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Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Wednesday Cocktail Adventures: Panic Room

Panic Room
101, Rue Amelot
75011 Paris
Tel: 01 58 30 93 43

We entered through a dingy front entrance that recalls the backdoor of a rockin' music club rather than a sleek sophisticated cocktail venue. But, no matter we are on the hunt for great mixed drinks, not necessarily upscale fancy decor.

Once inside the empty bar, the music blared at an almost uncomfortable level as we ordered our first round. While the Panic Room seems to have a fair number of bottles on their shelves, there was no dry vermouth, meaning a martini was out of the question.

I ordered a Fraislic (gin, fresh strawberries & basil) off their reasonably priced 8 Euros cocktail menu. Matt, Violaine & Wendy also ordered off the house menu, which comprises about 10 special creations. On the classics side, you'll find such standards as ti punch, cosmo, mojito (no surprise there) and long island ice tea. The general consensus was that the drinks were okay. Most were overly sweet for our taste and there was a sigh of relief when we found out we were getting happy hour prices of 5 Euros a drink.

The Panic Room offers up a few twists, that might make one think they've stumbled into a cocktail bar with more potential. They feature Hendrick's as well as Kubler Absinthe (which I personally am a fan of). The cute, young barman shows lots of spunk and confidence, and perhaps with a few more year's training might turn some of his cocksure attitude into serious cocktail savvy. The 2nd in command behind the bar was practicing rounds of free-pours with a water filled vodka bottle. It's one of these places that clearly caters to a "cocktail" crowd - just not exactly the level of cocktails I'm looking for.

So, while I personally won't head back here for cocktails, a young, boisterous crowd seeking sippables with a kick at nice happy hour prices will probably enjoy the vibe here.

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Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Mini-Shout Out: La Gazetta

La Gazetta
29, Rue De Cotte
75012 Paris
Tel: 01 43 47 47 05

Good restaurant bars can be hard to find, but La Gazetta just might offer up something worthwhile on the drinking front. Although I didn't do a full cocktail-recon, we had a round of pre-dinner drinks at the bar before tucking into their enjoyable five course tasting menu.

La Gazetta is linked with the Fumoir & the former China Club (not the current one, which looks exactly the same.) Yet the cocktails here pleased me more than those at the Fumoir. My martini was well-made with NP and Tanqueray. While Tanqueray is not my first choice for a martini, it's a good one and much better than Gordon's, which you'll get in many Paris bars. Nicky had a very well executed margarita. A bowl of olives accompanied our order. I believe the prices were around 9 Euros.

The small bar area is clean, pretty & jovial and I think it definitely merits a closer look. I will and get back there in the future to sample more but would love to hear any comments on in it in the meantime.

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Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Wednesday Cocktail Adventures: Le Magnifique

Le Magnifique
25, Rue de Richelieu
75001 Paris
Tel: 01 40 60 70 80

Ages ago I went to NYC with a friend and we went to some new in spot - the kind of club where you stand outside and the doorman picks and chooses among the hopefuls, granting access to the lucky few. I won't say just how many ages ago that was, but it's been a very long time since I've stood outside a door waiting for someone else to decide if I was cool enough to give them money. When we buzzed at the locked door of le Magnifique and were told by the doorman that we could not come in, it momentarily took me back to those times. Fortunately they were not being intentionally exclusive. They changed their opening time from 7pm to 8pm, but didn't update their website. So, an hour later, we had no problem gaining entry through the imposing big black door (still locked during opening hours) of this self-proclaimed Cocktail Club and Sushi Bar.

I don't necessarily think of sushi bars and cocktails as going hand in hand (well, except for that one night in Japan....) However, with a cocktail menu created with input from Colin Field of Hemingway Bar fame, you know from the git-go that someone had some serious cocktail ambition. The menu is vast, including a section of classics at 16 Euros and a section of Colin Field inspired drinks at 20 Euros.

