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Thursday, August 20, 2009

Special Edition: Sublim Eiffel

Sublim Eiffel
94 Boulevard Garibaldi
75015 Paris
Tel. +33 1 40 65 95 95

Black toilet paper kind of freaks me out. Okay, now that we have that out of the way....

It's August in Paris. And, no one works during August in Paris. However, I seem to be working like a maniac these days, so I'm taking a well deserved week off in the south of France right now. I'm far away from any note-worthy cocktail bars and looking at several days of lounging by the pool, reading some good reads and drinking tasty local wine. That means no Wednesday Cocktail Adventures this week. But, for the entertainment those of you who are not poolside right now, I'm posting on a non-Wednesday visit I made before heading down here. [although I'm fully aware that a 52 martinis post is in no way equivalent to a vacation...if you are working right now, my sincere sympathies because we all need to be MIA from time to time!]

I'm diverging and rambling as only someone in a holiday frame of mind can, so onto the matter at hand: cocktail visits. Last week, I met up with Tara for a quick apero at the Sublim Eiffel. Being on one of my regular routes, I have passed the Sublim's black awning - proclaiming cocktails! - many times and often thought about making a pit stop there. Something about the cheesy neon splashes of their logo against the black canvas backdrop of the awning recall for me the packaging of cheap, glitzy makeup I might have (okay, did) buy as a teen.

Taking a look at their website, the Sublim Eiffel is a "saucy and sophisticated" full service hotel with spa and lounge. Beyond the tacky black awning, the lounge inside is more interesting. It's a small, funky, metallic space with an almost retro-modern feel. Rather than bad makeup, it conjures up memories of late night loft parties in industrial art spaces where the 'cool' people live. Chain mail curtains, neon lights and whimsical metal furniture make for a fun and, yes, in fact I might agree "saucy" look. I particularly enjoyed the table tops covered in multiple square mirrors. After only 1/2 a drink, the barman probably thought Tara and I were both sauced up ourselves as we attempted to capture our dozens of tiny distorted faces reflected on the surface, leaning very close and taking pictures with our noses practically against the table top.

Their hot pink menu features a range of "avants" "pendants" and "apres" (before, during, and afters) for around 4 to 10 Euros. There was nothing really of note here: some typical french aperatifs and digestives and a list of cocktails including the usual caipis, cosmos and vodka based drinks. I asked the nice hot pink tie adorned man behind the bar if he could make me a martini.

After staring blankly for a few moments, he asked me to come up to the bar and show him how to make it. No problem. I explained what I wanted and he seemed suspicious, as if I was just randomly pointing at bottles and asking him to mix them together. Then he realized "Ah! It's the James Bond drink." He poured the Hendricks and Martini into the shaker in my requested proportions, gave the shaker a few swirls and then asked what to do next. I told him to strain it into the martini glass. The glass wasn't chilled and he let the drink sit for about ten minutes while making Tara's americano. So by the time I got it, even with the nice proportions, it was a bit too warm to be super sippable.

Tara's americano was below par. The taste was okay, but there were two dismally small ice cubes bobbing at the top. I looked at it and told her "There's nothing sadder than a cocktail who's lonely little ice cubes are just weeping away into the drink" Those things were gone in minutes leaving her with a warmish and watery Americano.

However, I can't bring myself to be too harsh with our sweet little bar boy ingenue. I don't feel like it's his fault that he doesn't know what he's doing on a serious cocktail level. Clearly, this place is hyper-designed. The proprietors have put a lot of thought into the presentation of the physical space and had a solid idea in designing the bar concept. They just fall short when it came to designing their cocktail concept.

So, their strong point - which has nothing to do with the drinks - is that they have gone out of their way for a really slicked up showfront that still falls within a reasonable budget. (rooms run around 120 - 140 Euros) Lights, mirrors, murals and unconventional touches are all employed to bring you the most eye popping of modern sleeping spaces. The bar bathrooms, not forgotten in this design frenzy, are worth a visit. Unless you have a problem with black toilet paper. I don't know. Is this hip and edgy? Or is it just weird to dry your delicates with something that looks like it should be in Marilyn Manson's house?

