The Best Bars in… Paris

27th March, 2013 by Tom Sandham

The French capital’s bar scene combines a reverence for its past with a passionate zeal for the latest trends. Raconté par Tom Sandham

Best Bars in Paris

Paris’ heritage plays a vital role in its cocktail revolution

The discovery of many a decent drinking opportunity in Paris should come as no surprise; Paris has pedigree. Just ask Ernest Hemingway, who spent more than a few of his formative years drinking here, and even created a cocktail for himself. Death in the Afternoon did exactly what it said on the tin by infusing two of his most adored drinks: absinthe and Champagne.

A similar blend of appreciation and experimentation can be found in Paris cocktails today, not least in the new wave of excellent bars that have earned global recognition. Key protagonists in the city’s most recent chapter of bars include Romee de Goriainoff with Olivier Bon and Pierre Charles Cross, who set up the hugely successful Experimental Cocktail Club. Blending classic charm with contemporary creations, they alerted resident Parisians to the wonders of mixed drinks, and encouraged the rest of the world to consider the city’s quality cocktail landscape.

The Paris Bar show has now become a mainstay on the bar industry’s calendar, with leading lights Eric Fossard and Thierry Daniel establishing one of the best events available to bartenders. Heritage has been a crucial component in the revolution in bar culture here, with an eye fixed on classic cocktails, but this new global focus on the city has inspired innovation too. The team behind Experimental, for example, has pushed the boundaries further and now includes bars such as Curio in its stable, where Arthur Combe mixes cocktails.

“When it comes to Paris, first of all, people are looking for an atmosphere, a place where they feel good,” says Arthur. “After that, people like simple things, and quality, so fresh fruits, first-class spirits.

“People are very into Pisco and Tequila. Maybe the fact that great new things are available has something to do with that, or maybe it is just because bartenders like me love using spirits like this!”

Brand pioneers such as Xavier Padovani, formerly of Hendrick’s, have helped categories such as gin to shine in the city. And obviously vodka does here what vodka does all over, ticking the boxes, making the money. But native tipples are coming back into fashion.

Cognac, absinthe and music

Cognac’s reliance on exports is well documented, but venues in Paris exhibit a lot of affection for the spirit. Indeed, bartenders such as Arthur and his peers have a host of exceptional drinks on their lists using it as a base.

Absinthe too is held in high regard, although perhaps encountered more as an additional ingredient than as the base of the drink, but certainly the leading bar professionals are keen to showcase the extraordinary drinks heritage enjoyed by city and country alike. And the commitment to quality in the French capital hasn’t gone unnoticed by other European bartenders, with the city recently attracting the attentions of some British stalwarts.

Tony Conigliaro, of 69 Colebrooke Row and Zetter Townhouse fame, has set his sights on Paris, with his talented bartender and operations manager Marcis Dzelzainis overseeing the opening of his new bar here. Le Coq is a collaboration with Eric Fossard and Thierry Daniel and is set to pay homage to the 1970s. Says Marcis: “The cocktail scene is very fresh and vibrant. We’ve made quite a few trips over there in the last couple of years and we’ve always been impressed by the new guard, both in terms of food and drink. What chefs like Inaki Aizpitarte were doing in terms of precise, simple, clean flavours really resonated with our approach to drink-making.

“It’s a city that has changed a lot in the last four to five years. There’s a good music scene and the drinks and food side of things have come into their own. What I love about Paris is that it’s a city you have to work at; it doesn’t reveal itself in an immediate way. You have to walk and talk to people to get to know it.”

Which are Paris’s leading bars? Find out on the next page…

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