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Friday, March 28, 2008

Wednesday Cocktail Adventure: le Fumoir

For searching convenience, I've cut and pasted my earlier entries from eGullet before my blog existed, so there are no photos for these first few:

le Fumoir
6, Rue de l'Amiral Coligny
75001 Paris

Everyone seems to love le Fumoir . But, as my second try for Wednesday Night Cocktail Adventures, it didn’t knock out the Experimental Cocktail Club as my favorite so far.

When I walked in on Wednesday, I remembered why everyone likes it so much – it’s got great atmosphere. There’s a big, welcoming bar greeting you as soon as you walk in and tables, booths and couchy-things scattered about. The restaurant area further back looks comfy, fun and smells good. If you get the nice spot with the red (fake leather?) sofa you can relax and feel like you’re in a place where you should get good cocktails and good conversation. You’ve already got a good start for cocktails in Paris when “a martini” on the drinks menu means a classic martini (with their 3 variations) instead of a glass of sweet vermouth over ice. (note: I’m not disparaging sweet vermouth over ice as a common French apero - but this search is about finding a typical gin/vermouth martini)

While as I said, I don’t believe in testing my bartender and expecting him to know just what I want, I also don’t want to be that annoying jerk at crowded bar who is constantly telling him what to do. And (being happy hour!) the bar was crowded. So, I just ordered a standard martini. I was surprised when it arrived within minutes (making me wonder if it had been sitting at the bar already? Prepoured?) it was too crowded for such speedy service. The martini (served with olives) was pretty good – nice proportion of gin/vermouth (which was specified with their three classic martini choices) although not as chilled as I would like. I asked what gin they used – it was the house, which is Gordons.

I followed my martini with an old fashioned. Then, (ignoring my two drink plan) followed that with a side car. However, the fact that I still felt pretty decent (read: sober) after three drinks, made me wonder how watered down the second & third drinks may have been. The old fashioned was good. But, the sidecar wasn’t really that great – lots of citrus mixer in it. (I drink a lot of sidecars…so the difference may not be so apparent to someone who doesn’t like them as much) But, considering that, I still enjoyed the cocktails there – especially at the 6.50 Euros happy hour price. For anyone who just generally likes cocktails (but isn’t a high maintenance cocktail aficionado) it’s a good spot to stop for a drink. Non-happy hour prices were about double, and I have a feeling that outside of the that time, you might get more of an opportunity to let the bartender make you exactly what you want (and they have the appropriate spirits and equipment to do so, so I wouldn’t write it off as a nice cocktail bar!) And, I have to say: what we got, was well-made, it’s just that they didn’t do it exactly as I would have. Also of note, the service was very good (they were helpful about moving chairs and tables around to accommodate us, answering questions, speedy orders)

My fellow-testers ordered several different drinks as well, but the only thing I really noted was that the margarita was pretty decent and the Green Dancer (I think that was the name) was too minty for my taste. (and just for someone else’s perspective – besides mine - they all really enjoyed it)

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Thursday, March 27, 2008

Wednesday Cocktail Adventure: Experimental Cocktail Club

For searching convenience, I've cut and pasted my earlier entries from eGullet before my blog existed, so there are no photos for these first few:

Experimental Cocktail Club
37 rue St Sauveur
Paris 75002

For my first Wednesday Cocktail Adventure, I decided on the aptly named Experimental Cocktail Club. I hadn’t heard anything about this place, and didn’t have high hopes, but I was immediately surprised. This small bar, with dark heavy curtains, low cushy chairs and sofas, has a lounge-y, relaxed feel. The menu features about 10 different specialty cocktails and a selection of whisk(e)ys, bourbons, and ryes (including some interesting looking Japanese whiskeys) As far as I could tell they do not serve beer or wine.

I don’t really believe in testing bartenders’ ESP and expecting them to know exactly how I want my drink. So, when he began to ask questions about how I wanted my martini (which I already see as a plus – he’s not just going to throw something together for me) I explained exactly what I wanted: 1 part vermouth & 4 parts gin. I noticed that they had grapefruit bitters listed as an ingredient in another drink, so I asked for a drop or two of that as well. The martini was stirred, the glass was chilled and it was very nice, indeed. Another thing I especially appreciated was his avoiding an upsell on me. Their house gin is Plymouth (I believe – I’ll check my notes which are elsewhere and edit if that’s not correct) but I had asked for a step up from the house. After a bit of thought, he, instead, suggested that with the addition of the bitters the house would work better. (which leads me to believe he was putting some serious thought into how the drink would taste) My second drink was off the menu – a Chicago Fizz – and also very nice.

Some other things that raise this bar in my estimation: They stock a variety of bitters. They have a selection of uncommon and interesting brands of spirits. When the bartender ’t answer a question about some of their ryes listed, he made a point to get the answer during the evening and came over to give me the information before I left.

