Saturday, March 3, 2012
Thursday, January 19, 2012
Tiki Cocktail Adventures: Tiki Lounge
26 bis rue de la Fontaine au Roi
Since 1931 when Ernest Raymond Beaumont Gantt aka Don the Beachcomber set up the first tiny tiki joint in Hollywood, this kitschy culture has been injecting a bit of South Pacific fun into cocktails and given birth to some of world’s most notorious rum based drinks like the mai tai and the Zombie. Tiki style bars and drinks have experienced a resurgence over the past several years with hotspots like PKNY (New York) and - my favorite - Smugglers Cove (San Francisco) garnering international attention for their transcendent tiki drinks. This month Paris has finally taken to the trend with its first dedicated tiki bar: Tiki Lounge.
Tiki Lounge is kitted out with all the appropriate decor details: masks and carvings, creaky rattan furniture, and ceramic mugs. Blowfish lamps hang from the ceiling alongside glass floats. On the night of my visit, a few customers sat at the small thatched bar chatting with the friendly owners while south seas sounding music - with a bit of Tom Waits thrown into the mix - played in the background.
Thanks to the tiki theme, the menu diverges from the usual multiple vodka-based choices and features mainly rum. While they do offer a few things like caipis, mojitos and cosmos, the nine tiki options are front and center. All but two are rum-based, with the exceptions being a Waikiki Breeze with tequila and an Eastern Sour with whisky. Most of their classic tiki cocktails like the mai tai, missionary's downfall and pina colada mainly adhere to simplified standard recipes. Drink prices are 8 Euros and drop to 5.5 Euros during the 18h - 20h30 happy hour.
I started with one of tiki's most familiar and debated drinks: the mai tai (theirs contains two types of rum, orgeat and 'citrus.') While this isn't the exact recipe I might use, I was pleasantly surprised. Based on experience I was preparing for an overly sweet alcohol masking mix. But, you could taste the rum through the light touch of orgeat and citrus and I enjoyed it (espeically at happy hour price). They also offer their own "Tiki Lounge Mai Tai" which includes pineapple juice and grenadine. I was less impressed with the tequila based Waikiki Breeze and I was really hoping one of my drinks would have come in a coconut shell or tiki mug. While we were sampling, the crowd was growing and an hour or so later, the place was busy with a hipstamatic young crowd who were probably grooving on the themed vibe as much as (or more than?) the drinks.
Thanks to the friendly atmosphere and novel (to Paris) ambience, I enjoyed my visit. However, I think there are some areas where they could amp things up the drinks front. I'd like to see their current offering of 5 rums bumped up. I think a more extensive offering of tiki drinks diverging from just the most popular ones could be interesting. And, just for fun, I’d like to see their bar munchies move from crisps, carrots and dip to something more theme-appropriate.
From a strictly drinks perspective, the Tiki Lounge can't compete with some of the internationally known big boys of tikidom or even some of the bars in town like Prescription or Curio who occasionally feature a tiki option on menu and have the range of rums and necessary ingredients to pull them off with aplomb. But for nightcrawlers seeking the whole tiki experience – deco and all - this is currently the only place in town to get it. It may be just baby steps, but it is a valid start to the tiki trend in Paris.
Friday, January 13, 2012
Gentlemen's Club Cocktail Adventures: Jefrey's
14, Rue St Sauveur
Even though Jefrey’s was freshly opened when I stopped in, I’ve been sitting on the post for awhile because I wasn’t immediately inspired. Since I've written about it for other sites it’s time to get inspired to give the full rundown with the nit-picking reign that only having my own blog allows.
Boldly placed just steps away from the well-established Experimental Cocktail Club, Jefrey’s touts itself as a speakeasy type gentlemen’s club. The interior looks promising: dim and sexy, small and intimate with deep purple velour sofas, comfortable arm chairs and elegant touches like the vintage seltzer bottles and cut-glass decanters. However, it does seem to be a gentlemen’s club that wants no fatties at the bar as the bar chairs are the tightest I’ve ever squeezed my bum into. An inch more ass and I would have needed the assistance of the pretty hostess plus a barman or two to pry my butt out of it.
At the time of my visit the menu featured a selection of cocktails in the mid-teens price range, including standards like the obligatory cosmo and house creations that feature a lot of fresh fruit and flavored syrups. Some are divided into ‘for him’ and those ‘for her.’ My martini was competently made, yet slightly warm, and came with simple savory cracker bites. I followed up with a margarita, which if memory serves, was nice enough. The spirits selection is somewhat small but with a few nice choices. While I take issue with the vodka heavy selection, I have no real gripe with the way the drinks are made.
My main issue is that the whole operation feels a bit superficial. My understanding is that the owner(s) is a finance guy from London who wanted to open a ‘speakeasy’ in Paris. An external agency was brought in to temporarily staff the bar and get things running. And, I think that shows through. They’re doing business as usual with nice enough drinks that will appeal to a wider audience who are looking for ‘classy’ cocktails rather than more challenging fare. They’re not going any deeper than making accessible drinks cleverly disguised as something more innovative.
