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Thursday, July 17, 2008

Wednesday Cocktail Adventure: le Train Bleu

le Train Bleu
Gare de Lyon

There's something about a combination of splendor and decline that attracts me. Several weeks ago, someone invited me for a drink & suggested le Train Bleu as a meeting spot. This person scored major points for location - I love le Train Bleu. I love that this restaurant is tucked away in the Gare de Lyon & you have no idea of the over-the-top, old-school splendor hidden inside behind the bright bleu neon sign above the entrance. I love the painted & guilded ceilings, the numerous huge comfy chairs grouped in cozy, private arrangments, and the massive chandelier lighting. I even love the fact that my friend told me she saw a mouse there when she had lunch a few months ago. Le Train Bleu (built in 1900!) transports you to a fantastic & historic space. But, as much as I enjoy le Train Bleu, I would never eat there. And, as of last Wednesday, I will never order another cocktail there.

The first thing I noticed on the drinks menu is the statement that all cocktails are made with a base of concentrated fruit juice. Below the fruit juice disclaimer, 8 cocktail suggestions are offerred at 14 Euros each, includinig a Manhattan, Margarita and the epynomous Train Bleu (made with blue curacao & raspberry infused vodka). A classic martini was not on the menu and here's what I got when I ordered one:

1/2 warm Bombay Sapphire and 1/2 warm Noilly Pratt (neither shaken, nor stirred, nor garnished & served in a highball glass). Matt ordered a Train Bleu, which actually turns out to be more of a green color and, as I commented, tastes like fruit punch or Koolaid. Matt ameneded "but bad." And, "Bad Koolaid" is not a cocktail compliment. Violaine, who also joined us, ordered a more traditional French apero of Italian Martini sweet vermouth and probably was the most successful pick of the bunch even though she felt there was too much ice. We sipped our drinks while munching on decent bar snacks (olives, pickled garlic cloves & peanuts) but opted out of the usual second round. I'd say these were the two worst cocktails we've had on our search. But, as Matt and I agreed, even the "unsuccessful" nights are an enjoyable part of the cocktail adventures.

That said, i still love le Train Bleu and recommend a visit. Skip the 20 Euros club sandwiches and definitely pass on the cocktails. But, appreciate this truly impressive location over a glass of wine, beer, coffee or tea. As for the tea, they seem to have an extensive collection offered on their specialty tea menu. They offer tea tastings and sell it loose, as well. The coffees, beers and wine all fell within a reasonable price range, for the location, of 5 to 10 Euros (with one exception of a glass of Saint Emilion Grand Cru Chateau l'Hermitage Lescour at 12.50 Euros) So despite my horrendous martini, go there. Just don't order the cocktails and watch out for rodents.

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Friday, July 11, 2008

Wednesday Cocktail Adventures: Curio Parlor

Curio Parlor
16 rue des Bernardins

You know when you first fall for someone and you think everything they do is great? That's how I'm feeling about the guys behind the Experimental at the moment. So, I was looking forward to this week's cocktail adventure to their newly opened second bar, Curio Parlor, heart warm with my school girl crush.

Initially, we walked right past the unassuming and unmarked door. After backtracking, finding the correct number and entering, it was clearly a bar in the ECC family with its dim lighting, funky decor, ambient music, and velour seating. The walls are stone & there is a sexy little nook, which is sort of curtained off from the rest of the small bar offering a somewhat more private space. The downstairs was full of customers watching a movie, so I didn't explore down there as much. We arrived just after opening (21h00) and the bar was already buzzing with a good little crowd.

The drinks menu is different than that of the Experimental, offering ten specialty drinks such as the Aragua Tiki, vodka-based Strawberry Field, and the Pisco Pineapple. The prices, however, remained true to their range of 10 - 12 Euros. My first round Plymouth martini with a dash of angostura and a lemon twist was excellent. It was perfectly cold (I noticed the bartender stirring it for a good amount of time before serving) Matt started with a Copa Verde (Tequila, bio honey, avocado & lime), which got general approval from the crowd. Also of note, Chris (another semi-regular of the cocktail adventures) ordered a very tasty Manhattan Rye. So nice, in fact, that when Romee, (one of the three owners) mistakenly brought one to the table for one of our party, I snapped it up before he could take it away to change it.

I chatted a bit with him and told him that I had recently been to a few well-known Munich cocktail bars, where the bartenders were singing the praises of the Experimental. He talked about the influences that a few bars in Germany and U.S. bars like Pegu & Flatiron had on their two spots. It's not every day you find a bartender in Paris dropping those names - but the fact that he did confirms my prior impression that these guys have a serious interest in cocktails. I asked him where he got the Bio Luscombe Hot Ginger Beer listed on the menu. I can't really remember, but I believe it's only accessible to industry customers - but I liked its refreshing bite so much, that I followed my Manhattan Rye with a Spiced Mule (rum, ginger, lime, house vanilla sugar & the ginger beer). Yum.

