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Thursday, July 16, 2009

Wednesday Cocktail Adventures: Hotel Raphael

Bar Anglais at Hotel Raphael
17 Avenue Kléber
75116 Paris
01 53 64 32 00

I am not a snob. I just really enjoy what I enjoy. And, I really enjoy combo of a killer terrace view and a tasty, satisfying cocktail. Hearing I could get both these at the Hotel Raphael I convinced my cocktail crew to head over there and shell out for high priced drinks. Sadly, when we arrived, they informed us that the terrace bar was closed for a private party and steered us towards the downstairs Bar Anglais. This bar looked inviting as well, but with the dark wood and heavy thick curtains it seems more suited for sipping body-warming intoxicants on cool winter nights.

Onto the ordering. At 23 Euros, I didn't think it was unusual to ask the server what kind of gin they use. I did, however, think it unusual that he would offer me a choice of unimpressive Gordon's or Talisker (!?). Confused, I asked him if I could see the bottle of "Talisker Gin" and followed him up to the bar. As I suspected, there is no Talisker Gin behind the bar, but, as I explained to him, it's whisky.

I ended up with a Tanqueray martini, which neither thrilled nor disgusted me. The proportion of gin to vermouth was acceptable and it came with a lemon twist. It was served in a non-chilled glass that was part of a Cointreau freebie promotional give-away. I've had better martinis for half the price at the Experimental, Curio, Mama Shelter, and the Why bar. So, here, I expect an attention to detail that merits the twice-as-high price. And, that doesn't mean a cheapy glass that's telling me to "Be Cointreau-lisious!" A similarly priced and much better martini at the George V comes with the extras that help justify the cost: special twists, beautiful glassware with impressive spoon rests and exceptional service. The only extras that came to our table here were some round cracker-type barsnacks and small pizza bites. (which, to be fair, were tasty)

I've waxed on in the past about the price at hotel bars partly being high to keep out the hoi polloi. So, did we feel like we were among the most elite and refined of the city? No. We were sitting across from a cleavage-tastic woman with a gropy old man who were putting on a suckface and grab show worthy of the back seat of a football player's car on homecoming, while a group of scruffy teenage boys in baggy pants roamed the hallway.

Now, I should have just stopped here, but Matt arrived and ordered a side car (a bit light on the cointreau, but okay) and we were still waiting for Violaine. Their menu featured a handful of house creations, none of which looked interesting. However, with the unknown (to me) ingredient of Pisang Ambon in the Raphealite, I thought perhaps this was the one. I went up to the bartender and asked what this was. I was told that they did not know and they believed it to be either some kind of fruit juice or something "herbal". Now given that the bottle had to be within arm's reach from them, I'm unimpressed - and shocked - that they didn't take it off the shelf and show it to me. Instead, they asked me "Why do you want to know? Do you want to order that cocktail?" I answered "Well, I don't want to order it until I know what it is." Unapologetically, she said "Sorry, I don't know what that ingrediant is." Forget it. I'll just take a glass of red wine.

I returned to the table and waited for both Violaine and my wine. The server came back and asked me what I'd like. I, again, ordered a glass of red wine. Awhile later she came back with a glass of white wine. Once more, I told her I had ordered red. Violaine had just arrived and offered to take the white. With no appreciation for our saving of her foible, she left, presumably to get my red wine. I saw her taking out several orders and finally 35 minutes and 3 requests later, I got my glass of 11 Euros red wine.

Now, just to make things clear. Not only do I have no desire to be a snob, I couldn't afford to be one if I wanted to. I have nothing in particular against tacky glassware, shmarmy sugar daddy dates, or sloppily dressed teens. I just don't want to pay 23 Euros to see all these things while I'm drinking an unimpressive cocktail accompanied by bad service. I care what I spend my money on. And, apparently, I'm just the kind of client that the Bar Anglais doesn't feel the need to bother with.

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Sunday, July 12, 2009

Wednesday Night Cocktail Adventure: Oxyd

Oxyd Bar
26 Avenue Jean-Aicard
75011 Paris
Tel: 01 48 06 20 81

Sure first impressions are important. But, they’re not enough to hold your interest if you find yourself disappointed with what’s behind that flirty glance. And, let’s face it: we’re looking for serious relationships here at 52martinis, not just passing fancies!

When I first arrived at Oxyd, a bit earlier than the rest of the crowd, I was pleasantly surprised to find this offbeat little oasis in an area with no shortage of run of the mill bars. The nice weather guaranteed a happy crowd on the good sized sidewalk terrace and inside the ambience was ratty-tatty hip flea market with cushy large sofas and arms chairs stuffed into corners making snug little spaces for friendly groups. The many tables in the center up the odds of finding at least a seat if the cozy corners are full. A well worn antique piano gives it a mustily agreeable “I’ve just stumbled into my grandma’s attic” touch. I was told they have fun music in the evenings and project films on a screen on one wall. Tajines are served in the bar and the adjoining restaurant. So far, this place seemed possibly big, interesting and varied enough to provide a promising night spot for large crews looking for a good time in a lively environment.

The drinks menu features the standard beers, wines and softs and offers a few pages of cocktails arranged by spirit running between 7 to 9 Euros. The small scruffy bar was lined with several house made rhums arrangés (infused rums originally created in places like Madagascar and Reunion Island) and the menu featured several rum-based drinks. But the sparse, dusty bottles of low grade spirits behind the bar hoarsely croak: “this is not a cocktail destination.”