If I were the neighboring bar, I'd be looking over at Sublim, snapping my fingers, giving a hip wiggle, cockily shaking my hair and saying "Work it, girl! You work that deco! But, honey, you have got to do something about those cocktails!" Apparently, in my mind, the neighboring bar would be a campy drag queen. And the Sublim is the pretty small town girl who's moved to the big city, put on a cheap and racy, sexy pink dress and still doesn't know quite how to get her makeup right.

Notwithstanding sub-par cocktails, they'll do just fine in Paris if the space alone is enough to please the night-crawling public. There are not a lot of seriously demanding cocktail drinkers, so most people will probably stumble across this offbeat little bar and be perfectly happy with their pretty pink potions. While I won't go back for cocktails, I did find myself strangely partial to it, so I'd possibly drop in for something else.

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Friday, August 14, 2009

Wednesday Cocktail Adventure: Flute

19, Rue de l'étoile
75017 Paris
Tel : 01 45 72 10 14

I have very few guiding life principles. Aside from general stuff, you know like being a nice person, blah, blah, blah, I can think of three things that I hold as personal self-evident truths: 1. Never turn down a chance to go to Italy. 2. Never turn down a chance to get on a boat. 3. Always make time for good friends. I've been a bit too busy these days. Too much work, too many projects, too much laundry. Since most of my fellow testers are on holiday right now, I almost cancelled Wednesday Cocktail Adventures this week to try and find some extra time to get my life in order. But at the request of some very good friends to accompany them to Flute, I decided that catching up with my friends was more important than catching up with my laundry. So, off I went....

I have already reviewed Flute on eGullet when it first opened. So, while not a new destination for me, it was good to return to suss out the current situation. Flute is primarily a champagne bar, with a wide range of bubbly at reasonable prices. The Paris Flute has been open for a couple of years – the two other Flutes in New York have been open for 10+ years. The tiny downstairs area holds no more than a handful of people pressed up against the bar, so the larger upstairs area is where most of the clients install themselves. Previously they suggested reserving for drinks, but I think the place has become a bit more casual these days.

I was particularly taken by Flute on my first visit and it even held a spot on my top five list for some time. That bartender has since moved on and been replaced by handsome & accommodating Antonio. I'll skip the details about how great it was in the beginning because things have changed a bit. You can still see the work of the prior barman in the house creations listed on the menu, which are tasty, balanced and interesting. However, Antonio's strong point is super friendly service & attention to recipes. This was evidenced by my completely warm martini (no shaking, no stirring, no nothing) which was not something on the already established menu. I asked him to put it back in the shaker and stir it, which he did with no problem or defensiveness. He asked me a few questions about martinis in general and was sincerely curious and inquisitive. I give him an A+ for effort, but I can't really give him high marks for his own cocktail making skills.

Still, I believe the bar is an interesting stop for a cocktail - or even better some champagne. They don't have a lot of stock, but what they have is nice. The champagne cocktails are refreshing and well-made.

Live jazz music entertains on some evenings and Sundays is "American Night" when their New York staff who are in Paris for the moment get behind the bar. (I wonder how that might change the cocktail options.) They're boastful of their mojitos & will be having a tasting with a large variety of of rums at the end of August. They still have their Tuesday happy hour with a 2nd drink offered, which is a good deal considering the regular prices at 12 - 14 Euros.

If you're in the area, stop in with some good friends and have Antonio make you something off the already established menu and he'll do it to right. Just don't expect him to freestyle anything.

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Thursday, August 6, 2009

Wednesday Cocktail Adventures: Le Comptoir

Le Comptoir
37, Rue Berger, 75001 Paris
Tel : 01 40 26 26 66

How do you spell "myeh"? You know the sound you make when something neither really strongly displeases nor pleases you, just leaves you feel rather "whatever" about something? Meh? Myeah? Mmmhhugh? I think you get where I'm going. I'm feeling rather "myeh" about this week's Cocktail Adventure.

