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Thursday, January 29, 2009

Wednesday Cocktail Adventures: Hotel Bel Ami

Hôtel Bel-Ami
7-11 rue St-Benoît
75006 Paris
Tél. +33 (0)1 42 61 53 53

It's not all about drinking at 52 Martinis, sometimes we learn stuff, too! Well known French writer Guy de Mauppassant's second novel was Bel Ami. Maupassant lived most of his life in Normandy where you'll find calvados and cider galore. So, in a nod to this fine writer, the Hotel Bel Ami Bar offers guests a choice a various calvados and cider based cocktails.

The bright and cheery bar is on the main floor of this snazzy 4 star hotel. Soundless black and white films are projected on the walls of the large and modern space. The tables, chairs and comfortable banquettes are spaced in a way to create somewhat intimate groupings, however, even that couldn't save it from the fact that I found it way too bright, which is a sure ambiance killer in my book. Instead of feeling like a relaxed and laid back escape, it felt more like an upscale, nicely decorated waiting room - maybe what it would be like in the waiting room of your plastic surgeon.

While the very nice barman chilled my martini glass with ice, he stirred some Martini Dry into the pitcher with ice. He dumped the Martini and then added the Beaffeater to the pitcher, stirred up my drink, poured and topped it off with a lemon twist. I can't fault much there, other than that I, personally, would have liked more vermouth. I was joined by Matt & Violaine, and new-comer to the Wednesday Cocktail Adventures, Ritu. While the girls enjoyed a nice glass of Beaune, Matt and I went for a calvados cocktail. His Colporteur (orange, banana, grenadine & calvados) was interesting, but I enjoyed my Aux Champs a bit more for it's simplicity of cherry liquor and calvados. While both were well made, neither knocked my socks off.
The staff were all friendly and accommodating and refilled our bar munchie bowls with spicy Japanese crackers and cashews.

Overall, this was a pleasant place with decent drinks even if their specialties didn't blow me away. However, cocktail prices (14 - 15 Euros) were a lot more reasonable than many other 4 star hotel bars. If they'd just turn the lights down a notch, I'd might be more likely to give them another try.

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Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Wednesday Cocktail Adventures: Les Souffleurs

Les Souffleurs
7 rue de la Verrerie
75004 Paris

I love Summer- time. And, I don't mean the season (which is nice as well). I'm talking about Gershwin's soulful number from Porgy and Bess which was playing in this dingy little joint when I entered. Even if I don't always love the cocktails in my Wednesday Adventures, I usually find some redeeming quality to the bars. And, at Les Souffleurs' one of these qualities was the fun, old-school music.

Les Souffleurs is a long narrow bar with a pleasantly seedy feel that claims to specialize in beers, rums and martinis. When I arrived, there was a small but varied smattering of patrons: a boho-looking young couple, some middle-aged regulars sidled up to the bar and a few campy boys (it's in the gay-friendly Marais area). The place is presided over by a mother-henish bartendrice who, as the place grew busier, shuffled customers here and there amongst the various bar stools and tables and couches to ensure everyone had a place.

And it did get busier. We had a nice group for this week's outing, with Matt, Nicky, her guy Luke and a few of his friends. By the time everyone arrived, there's wasn't an empty spot in the bar and customers were squishing in and climbing over chairs, coats and people to get from one spot to another. The reason for this relatively early evening crowding: the happy hour. From 5pm to 9pm, LesSouffleurs offers up demis, rhum agricole & planters punch for 2.50 Euros, and martinis, caipirinhas & mojitos at 5 Euros.

I started with the usual and got a 1 part Dry Martini to 3 parts Gordons, stirred, and topped off with a lime zest. The glass wasn't chilled and overall, the drink was a bit too warm for my taste. Pretty middle of the road, overall. After my martini trial, the entire group moved onto caipirinhas and mojitos. Where they the best I've had? No. Where they the best I've had at 5 bucks? Most likely.

The bar stock is limited - being heaviest in various rhum agricoles. I wouldn't send anyone here in hopes of the city's best cocktails. However, our group had a great night. Also, of note, is that they have a downstairs available for renting for groups and parties, which could be interesting. If you're okay with letting go of high cocktail expectations and stick with the drinkable mojitos and caipirinhas, you'll enjoy a busy little happy hour with good friends at les Souffleurs.

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Monday, January 19, 2009

Wednesday Night Cocktail Adventure: Rosebud

11bis, Rue Delambre
75014 Paris
Tel : 01 43 35 38 54

Whenever Orsen Well's classic Citizen Kane comes up, who doesn't mournfully moan "Rosebud"? Okay, maybe it's just me. But, for those of you who like classical movie AND bar trivia in one shot, apparently Mr Kane's little red sled is the inspiration for the name of the Rosebud bar. This little watering hold has been attracting the city's literati and deep thinkers (Sartre was a regular) since the 50's.

The decor probably hasn't changed a great deal since then, either. The front of this Montparnasse bar/restaurant is pretty unassuming, so I was pleasantly surprised to walk in and find such a charming and warm little spot with its comforting 30's vibe and white jacket clad barmen. The bar stools are packed like sardines along the counter, but there are plenty of tables and chairs for those who might want a bit more space (or to sample something off their dinner menu).