Basically, these guys have taken things (unmarked doors, movie screenings, high-end cocktails) and put them together into a nice, solid drinking experience without the potential pretension or cheese factor that this combination could present. On Wednesday night the crowd seemed friendly and laid back. While I still prefer the Experimental (purely personal preference - no reflection on the quality of the cocktails) I would come back to this great find any time for the well-crafted cocktails at a reasonable price. My only hope is that they keep getting a dedicated and cocktail-enthusiastic crowd so they keep up the fantastic work!

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Sunday, July 6, 2008

Wednesay Cocktail Adventure: Curieux Spaghetti Bar

Curieux Spaghetti Bar
14, Rue Saint Merri
75004 Paris
Tel : 01 42 72 75 97

Okay, I was attracted by the website. Under the heading “Ask my barman” reads: “classic martini.” I assumed that meant they know how to make a martini. But, the night I went apparently that meant “just TRY and ask my barman” Our conversation went something like this:

“Un vrai martini” (this seems to be what a lot of French bar staff understand to be an American-style martini – and I’ve said this before: I’m not knocking a standard French apero of sweet vermouth, it’s just not what I’m seeking out on my Wednesday Cocktail Adventures)

“rouge ou blanc?”

I tried again “martini traditional?”

“rouge ou blanc?”

“Classique martini avec gin”

The lights went on.

The Curieux Spaghetti Bar seems to be THE place to go if you’re male, just out of your teens & ready to get your gay on while bouncing around to loud dance music. And, while I can enjoy a hip, trendy, Marais establishment, it’s not a real cocktail scene. My martini with Gordon’s was drinkable – but not through the big straw they served it with. (I didn’t even try, but to me, there’s something seriously off-putting about sipping a martini through a huge plastic straw…)

I don’t really want to bag on this place, because everyone seemed to be having a great time. But, I had a couple of issues. For one – it wasn’t a fabulous cocktail. For another, it felt like a restaurant (nay, eatery) that you would find in a train station. (Something about the big, bright menus that gave that impression.)

Matt arrived later and we both ordered mojitos, which are heavily advertised on their website and drinkably okay. They were big mojitos, served with lots of sparkling water & probably sure to please a less demanding cocktail crowd at the happy hour price of 6 Euros. They had several variations such as the cranberry “maxi-mojito” that Matt ordered (somewhat refreshing) and the chocolate “maxi-mojito” which I ordered (way too sweet).

My overall impression: it’s right around the corner from the Pompidou – don’t avoid it if you want a large and possibly refreshing mojito with a bowl of spaghetti (served in brightly colored plastic picnic style bowls, which with their school cafeteria feel, only served to underscore the fact that most of the clientele are probably still in the equivalent of high school). But, be prepared for loud music, bright décor, a ‘bouncy’ crowd and fair-to-middlin’ cocktails.

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Saturday, July 5, 2008

Wednesday Cocktail Adventure: Le Forvm Bar

Le Forvm
4, Boulevard Malesherbes
75008 Paris
Tel : 01 42 65 37 86

(1 March 2010 update note: I've recently been back into the forvm and just loving what they are doing right now. Jerome is kicking ass behind the bar. I'm in a bit swamped right now, but I'll be doing an updated post for this as soon as I can get in and take some new pictures. But, go visit those boys for some seriously enjoyable drinks!)

I went to Bar le Forum, prompted by an email from my friend Dayne, asking if I had been and pointing out that it had been nominated by Tales of the Cocktail for 2008 Best Classic Cocktail Bar (also among the list is my current favorite Paris cocktail bar: Experimental Cocktail Club.) I have to say I am a tiny bit surprised that it was on the nomination list – mainly because it seems a good cocktail bar for Paris – but that list pretty much covers the world. Now, my impression may be a bit skewed because normally I sit at the bar where I can watch, question and interact if possible. This time the group of 7 or so was larger than usual (including friends, Paul and Lauren, who joined us all the way from Seattle for this Cocktail Adventure) so we sat at a large table away from the bar. So, being happily involved with my friends, I’m sure I wasn’t as attentive to the bar going-ons as usual.

Le Forum has an old-boys’ school feel with its scattering of comfy armchairs, dark wood, low tables and cozy corners. I loved the two old juke boxes in the back, although took issue with what I found to be extremely unattractive carpet. (This certainly doesn’t affect the cocktails - I just often wonder why both public transportation upholstery and business carpeting can be found in such horrendous patterns).

Their menu made me giggle (immaturely) over such drinks as the “Pimp Martini” and the “Porn Star Martini” but I opted for the Dry Ten. This was pretty much a basic martini (Tanquery Ten & Nouilly Pratt) with a grapefruit twist. It was good, but I’ve discovered I’m not so partial to martini’s made with Tanquery Ten. My fellow tasters were generally happy with their various drink and the service was good. For my second round the server brought me something suggested by the bar based on my preferences. (It was gin, house bitters & cassis? I will take better notes next time when I blog so long after the fact!) It was good and I liked the simplicity of not trying to concoct something crazy or distracting me with umbrellas and sparklers.

