks:

The Bloody Mary created by Valentin at l’Apicius (an evolved version of the original 1900s French invention at Harry’s NY Bar in Paris as a cure for hangovers); the Capri C’est Fini created by Nico at Bespoke; and the Chocolate Martini from the Royal Monceau.

“I admire drinks when they take unthinkable combos like rum and tomatoes (the Capri C’est Fini) and create a surprisingly delicious effect,” Doni concludes.

Five favorite bars:

Harry’s NY Bar is the ultimate classic. Colin Field’s special club type atmosphere in the newly revamped Ritz Paris, which reopens in the spring, will be amazing I’m sure. I think Artisan is a gorgeous bar in the 9th and Baton Rouge around the corner, a lot of fun. I love Bespoke because of Nico’s cocktail prowess as well as the incredibly friendly atmosphere.”

So many choices in this “new golden age of cocktails” . . . and good reason to dedicate ourselves to continued tasting. Santé!

For info about Paris Cocktails, click here.

Nico, owner of Bespoke, Paris
Nico, owner of Bespoke, is a master of the double shake. © Meredith Mullins
Bespoke bar, Paris cocktails
The scene at Bespoke for the Paris Cocktail Soirée © Meredith Mullins
Girls Guide to Paris, cocktails
Jennifer Sigler and Doni Bellau, partners in the Girls’ Guide apartment rental business. © Meredith Mullins

 

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