My Hendrick's martini was spot on. The gin selection comprises Tanqueray, Bombay Sapphire, Hendricks, Martin Miller's (which I've not seen in Paris!), Bulldog and Tanqueray 10. Nicky's Serindipity (Calvados, mint, apple juice, champagne) was refreshing. Wendy, visiting from Seattle, had a Merinquin Fiz (if I remember correctly?) which was topped off with thick egg whites and sprinkled with poppy seeds. A suspiciously hard-shake sounding 'ticka-ticka-ticka" emanated from the bar area behind us. And, our server he told me they try and keep an eye on seasonal ingredients for the cocktails, which hopefully means fresher and better drinks.

Delicate looking glassware twinkles in the candlelight and dark corners and closed doors flirt suggestively with patrons leaving them to wonder just what this saucy little drinkery might offer. The extremely dim lighting, viewing box at the door, and the overall decor give this relatively large space a serious speakeasy feel. However, gaining entrance is easier than for elusive speakeasys. By simply filling out a form online you can become a "member" of le Magnifique. (which is not necessary to drop by, but apparently puts you on a mailing list for new information about the bar)

Another thing I noticed is that for such a large space, they've got the music at just the right level so that it doesn't overpower conversations at your own table, but blocks out the buzz of those around you. I expected something more along the lines of a Costes like playlist, but instead the night we were there, solid classics were playing (think U2). Once a member via the online registration, you can listen to their playlist for yourself on Deezer.

A few final things of note: they have a fumoir (smoking area), which you find rarely now that France has gone no smoking and the service was pleasant and accommodating. However, we did wish they would have put out a few little bar snacks to nibble while sipping on 20 Euros cocktails!

Le Magnifique is a large and minimalistically plush hideaway for modern day hepcats with dosh to spare. Fortunately, while it seems to take its drinks seriously, it doesn't take itself too seriously just yet. The only drawback here is that there's nothing less expensive on the menu for those who might want to check out the space without spending. With softs at 10 Euros and a simple glass of wine at 16 Euros, coming here is a commitment. But as long as they maintain the laid-back attitude of this week's visit and 'exclusivity' remains tongue in cheek, it's a committment I'm willing to make from time to time.

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Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Wednesday Cocktail Adventures: Baron Samedi

Le Baron Samedi
12, Rue des Goncourt
75011 Paris

I've been having a little motivation problem for the last few weeks. I can't seem to get on top of a growing list of things to do and could really use a swift kick in my, um, shaker to get on with things. But, it's hard to motivate when last Wednesday's cocktails were so thoroughly uninspiring.

Spotted by Locals, tells me that the Baron Samedi likes to compare itself to "‘a Louisiana cemetery where you drink spiced rum whilst dancing to Desmond Dekker‘, but in reality it is a chilled venue where you feel instantly at home, especially during happy hour when the music is low and you can relax on the Chesterfields." Sounds cool, n'est-ce pas?

I arrived at this "chilled venue" and found a warm and dingey bar with a welcoming bartendrice and a list of 15 or so cocktails up on the blackboard. The intentionally grungy flyer and newspaper-covered walls give the impression that this place has been here for decades rather than just a year or so. The two tables in the back were covered with green felt cloths and clearly ready for several folks to sit down to a bit of poker. A few large and comfy sofas grouped around a low table in the front looked like the spot for us to congregate.

There is no dry vermouth in the house, so I went for a Planters Punch and Matt ordered a Pina Colada. And, that was the end of cocktail sampling in this friendly little spot. Both were watery and completely uninteresting. Usually we might try for a second round, just in case. But, this time neither of us ordered a second and the rest of the people joining all stuck with wine on our recommendation. The wine was fine - drinkable, but nothing I'd drink given any other choice. Drink prices hover around 5 Euros here, a bit more during non-happy hours.

While I've been known to try my hand at a few rounds of poker, I'm not an avid player. However, the people playing were engrossed in their games & I really like it when bars offer something more in the way of things to do while drinking. Those interested in joining in a hand need to sign up online and play is for prizes not cash. And I like that it encourages interaction with the other clientele and provides a bit more entertainment than just standing around the bar knocking back sub-par drinks. And, indeed, there was a lot of friendly interaction with the patrons and it seems like the Baron Samedi brings in a good number of young regulars. I give them kudos for great activity planning, I just can't get rave about the drink choices.

If you're happy to stick with beer and are looking for a place to practice your game, head on down. But, for cocktails....totally unmotivating. I can't even be inspired to come up with a bad poker pun to end this on!

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