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Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Wednesday Cocktail Adventure: L'Hotel

13 rue des Beaux Arts
Paris 75006
+33 (0) 1 43 25 64 81

Oscar Wilde’s famous last words, “Either that wallpaper goes or I do” were uttered three floors above the bar in L’Hotel where you can now order a L’Oscar Wilde. Back then it was called Hotel l’Alsace and he stayed there for some time without paying his bill before (bad pun warning) checking out. The current “Oscar Wilde” room is on the first floor and decorated with various Wilde memorabilia.

L’Hotel is a short walk from Saint Germain des Prés and well worth a visit. Nice hotels are nice and serve up nice drinks and nice food. There are lots of nice hotels in Paris. But, I was especially taken by L’Hotel. I’m trying to come up with a name for the décor. So far, I can only say “nouveau old”. It’s one of those places with well upholstered chairs in comfy arrangements, fireplaces, and bookshelves lining the walls. It looks old, but it’s probably not. Sometimes this look works and sometimes it doesn’t. It did for me at L’Hotel. I would have taken more photos, but tonight there was a camera crew filming an historian for a television show, so I couldn’t really wander about snapping away.

I ordered a “Dry Martini” off the menu. The bartender asked me if I wanted vodka or gin (even though the Dry Martini is listed on their menu as “gin and vermouth”.) House gin is Tanqueray. They also had Bulldog, Hayman’s Old Tom gin, G’Vine and Hendrick’s

My nice bar-guy chilled the glass while pouring my gin. He offered me a choice of Martini or N.P. for vermouth (took Nouilly Pratt). He threw in a few drops of Angostura at my request, stirred it up and topped it off with a lemon twist. A small dish of spicy Japanese crunchies came with my drink.

He did a nice job with the martini, but the crunchies were a bad bar snack with the filming. I only ate the small quiet ones since I didn’t want the big ones to interfere with the recording. I sat there – sucking quietly on my nibbles – and took a closer look at the bar. Apparently, cute famous boys drink here. On the wall behind the bar are photos of other celebrity patrons: Johnny Depp, Keanu Reeves, Sean Penn. (At least I think it was Sean Penn - without my glasses and with the glare, I’m not quite sure)

For my second drink I took – how could I not? – the L’Oscar Wilde. I got a glass of Jameson, red vermouth and Angostura bitters. It was garnished with some seriously alcohol-infused cherries and an orange slice. After eating the hot snacks and the killer cherries, my palate was pretty much shot, so it was hard to judge the Oscar Wilde.

After drinks at La Gare last time, which are around the same price as-off-the menu drinks here, I was thoroughly pleased with L ‘Hotel. Non-alcoholic drinks are around 4 – 5 Euros. A martini off the menu is 13 – 14 Euros. (Mine was a few bucks more with the upgrade on vermouth and gin). I’d like to go back and check out the restaurant whose chef worked at the 3 Michelin star Ledoyan previously. The cocktails were solid for Paris, the prices reasonable for a hotel bar, and the atmosphere was cozy and warm. Even though I can’t rate this as one of the best cocktail bars I’ve ever visited, it’s one of my favorites in Paris for now.

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Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Wednesday Cocktail Adventure: La Gare

la Gare
19, Chaussée de la Muette
75016 Paris

This one's too warm. This one's too big. Sometimes I feel like the Goldilocks of martinis. Except I'm not blond and hopefully I won't be mauled by a family of angry bears as a result of my drinking habits. And, unfortunately, there was definitely nothing "just right" about La Gare's martini.

The old Passy La Muette train station in Paris serves as the location for the appropriately named "La Gare" (which means train station.) Two things made me think this place might be suspect from the get go: their website proclaiming they were voted "most trendy" restaurant of 2008 and the fact they had recently been bought out by a large corporate group. But, nevertheless, I soldier on. I enjoy eating and drinking spots that have been converted from different types of venues. This transformation has resulted in an immense dining area on the lower level with artfully lit tables and a friendly, upbeat noisy hum of chatting dinners and sprinting waiters. However, the sheer number of tables was overwhelming to me from a dining standpoint. No matter - my destination was the bar.

The dimly lit bar area with its many low tables and booths is rescued from claustrophobia by the comfortably high ceilings. We sat at the small bar facing a featured bottle of Bombay gin encased in a clear plastic cube lit with tiny white/blue fairy lights, which mildly reminded me of kitschy religious artwork such as neon lit sculptures of Jesus or the virgin Mary found in Mexican flea markets. I ordered the usual and got a large measure of Gordons shaken with much too much dry Martini vermouth. The - now infamous - large Parisian plastic martini straw joined several sizable chunks of lime in my cocktail. After fishing out the unnecessary citrus, my first taste was disappointingly warm and poorly balanced. At any price, this was a bad martini. At 13 Euros, this was a total disappointment. I used it to wash down several baskets of blue potato chips. Matt washed his chips down with a watery cosmopolitan.

For our second round, he and I ordered the Cocktail Station (Grey Goose, Dekuyper Passion Strawberry Schnapps and grenadine) and La Gare (Bombay Sapphire, citrus and cranberry juice and 7 up) respectively. I didn't love either of these decent sized cocktails, so gave up the Cocktail Station to Matt who thought it was the better of the two. The winners for the evening were our friends who simply ordered a glass of white wine and a whiskey. With prices appropriate to a bar like this (9 Euros for a shot of Jameson), they could enjoy the relaxed atmosphere without unexpected disappointment.

The prices, overall, seem in line for this type of bar. Pints are served up at 8.50 Euros and non alcoholic drinks are 5 to 6 Euros. The 5:30 to 7:30 happy hour gives customers a two for one option on a limited selection of drinks. The menu features several mojito variations, although none of us tried any of them. The terrace looks like potential summer fun. And, for drinkers who are more concerned about who's pouring the cocktails rather than what they are pouring, this is a fine spot. As Matt pointed out, the bartender was exceptionally cute (and also friendly). As with many places I try, I'm not saying I won't go back. But, I definitely wouldn't go back for a martini.

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