A few years back I spent a month in Marrakesh. After adventurous evenings exploring the delicious but sometimes suspicious looking street stalls in the main town square for food and freshly squeezed orange juice, my girlfriend and I enjoyed a different kind of experience at a large bar/restaurant called Le Comptoir. Complete with belly dancers, low tables, cushions on the floor, back rooms and fun drinks, we enjoyed this little excursion. While it was definitely "less authentic" than our street vendors, the mood of escape-to-something-exotic was a pleasant little respite. Their card indicated locations in both Marrakesh and Paris. So for several years, in the back of my mind, I've been thinking I need to get to the Paris location to see how it compares.

I finally got there. It turns out that while they still share a website (according to the barman, although I'm unable to find it), the owners of the original two establishments have stayed in Marrakesh, and sold the Paris branch. Sadly, I didn't get the same rush of luscious, romantic escape. Le Comptoir is nicely decorated, but it feels a bit like the Pier 1 Imports version of Arabian Nights. Their nice sized terrace was mainly taken up for dining and reserved tables.

The cocktail menu offered many choices at 10.50 Euros, including a dry martini and some other 20 or so "classics" (some of which were and some weren't). They have a decent selection of champagne cocktails (one of which absconds with the name Pink Lady) and some house creations.

Fortunately, we stopped in during the 17h00 to 20h00 happy hour when cocktails are 6.50 Euros, allowing us to sample without overspending. The martinis were fine. Nice proportion of gin/vermouth, served in a warm glass with an olive. Minimal bar snacks of marinated olives came to the table. I've had better. I've had worse. It didn't seriously damage my pocketbook but I wouldn't run back for another.

This Wednesday brought another sizable group, so between us we tried several of the specialty drinks. I ordered the Barby Girl (tequila, Malibu, strawberry juice, creme de coco & lime) which tasted about as unappetizing as it sounds (hey, don't look at me like that....I thought maybe I'd be pleasantly surprised!) Elspeth tried the Tofee Tout Fou (dark rhum, caramel & Perrier) which was the overall favorite of the group, but still not a real winner. A few mojitos were passed around to try, which were decent (Paris seems to have an okay grasp on making mojitos since pretty much every bar makes them) and a few other questionable selections from the house creations menu were passable. Many of the drinks were heavily decorated with little chapeau's of sugar dusted mint sprigs or sugary marsh mellow fruit blobs on a stick. [I'll keep my snide comments about that to myself for today]

Overall, it's not that it's a bad place, but the cocktails aren't really up to snuff. It's worth noting that they do get high marks on many online guide and reviews. But, for me...myeh. I guess, sometimes, you shouldn't try and recapture that holiday feeling.

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Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Wednesday Cocktail Adventure: Andy Wahloo

Andy Wahloo
69, Rue des Gravilliers
75003 Paris
Tel: 01 42 71 20 38

Apparently, I've been remiss in placating the Gods of Successful Terrace Visits. Clearly, I haven't sacrificed the appropriate sacrifices, prayed the appropriate prayers or danced the appropriate Terrace Dances because last Wednesday's bar was the 4th thwarted terrace attempt.The Raphael was closed for a private party, Bateau El Alamein got rained out, the Hotel Particulier isn't open on Wednesdays and the Andy Wahloo was already too crowded to score a table outside by the time we got there. Guess it's a popular after work spot.

The 17h00 to 20h00 happy hour with 5 Euros cocktails may have something to do with this early evening draw. Everyone appeared to be enjoying these nicely priced thirst quenchers on the pleasant backyard terrace - half of which seems to be devoted to the associated next door restaurant and the other half for drinks. I sidled up to the bar and checked out the menu: the typical what-have-yous (caipis, cosmos, moscow mule, etc) as well as tapas. Not seeing it on the menu, I asked the nice man working there if he could make a martini.