Thus, my low expectations were completely surpassed. For the quality, service and careful preparation, I’d gladly go back. And, as a bonus, the cocktails were very reasonably priced by high end Parisian cocktail standards. (10 – 12 Euros) The bartender/owner said he doesn’t believe that there is another place in Paris that is putting as much conscious thought into their cocktails – with the exception of hotel bars where you are going to pay much more. (and, from my current experience, I’d agree with that…although future Wednesdays will tell)

It’s worth noting that I was there early evening on a week night. After talking to the owner, I get the impression that the weekend nights turn into more of a loungey/hipster vibe and the crowd is less interested in high end cocktails than listening to the DJ while downing vodka crans. So, while for cocktail purposes I might avoid it at those times, the others who were with me are looking forward to checking it out on the weekend for the music and atmosphere.

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Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Wedensday Cocktail Adventure: Harry's

For searching convenience, I've cut and pasted my earlier entries from eGullet before my blog existed, so there are no photos for these first few:

5, Rue Daunou
75002 Paris
Tel : 01 42 61 71 14

For most of my (drinking) life I didn’t think I liked gin. That was until I discovered it’s actually tonic that I don’t like. So, since then, I’ve been enjoying a good martini. However – even back when I wasn’t drinking gin – it always bothered me when someone asked if you want vodka or gin in response to a request for a martini. So, when the bartender at Harry’s asked me “vodka or gin” I had to remember that it’s my own personal semantics issue (things should mean what they are supposed to mean!) and a reflection of what patrons order that made him ask and not necessarily his skill as a bartender.

Come to think of it, I probably could have done better at Harry’s than I did. I sat there and watched him make the martini – chilling the glass with ice, stirring the ingredients – and thinking “gee, I wish he would have put more than a couple of drops of vermouth in that pitcher of Beefeater” (when what I should have done is just asked him to add more – why I didn’t, I don’t know – it had been a long day). He topped it off with a lemon twist. The martini was good, and he seemed to know what he was doing – I just should have been more assertive about what I wanted.

The others arrived and we followed with a round of (what else at Harry’s?) bloody marys. The bloody mary’s are good – I prefer mine a bit spicier (again easily rectified by just asking). My fellow drinkers really liked them, but bemoaned the lack of “stuff” in them (celery, etc) and a neighbor complained that it had too much of the “brown stuff” (Worcestershire, I imagine?)

Again, like le Fumoir, this is a bar that is equipped to make what you want and can put out a good cocktail. But, again, this one didn’t impress me from a cocktail perspective as much as the Experimental (where you get the impression that the person behind the bar is not just willing, but interested in discussing the cocktail and its creation and the various ingredients to give you exactly what you want)

But from a non-drink perspective, you can’t discount the history of Harry’s , the great space and the sheer popularity of the place for Bloody Mary’s. (although I’m not really sure if the bloody mary was really invented here or not…perhaps someone else has more information on that, but everything I find is conflicting)

So, in short, I’d go back and enjoy a drink. At 12 Euros a cocktail, it’s fair – but not cheap.

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Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Wednesday Cocktail Adventure: Murano

NOTE: For searching convenience, i'm cutting and pasting my earlier entries from eGullet before my blog existed, so there are no photos for these first few & these are not recent entries - i just thought it would be better for them to all be in one place...just some housekeeping!:

3, Boulevard du Temple,
Paris 75003 (note: in a few websites the address is listed as 13 – but that’s a typo online, not mine – it is number 3)

When a drinks menu lists regular old Johnny Walker at 16 Euros a shot, you already know you’re paying in big part for atmosphere in addition to the booze. And, the Murano does deliver atmosphere. You walk into open, bright lobby with spacey, modern chairs and a decorative (yet functional) ‘fireplace’ that runs the entire length of one wall. This first seating area seems a bit sterile, but still modern and hip. Passing into the bar proper area, it’s dimmer, but colorful and modern with flashy videos playing on the wall behind the bar.

A few reviews I read told me that this is where the beautiful people drink. Apparently, that means the beautiful people with cash, because the drinks are, on average, 20 Euros. Here, I had no qualms ordering my martini exactly to specification. Their house gin is Bombay Sapphire, which I didn’t bother changing, since I haven’t changed from the house on any of my other martini excursions (and somehow I like that consistency). It came, just as I ordered, nice a cold and with an olive. But, for 19 Euros, I pretty much expected it to come just as I had ordered. My fellow drinkers had a couple of froufy fruity drinks. I don’t remember the names, but they were basically hyped up fruit juice with lots of fancy cut and splayed fruits and accessories. They also brought a small selection of upscale munchies – this is not a peanuts-in-a-ramekin bar – you get little dips and pizza-like bites.

The service was top notch. I was talking to the waiter about martinis, telling him I was on a quest for good ones. His first question: “have you been to the experimental cocktail club?” (So far this still remains my top choice for an excellent price/quality value)

I can be a sucker for cute little gimmicky things – like their bloody mary ‘degustation’, which is three small bloody marys made with red, green and yellow(?) tomato juice. I probably would have tried that for my next drink(s), but neither of my drinking partners wanted to stay for the usual second round. Even with the uber-chic ambience, they didn’t feel like the price was worth the experience.

And, personally, while I don’t have a problem with paying a little more for the whole package, the Murano is a little too out of the way for me and a little too expensive to trek all the way there for cocktails on a regular basis, even if they were nice. (, if you’re a big vodka fan this might be your place as they specialize in it and have a really wide range.

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