Overall, at 16 – 18 Euros a drink, I was happy but not over the moon, jumping up and down, impressed by the place. I felt like they were very good, solidly-made cocktails, and did appreciate the interest the server/bartender took in recommending something based on my preferences. However, I feel like I should perhaps give this place another chance and will possibly come back with a glowing review. It’s a good place to check out given the standard of most Parisian cocktail bars and its lower prices relative to upscale hotel bars with good drinks. But, none of the regulars (or semi-regulars) in the group raved about it like they have over a couple of the past places.

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Wednesday Cocktail Adventure: George V

George V
31 Avenue Georges V
75008 Paris
Tel : 01 45 62 33 51

This will be a short post, because there’s not much to say: The George V is one of those bars, where they pretty much have to make good drinks & I’d say that the price you pay is not just for a good drink, but to keep the riff-raff out and for fancy touches like pretty spoon rests and twists in the shape of a "V".

It’s not a place where you are going for a bustling atmosphere, but rather to sip your expensive cocktail, content in the knowledge that you are in an lovely, upscale environment where people are there to serve your smallest need. I enjoyed it, but I’m still really more interested in finding places that exist for the purpose of great cocktails – not just where they make good cocktails to maintain the image of a bigger enterprise.

It’s been awhile (as I said before, I’m behind on my blogging) but I believe my martini (which was very good) was 24 Euros. We sat in the outdoor area, which is beautiful and quiet and offers good people watching. And, all in all this is a pretty lame post, because it’s been some time and I can’t even remember the other drink I ordered. Matt and I were joined by another friend, and we all enjoyed being there, but feel like it’s a bit out of our price range and not enough of a surprise-wow-factor for frequent cocktail visits. But, for a special treat, why not?

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Wednesday Cocktail Adventure: Cocktails in Pint Glasses

The Café Iguana
15, rue de la Roquette
75011 PARIS

I’m a bit behind in my blogging, but that’s probably because I wasn’t particularly inspired by my next bar following La Famille. Sometimes after I go to a place, someone will say “But why did you go there for cocktails?” And, it’s usually a place that I wasn’t particularly impressed with from a cocktail standpoint. But, I do like to make up my own mind & my own cocktail discoveries. Unfortunately, this wasn’t really one of them.

The Iguana Bar is located at the corner of Rue de la Roquette & Rue de Lappe in the busy Bastille. Rue de Lappe is a street jam-packed with bars and in the evenings, groups of tourists roam from door to door of these buzzing establishments. The atmosphere is lively and possibly fun – but I kind of consider it a street for “amateurs”. In full discloser, I haven’t spent a great deal of time there – so, as always, I could be wrong.

The décor is wanna-be-upscale with high ceilings and a grand spiral staircase, which are probably more impressive in the evening when dimmer lights and more cocktails throw a sheen of elegance over it. But, in the daylight at 6:30, the black and red accents made me feel like I had stumbled into a topless dance bar. Their website proclaims that cocktails are king here. So, I sat at the bar and ordered my martini from a very pleasant and friendly bartender. With no discussion on how I wanted it, I got some Bombay and a few drops of vermouth shaken into a glass, followed by actual chunks of ice.

He seemed to do a bit better when we left him to his own devices to surprise us with our second round. He delivered two large (non-fresh) fruit-juice based drinks, telling us that both are great classics when made correctly. Mine was a Shark Bite and Matt’s was a Hurricane. Both were fine – but it gives me the impression that this is a bar where a lot of cocktails are served in pint glasses. Both Matt and I felt like, while it wasn’t a bad place, it just wasn’t as interesting from a cocktail perspective as some of our more recent adventures. But the bar snacks we ordered – a cholesterol raising combination plate of chicken strips, chorizo & nachos - were excellent in that “they’re really bad for you & taste like it” bar food way.

I noticed some The Bitter Truth bitters on the bar & asked the bartender what drinks he used them for. He said he didn’t use them, but apparently the evening shift used them when they were inspired.

Now, I may sound a bit down on the Iguana Bar, but the truth is, I’m not. My overall impression was that I wouldn’t go there for serious cocktails – but Paris isn’t really a city with a large serious cocktail culture. And, I can imagine that if you want big, sweet-ish drinks in pint glasses with lots of fruit juice but without the bothersome taste of alcohol, it could be a lot of fun. With happy hour prices, we paid a very fair 5-ish Euros per drink. They stay open until five, so the draw here is probably more the party atmosphere and perfectly acceptable cocktails for that crowd. Unfortunately, I just feel like I’m getting too old and for that crowd on a regular basis.

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