We sat at the bar and reviewed the cocktail menu, which offered a martini, so I was set. Matt ordered a daiquiri. The barman handled both drinks well, chilling my glass, stirring up a nice proportion of Beefeater & NP and topping it off with a twist. Matt's daiquiri was a well done classic and not the overly sweet & crazy fruit concoction that this drink sometimes inspires. Typical (but nice) bar snacks of olives, chips and crackers followed our drinks.

Matt was driving and I was pressed for time, so unusually, we didn't do a second round. I did, however, note they offered sidecars on the menu, which I mention because a few folks have been asking about where to get them lately. During our hour or so there, a handful of people wandered in and out who seemed to be on friendly terms with the bar staff, so I assume this place has a nice little following of regulars.

Overall, I enjoyed this as a historical little stop for a tipple. Matt felt like the drinks at 12 Euros were a little higher than he would have expected walking into such a quiet and unassuming place. However, considering its long standing history and decent preparation, I believe they're on the mark. I've been on the hunt for places in this area, so if I were going out to dinner in the neighborhood, I'd gladly stop at the Rosebud again for a pre-dinner cocktail.

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Saturday, January 17, 2009

Wednesday Cocktail Adventure: Mama Shelter

Mama Shelter
109 Rue de Bagnolet
75020 Paris
Tel: +33 (0)1 43 48 48 48

I have a new crush. And, it's not just because Nicolas, the head bartender over at Mama Shelter, is a cutie. Really, it's because he knows his drinks. I arrived to meet Matt and Violaine and Ben (special visitor all the way from Oman) at this sleek, hyper trendy venue tucked away in the remote, but recently buzzing 20th. The hotel is funky hip and very reasonably priced at its current rates of about 70 Euros/room per night.

I imagine people will either love or hate the almost too-cool-for-school feel of Mama Shelter. This Philippe Starck designed hotel boasts a huge bar/eatery on the ground floor, which is covered with fun bits and pieces (writing on the ceiling, guitars on display, glowing bar tops). As I've mentioned before, even though I love a slickly designed space, I get a little worried that the effort went into form and not function. My fears were slightly assuaged with a look at the cocktail menu. Mama Shelter offers up a nice selection of solid and classic cocktails (aviation, sazerac, brandy crusta, etc) and a list of what I can only assume are house creations as I've never heard of the "Last Thing To Do Before You Die" or "Bubble Bum" They've got a few different bitters in stock, which is also a nice bonus.

I went for my usual and got a stirred Beefeater/NP martini with an olive and was very pleased, indeed. I chatted briefly with Nicolas who gave me a rundown on why you shouldn't keep gin in the freezer. I prefer not to, as well, and didn't really need this schooling, but appreciated the fact that he seemed interested and informed about cocktails in general. He also got into a bit of a discussion on the martinez (my second round) and Dale Degroff. These aren't topics that the vast majority of Parisian bartenders will tangent off on.

At 12 - 14 these drinks are a steal. I was a bit like a kid on Christmas morning because you just don't find this kind of selection on cocktail menus here. Even though this is really out of my way, I will definitely be heading back for another cocktail or two soon. I might even try the food!

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Thursday, January 8, 2009

Wednesday Night Cocktail Adventure: Le Baiser Salé

Le Baiser Salé
58, rue des Lombards
75001 Paris
Tél : 01 42 33 37 71

I love a good dive bar. I don't know if le Baiser Salé would really be considered one, but the night I went there it had a few of the key elements that make a place divey for me: mediocre to crappy drinks, a strange mixture of clients (including the obligatory unsavory ones) and dark a ambiance punctuated with red lights.

Le Baiser Salé is located in a little pocket of Paris close to the Pompidou that is busting with bars, cafes and pedestrians. Predominantly a jazz club, it's held its own here for over 20 years offering up concerts, including evenings with a Cuban, African or Antillean twist to the music. A good number of predominate names have passed through here. However, I wasn't there to listen to jazz, so I remained in the small downstairs bar for drinks.

With no vermouth in the bar, a martini was out of the question. Instead I ordered (a bit unusual for me) a Bloody Mary. I got a smallish glass of vodka and tomato juice with a bottle of Tabasco and shaker of celery salt on the side. All in all, it was a lame Bloody Mary. I made my second round bartender's choice and received some kind of vodka and orange soda concoction. The barman was very excited about it, so I take it it's a big seller here. Matthieu had a bit of a cold and asked the barman to recommend something to help him feel less under the weather. He got a glass of Clément rhum agricole neat.

While I wasn't impressed with the drinks, the bartender was nice enough and enthusiastically brought out several different rhum agricoles for Matt to try after he commented on his drink. I like the island bar set up and the fact that place stays open until 6am. The prices are a bit steep for such below par drinks at somewhere in the neighborhood of 10 - 12 Euros. But overall, I enjoyed the somewhat seedy feel of the place. I'll not be returning for cocktails, but it's an interesting stop for something easy like a beer or coffee.

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