Perhaps seeing me eye the selection, the “barman” announced “I’m not the barman. I can only do beer and wine.” No problem, I told him. I was in no rush so I said I’d wait for the barman’s arrival. Did he have an idea of when he was coming? No. Obviously, from a cocktail standpoint, this didn’t impress. But, I did feel a bit sorry for the guy back there who had no idea what he was doing and minutes later announced to the next customer that not only were cocktails out of the question, but he couldn’t do beer either. Tea or coffee were the choices since he couldn’t manage to pour a draft beer without a flurry of foam. This was clearly not his job. The barman eventually arrived, but in this place void of vermouth, I was out of luck for a martini. I asked him what he recommended in the way of rum drinks. I got an okay mojito and followed up with a very poor planteurs.

I thought, perhaps, their rhum arrangé might be interesting. Maybe those laboratorical looking glass jars with their handwritten labels contained some enlightening elixir. Maybe someone here was a well practiced master when it came to infusing rhum with tasty complimentary flavors. Sure, maybe. I still wasn’t willing to risk it. Instead I talked Matt into taking one for his cocktail. Good call. He got a tiny glass tea cup of what tasted like iced Theraflu. Theraflu is good for colds, not cocktails.

One might think I would have left. But, last week’s cocktail adventure was a bit unusual because it dovetailed into a big group outing for some friends who were in town and plenty of folks who wanted to see them. So after an hour or two of tasting and testing, suddenly our group grew beyond Wednesday night cocktail adventure proportions to 25 or so party people looking to get out, catch up, eat and drink. We had reserved the small alcove, but our group spilled out around the bar, onto the tables and into the street.

And, this is where this bar worked well. For a large group of people, there was plenty of space to mingle, relax in a comfy corner, order something off the food menu or head outside for a bit of air. When the owner arrived later in the evening, the feeling in the bar lifted for the better and he immediately set about visiting tables, checking on customers, lighting candles and placing out little dishes of peanuts.

While I can quite confidently say that their cocktails are crap, fortunately our lot had enough high spirits of our own to turn a sour cocktail adventure into a frolicking good night anyway.

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Thursday, July 2, 2009

Wednesday Cocktail Adventure: Prune de Nuit

Prune de Nuit
12 rue Marie et Louise
75010 Paris
Tel : 01 40 03 63 27

Although curious by nature, I have no desire to know what people are saying behind my back. If it's something bad, I don't want to know. If it's something good, then I'll just feel an irrational responsibility to live up to someone else's expectations. Similarly, I get a little nervous sometimes when I'm blogging on a bar recommended by someone I know. I really want my post to live up to their expectations of the bar. But, what if it sucks, and I blog that and the person takes it as a personal affront and never speaks to me again? And what, then, if I need a blood transfusion and it turns out I've got a rare blood type and this person has the SAME blood type? However, we're no longer speaking because of my nefarious post, so they don't give me the transfusion? Well, fret not, gentle readers. I have not yet lost a potential blood donor!

This week I stopped by the Prune de Nuit, which was recommended by Sasha over at ParisIncognito. She thought it would be up my alley. When I arrived, I immediately saw why she might think so. The arrangements of tiny twinkling lights, the hot pink wall behind the bar and the glowing tables provide a unpretentiously fun ambiance. The banquettes and bar stools are hip and comfy. The purple glowing bar doesn't scream "we're going to charge you through the nose" (like the one at Pershing Hall) but rather it says, "We're fun and a bit funky, but down to earth." So far, so good.

The cocktail menu, however, did concern me a bit. It wasn't the 15 choices, which is a decent enough number for a bar that doesn't tout itself as a cocktail destination, but rather the abundance of cosmo variations and vodka based drinks. For many serious cocktail enthusiasts, there are great cocktails and there are vodka cocktails but never the twain shall meet. In fact, there are many who take this as a measurement of how serious you really are about cocktails. I'm of two minds about this. As my drinking tastes mature, I appreciate that there are many more interesting spirits to put into your drinks and would opt for pretty much anything over vodka. On the other hand, it's only cocktails, folks, not world peace, so I've been known to try and enjoy some vodka drinks myself. So...the vodka heavy menu did not doom it, just encouraged me to watch the barman a bit closer to see what he could do.

And, his martini making did not disappoint. I expected him to reach for Gordon's, but - surprise - there was none behind this bar. He pulled down the Tanqueray and Noilly Pratt for my martini which was stirred and poured into into a nicely chilled glass. He topped it off with an olive and served it up with some killer bar snacks of chips and guacamole, tiny chicken wings, and olives. He followed up to see if the drink was okay, which is always appreciated. And, I proclaimed it 'super'.

I followed my martini with le chic (raspberry juice, fig liqueur & champagne), which pleased me when I realized it wasn't - as I feared it might be - overtly sweet. I proclaimed it interestingly tasty and yummy. By now I know the bartender/owner is named Bruno, so I ask my new friend, Bruno, about the "cocktail du jour." He tells me he is in the process of creating it and offers me the drink he is currently making on the house. It was a very simple combination of fresh melon juice and vodka. While I would normally enjoy a drink with more complexity, I proclaimed this one (apparently I'm very into proclaiming today) 'nice, refreshing and very sell-able" And, I meant it. It's incredibly hot in Paris right now, that cooling little concoction was the best drink I had all night.

While Prune de Nuit is not a craft cocktail destination, I think Bruno is successfully working his cocktail skills behind the bar. And, here was the cincher for us: he's just really nice. Mylene and Ritu, who both opted for the Chilean wine at 6 Euros/glass, enthused about the place. The prices were reasonable at 10 Euros a drink, but the addition of the many little munchies make this a very pleasing deal. While cocktail elitists may shy away from the many vodka based drinks on the menu, I think even they would find that this little unassuming place has just enough of the good stuff behind the bar to get a well made and enjoyable drink. Well played, Sasha - we can still exchange blood!

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