Wednesday Cocktail Adventure: Hôtel Plaza Athénée
25 avenue Montaigne
Tel: +33 1 53 67 66 65
The Emperor's not wearing any clothes! Okay, I'm exaggerating. A bit. Or perhaps I'm just jaded. I've said it before: nice hotel bars are nice - indulgently nice. Whether you've got the classic, book-lined walls, cozy chairs and "gentlemen will be retiring here shortly for cigars and old boys' networking" feel or, at the other end of the decor spectrum, the modern Starck-designed or inspired space, they're bound to be impressive from a decor stand point. But, it takes something more than just stellar surroundings to move me.
Designed by Starck protege, Patrick Jouin, the bar Plaza Athénée veers towards the modern. Funky industrial touches like tiny metallic chandeliers and a glowing white counter prevail in this dimly lit venue. Without having been offered a drinks menu, I replied to my bartender's question on what I wanted with my usual Wednesday reply. Two substantial glasses of nibbles arrived: olives and nuts. I looked away for about 30 seconds and in some sort ofcocktailian slight of hand, my drink was in front of me before I even realized he had started it making it. I somehow found this slightly confusing. Watching him make several drinks, I noted, he is, indeed, fast.
I think it's odd when an upscale bar doesn't offer you a cocktail menu before taking your order. I asked for one and was given a digital photo frame, with which I could electronically flip from "page" to "page" with one of a few small buttons. Fun and modern, yes. But, I found it to be a hassle every time a new person tried scrolling through it only to press the wrong button and 'lose' the menu. I think they could achieve the same effect with something just a little more user friendly.
The reason I turned my radar towards the Plaza Athénée was their fancy "jello shots" and a few other signature "drinks". When Matt & Co joined me, we decided to order one of these unusual concoctions, each. In addition to the jello shots, they have Fashion Ices, Mists & Fresh Fruit Martinis. The waiter suggested that instead of ordering one of these each, that we order a "normal" round of drinks and just get a couple of the fun things for the table. That seems like reasonable advice, but now instead of ordering 5 drinks, we've been convinced to order 7. At 26 Euros a drink, that's a substantial up-sell!
Regardless, I had high hopes for the more interesting offerings. The jello shots comprise three rows of three tiny cocktail-flavoured gelatin blocks presented in the to be expected stylishly cool manner (think ice & neon lights). The B52's jello shots are always on offer. The other two rows rotate on a monthly basis, with the bartenders taking turns to create new flavors. The B52's were cute with their multicolored layers. The ginger martini was too boozy for me. The passion fruit and vodka tasted like SoCo. Following the "shots" the "mojito mists" we ordered were an even bigger disappointment. A plate of wafers arrived accompanied by what looked like a small spray tube of breath freshener. This flavored alcohol is meant to be sprayed directly on the wafers or in your mouth before and after you eat them. While I was loving the idea of something fun, new and different, I was not at all impressed with the flavor of this invention. The wafers tasted like a cheap peppermint candy that I associate with eating at grandmothers' homes that sort of chunkily melts away in your mouth. (I am not explaining these well, but if you've had these particular candies, you will know what I mean) The spray tasted like...well, nothing interesting...mildly boozy water? I loved the idea of trying something new and fun, but i seriously don't think the tastes were working for these. I hate a gimmick just for the sake of being different, but not because it's better or more interesting.
Overall, the Plaza Athénée is fabulous. The regular cocktails are top-notch. The service is excellent. The bartenders are hot. The atmosphere is hipster cool. But, it just strikes me as a place people go to buy hipness - as opposed to people like me who can't afford to buy that kind of hipness on a regular basis and just have to earn it the old fashioned way.