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Monday, December 8, 2008

Wednesday Cocktail Adventure: Hôtel Plaza Athénée

Hôtel Plaza Athénée
25 avenue Montaigne
75008 Paris
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.

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9 Comments:

Blogger Wendy said...

LOL!!!

Hey and don't forget the area around avenue Montaigne- especially this time of year it's beautiful no?

You should tell them to offer the absinthe drink that is flamed and then the fumes are sucked out with a straw!

December 10, 2008 at 5:34 PM  
Blogger Forest said...

LOL! That has to have been one of the worst drinks we've ever tried!

Yep - was supposed to hit that area last night but got sidetracked into another bar which I'll post about later.

See you soon!!!

December 11, 2008 at 12:56 AM  
Blogger J.T. said...

26 euros a drink? Is that standard in Paris?

December 19, 2008 at 5:31 PM  
Blogger Forest said...

hey James! No...it's very expensive. Nice hotel bars will be over 20 Euros a drink (but this is one of the more expensive hotel bars - up with the Ritz). That's why I was so pleasantly surprized by L'Hotel with a menu of around 14 Euros. It seems that you have cocktails in three ranges in Paris. 5-7 for "cocktail" bars..I haven't found much that I think is great in this price range, but you get a lot of drinks in pint glasses, etc. (although I have found a few) 12-14 I've found some good stuff here. and 20+ which are almost always good, but I find a bit hard to justify the price when I can find something else in the mid-range that is just as good. Looking forward to trying some of your Japan recs!

December 20, 2008 at 2:35 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i remember that i mentioned the Plaza in one of your posts. last time i was there i had a deadly dessert and my friend a bl****y expensive martini.
i forgot where our martini thread was but in the meantime i have figured out all about Martinis and sadly, the Larousse of cocktails that i was given for Xmas has not done its homework on the subject. Clearly, the ECC has done his and i will never order a dry martini for my boyfriend again, i can still see him gasping for breath while the barlady emptied the vermouth she had just poured into the shaker. unsurprisingly, he complained that he was drinking mostly...gin. (they made me try a gin i had never heard of, Junipero, was quite nice). in the meantime i have found the right mix between noilly prat and gin to please him. funnily enough, for years i thought i did not like gin because it was too bitter but since i make it myself, i realise that liking gin, i have every reason to like a genuine martini!
actually at the EEC, the girl had a really pretty mixing spoon, i have not been able to find one that pretty yet.

January 9, 2009 at 9:32 AM  
Blogger Forest said...

Hi Columbine (it's an anonymous post, but I'm assuming it's you...if not, sorry Anonymous!)

Glad you four a good mix for the boyfriend! I, too, for a long time thought I didn't like gin due to badly made drinks and the fact that I really don't like tonic.

ECC does have some nice barware. i was down there awhile ago and my friend with me was in love with some of the glasses. The bartender was really nice and wrote down where he could find them. I'll be there tomorrow night and will ask about the spoons!

Let me know if you become a martini convert! :)

January 9, 2009 at 10:32 AM  
Anonymous columbine said...

yes, sorry, it was me, forgot to fill all the boxes

January 9, 2009 at 1:17 PM  
Blogger Forest said...

no worries...just wanted to make sure I was talking to who I thought i was! have a good weekend!

January 9, 2009 at 1:27 PM  
Blogger Forest said...

Columbine:

BTW, I asked at Experimental and they buy their bar spoons at A Simone. (www.simon-a.com)

January 16, 2009 at 11:53 PM  

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