This is the type of bar where you can buy your booze by the bottle. One thing I really like is the gorgeous display case where customers can store their purchased bottles. These little touches dress the place up and it will definitely appeal to a large portion of the drinking population in Paris looking for a sexy stop to sip. If you’re not a highly demanding quaffer, you’ll enjoy a visit. But, I personally find it a little soulless.
Saturday, December 24, 2011
Cocktail Shopping Adventures: LMDW Fine Spirits
6 carrefour de l'Odéon
Since opening its doors a little over a year ago, the LMDW Fine Spirits has established itself as the premier spirits shop in Paris. Always a good bet for hard to find alcohols; this is one of my favorite stops for a bit of boozy shopping. And, now they’ve got something new to boast about with their recent foray into aged cocktails.
LMDW Fine Spirits is a slick and modern three level bottle shop run by a knowledgeable team of spirits experts and enthusiasts. With a range of over 1,500 different offerings (including a large selection of bitters), capable staff and sampling opportunities, it’s hard to get out of here without dropping a bit of cash.
More than just a high-end boutique, LMDW Fine Spirits actively engages with their clientele through both paid and free events and tastings for new or unusual spirits. Their Cocktail Corners – brand-sponsored ephemeral bars – give customers a chance not just to discover different products, but see how they might be used in cocktails.
And in keeping with recent cocktail trends to hit Paris, they are now offering aged cocktails. Although this is not the first we’ve seen of aged cocktails in Paris – newcomer L’Entree des Artistes is doing it as well – this is the first time we’re seeing them for sale by the bottle or barrel.
They’ve just tapped the first batch of various cocktails which includes classics such as Martinez, Manhattans and Negronis as well as new creations like the Harvard and Botzaris. The five liter rum and cognac barrels come from Pierre Ferrand. The finished product can be purchased by the bottle or barrel – which I think would be a fun way to go for a classy cocktail party at home. For those who want to try their hand at aged cocktails, I believe you can purchase the barrel and get enough input to give it a serious go.
Overall LMDW Fine Spirits is my go to for when I’m looking for the whole cocktail shopping experience: large selection, dependable advice and excellent service all wrapped up in a pretty package.
Thursday, December 8, 2011
Snow Globe Cocktail Adventures: Hilton Bubble Bar
51 rue de Courcelles
For some festive fun, the Hilton Arc de Triomphe has installed a Tattinger sponsored ephemeral champagne bar in their courtyard. From 1 December to 15 January guests can enjoy swank sipping inside a snow globe.
In this unseasonably warm winter, faux snow and Christmas trees add a welcome holiday feel. Within, it's a white, light, bright winter wonderland. Fake fur throws cover ample sofas and warming rugs are tucked beneath each table in case you need something extra cozy under which to snuggle.
For this type of operation, I appreciate the simplicity of the one and only drinking option: Champagne. There are three choices: Tattinger Brut Reserve (20 Euros), Tattinger Rose (21 Euros) or Tattinger Brut Millesime (28 Euros). For a few Euros extra, add on the "bulle fraicheur" (barsnack in a ball.) On my visit the bulle was a bread stick wrapped in a thin slice of duck breast on a generous mound of mascarpone dip.
The space holds a maximum of 35 guests at a time and has a no-reservations policy. Going at opening (18h00) means you'll enjoy the place in relative peace. Later it gets livelier with larger groups - and more fun with sound. The acoustics of the bubble are those of a whispering gallery: every conversation is amplified and sounds moves about the space in strange ways. Friendly doormen carefully monitor entries and exits via the two door system to make sure one door remains closed at all times. Apparently if both doors are open at once, the dome deflates!
So, if you need a holiday spirit hit, this is it.
Friday, December 2, 2011
Old Fav Cocktail Adventures: Prescription Cocktail Club
Prescription Cocktail Club
23 rue Mazarine
Tel: 01 46 34 67 73
One of the reasons I write about nearly every place I visit - whether good or bad - is that I don’t want readers to assume that if a bar is not on the blog it's bad by default. But there's been an omission on my blog for much too long, which I must rectify because 52 martinis is not complete without it: Prescription Cocktail Club.
I visited Paris’ third ECC bar shortly after it opened and was pleased to see they maintained the same level of quality and service as their first two ventures (Experimental Cocktail Club and Curio Parlor.) I sidled up to the bar often and chatted with charming and capable bar staff - frequently staying much later than I had initially planned. So how could it be that after so many visits I hadn't garnered material for a post? The fact is I kept it as a go-to spot where I could kick back with a cocktail and leave the notes and picture taking behind.
And that's what makes Prescription so enjoyable. The trio behind this bar has long-established their cocktail cred so there's no need to constantly survey the service - all you need to do is sit back and trust that your drink will be well-executed whether a classic vieux carré made with Rittenhouse or a new creation. The menu also gives a nod to well-established cocktail notables with drinks like the Gin Gin Mule à la Audrey Saunders as well as offering up a selection of finger foods.