He paused and looked into the distance for a moment, quietly thinking, silently questioning as if deciding on something terribly important. Then, he turned to a dark soft cloth bag on the counter behind him, slid his hand inside and rummaged around before declaring "Yes! Yes, I can make you a martini." He then removed a small silver cylindrical gadget from the pouch, which turned out to be a vermouth atomizer. Turns out Lionel brings his own collection of accouterments to work with him to make sure he's got what it takes to please his customers. (I should have asked for a peak inside his bag of tricks!) I don't normally go in for misters for my martinis, but I was fascinated with this pretty, shiny plaything. He chilled the glass, stirred up the Bombay Sapphire well, misted the glass with a good amount of vermouth before pouring in the gin and served it with a twist. He quickly followed up to find out if I was happy and offered more vermouth if necessary (as always, I really appreciate sincere follow through.)

While I wasn't blown away by the standard cocktail menu, I was happy enough that the staff were able to diverge easily and give me something I wanted. In fact, I found Lionel & co. exceptionally friendly and accommodating. When one of our party ordered wine, he brought out the four bottles on offer and gave her a generous sampling of each to help her decide.

This Wednesday brought a large, fun crowd with the usuals plus a few occasional dropper-inners, making the vibe a bit more party-like and lively. So, feeling a bit festive, I tried a few things after the martini. The Gin Bramble (gin, lemon,& creme de mure) was refreshing but I particularly enjoyed the Wahloo Special (dark rum, lime, ginger, banana liquor & cinnamon). My group and the rest of the clientele seemed to feel the festiveness too, as evidenced by the 2 - 3 guys behind the bar working fast and furious to keep up with the drink orders.

One thing worth noting is the Andy Wahloo doesn't skimp on the ice, which is a big problem with a lot of Parisian bars, making for mediocre cocktails and drinks that should be served cold.

This brightly coloured and kitschy bric-a-brac brimming establishment probably draws a relatively young and lively crowd ready to dance to the later evening DJ's - which could be fun if that's your thing. However, for me, I give it a thumbs up for a solid after-work stop some ice cold refreshments at a nice happy hour price. Plus, I'm just taken with the bartender because you gotta love a guy who comes with his own tools!

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Saturday, August 1, 2009

Wednesday Cocktail Adventure: Bateau El Alamein

Bateau El Alamein
Quai François Mauriac (near Bibliothèque François Mitterrand)
75013 Paris
06 82 04 82 46

When I was about 10 years old, I was building a cardboard box house in the backyard. More accurately, I was trying to build one. Unfortunately, a massive wind made construction impossible. Furious with this belligerent breeze and dismayed that there was nowhere to direct my anger, I had a realization: you can’t fight with the elements. So, with a rather Zen sense of acceptance, I moved onto something else.

That’s what I was thinking about as I sat on the terrace of the welcoming Batuea El Alamein while staring up at the threatening thunder clouds. Moored up along the quai, this little purple boat boasts a delightful and inviting deck. With the exception of a few summer months, the downstairs is open for music.

With no one else ready to risk the rain, the space was empty and the woman who runs the place pointed to the sky and told me she was going to close shortly. While waiting for the rest of the group, I ordered anyway.

I followed her to the bar downstairs in the musty insides of the boat. With little choice behind the bar and no dry vermouth, I took an 8 Euros gin fizz off the menu. My cocktail, served in a tall plastic glass, wasn’t too bad. Halfway through my drink, Ritu arrived and so did the rain, putting an end to the shortest cocktail trial yet. While the cocktails aren’t impressive, I’d definitely go back here for something else on this lovely little terrace brimming with leafy plants and flowers.

Ritu and I took refuge from what quickly became a deluge in the open air bar directly across from the Bateau El Alamein. La Dame de Canton is a large and lively space with plenty of tables and an open air kitchen where you can watch the staff cooking pizzas and tossing pasta. The others arrived, and we spent a very enjoyable evening. With the rain pouring down around us, we stayed quite late thanks to good company, a few bottles of wine and several really yummy pizzas. We didn’t even mind the occasional leak coming through the roof and dribbling all over the communal-style table as we munched, sipped and had a great night despite the less than successful cocktail adventure. I’d easily come back here for more pizzas and wine another night.

So, no, you can’t fight the elements. But, sometimes if you just go with the flow, you’ll end up with something else that makes you just as happy.

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