In fact, the group behind this bar has so successfully established their cocktail credibility that they've branched out into other highly competitive drinking markets with a cocktail bar in London, another in New York and, recently, a fourth Paris venue exclusively for wine.
Prescription oozes the same lounge lover style as their other spots. While the downstairs bar is the perfect place to pull up a stool and watch the bartenders work, the upstairs holds a second bar hidden behind a bookshelf to cater to the bigger crowds on busier nights (and things do get much busier late night and weekends.) Dim lighting and cool decor transport patrons to a clandestine hideaway where it's easy to forget the outside world and responsibilities - even enjoyable ones like writing about said cocktail bar.
So, although there are plenty of pretty fresh faces turning heads on the Paris cocktail scene at the moment, that doesn't mean that a faithful old companion doesn't deserve some attention.
Tuesday, November 29, 2011
Gin Bar Cocktail Adventures: Le Parc Trocadero Hotel
When I began my martini-fueled adventures there was no serious cocktail culture to speak of in Paris. Having long given up hope of finding a decent mixed drink, I subsisted on French wine when out and mixing my own when at home. My first recorded foray into serious spirits imbibing began – fittingly - with the Experimental Cocktail Club. Having recently opened at the time, these boys were at the forefront of the capital’s cocktail culture revival. Several years later, both 52 martinis and the Paris cocktail scene have evolved (for the better in both cases, I hope!)
Now, there are more worthy cocktail bars than I can visit on a regular basis. And I’m seeing additions that wouldn’t have been considered four years ago such as bars not only stocking but also showcasing spirits like gin. The Renaissance Paris Le Parc Trocadero Hotel has recently undergone a remodel and unveiled the first and only self-proclaimed gin bar in Paris. Of course I had to check it out.
The hotel reopened its doors last April after 4 months of renovation that resulted in the award of a fifth star. On entering the lobby bar, one does feel as if it’s just been revamped. It’s clean, modern and non-fussy but still manages to flirt with a bit of fun. Cheeky green armchairs and shiny surfaces offset more traditional paintings and low-key sofas. As with many hotel bars, lighting is bright. But, those looking for something more relaxed or romantic can move to the lovely leafy courtyard terrace year-round with its heat lamps and charming ambience.
I don’t know if it’s intentional, but the featured gin, G’Vine, reflects the décor with its green and grey tinged bottles of G’Vine Floraison and Nouassin. Oversized bottles of both sit center stage on the back bar and empties decorate various corners. A closer look at the other bottles at the bar indicates a definite bent towards the juniper with 20+ brands on offer. They’ve got the usual suspects (Gordon’s, Tanqueray, Bombay), the latest darlings (Monkey 47, Gin Mare) as well as one I don’t know (Topfergeist Peket.) Is that a gin or genever? The bottle looks like genever, but when I look it up it says gin. I’ll look into that more later. Anyway…
Prices range from 14 to 16 Euros. The standard cocktail menu features four classics based on a range of spirits and a suggested alternative for each. The classic dry martini has a recommended variation of the cucumber gin martini (Hendrick’s, cucumber juice and lemon juice.) I think this is a fun idea but I only got it from paying close attention to the cocktail list. I wonder if the regular costumer would even notice and might need more of a “If you like this, try this…” approach on the menu.
Next up are the ‘signature drinks’ which all feature French gins (either G’Vine, Citadelle or Magellan.) Teacher’s pet seems to be the Flower Power @ le Parc (jasmine infused G’Vine Flourison, Saint Germain, rose syrup and lemon.) Once again, I don’t know if this is intentional but the name is very similar to the already established Flower Power cocktail from Simon Difford (also gin and St Germain based).
In short, it’s a good start for a gin bar. However if I were really angling to corner the mothers’ ruin market, I’d put more gin-based drinks on the menu. But, the staff tells me there are plans to expand both the menu and the gin selection. It should be noted that bar manager, Axel Ginepro, was not in-house when I made my visit and I think that fact made some of the teething pains more evident.
For example, I ordered the Dry Martini (listed on the menu) and initially got a margarita (which was immediately changed when I pointed this out). Also, the dry martini on the menu is listed with “French gin” but no specification of brand. When asked which brand I wanted, I assumed it was made with the featured gin and requested G’Vine. I was then told there would be a supplement for this French gin in my martini. Considering my micro-management of the mixed drink, the bartender was exceedingly friendly. While most likely annoyed by my multiple questions, she never once showed it and gave me the G’Vine martini at the standard price. I was apologetic for being so persnickety and I meant it. I imagine most guests order drinks, take what they’re given and appreciate the attentive service
over dishes of truffled cashews. But from an admittedly attentive customer’s perspective: if you’re going to call yourself a gin bar, step up!
Notwithstanding, I do think this an interesting and exciting project. But in order to capitalize on that, more staff training and expansion are in order. Otherwise, it’s just a nice hotel bar with excellent service that just happens to have a lot of gin on hand. I get it. We all have to start somewhere. And, just as hopefully both this blog and the Paris cocktail scene have grown into something more substantial with time, so will le Parc’s gin bar.