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Friday, December 25, 2009

Wednesday Cocktail Adventure: La Villa

La Villa
37 avenue de Friedland
75008 Paris
Tel: 01 82 28 75 08

I'm spending some holiday time this year in warm Caribbean climes where I'll be partaking in some rum-intaking. Happily some of my favorite drinking partners - Matt, Violaine, Wendy & Dayne - are joining me on vacation. But before leaving for nicer weather, Matt, Violaine and I slipped in one last Wednesday Cocktail Adventure for 2009 at the newly opened La Villa.

Just steps from the Arc de Triomphe, the latest Demarle venture strikes me as a bit ambitious with its uber-sleek bar design, impressive restaurant space, sharply dressed barmen and Champs Elysees prices. A pretty blond hostess greets and guides you to the warmly lit bar lined with Smirnoff Black vodka bottles. (presumably a sponsor)

Not surprisingly for 23 Dec, the place was quiet. However, Fabien, the pleasant young man behind the bar, said they'd been doing good business since their opening about a week prior.

In view of Demarle's other cocktail bars, I found the drinks menu here a bit of a let-down with its five Smirnoff Black vodka inspired drinks at 16 Euros and five uninspired classics (mojito, cosmo, caipi, bourbon sour & French martini) at 14 Euros. But I wasn't let down by Fabien's martini making skills. He chilled up a glass and filled it with a nice proportion of stirred Tanqueray/Martini Dry and topped it off with a twist. A bowl of crunchy kettle chips was served with the drinks.

Matt ordered a side car which was good, but a bit light on the cointreau for my taste. Violaine went for the Black Apple (Smirnoff Black, apple juice, black berry cordial) While it's not one I would have ordered, it wasn't bad & I loved the color.

Alongside the ten cocktails, you'll find a champagne offering with Moet at 14 Euros a glass and various options by bottle of three very recognizably good brands: Veuve, Moet and Dom. I wonder if this is telling of their target clientele: the young and ostentatiously beautiful high-end spenders with plenty of pocket money for obviously (most important) well-known bubbly.

For my second drink, Fabien mixed up a cool little number consisting of basil, Hendricks, cucumber, grapefruit bitters and falernum and meanwhile explained their plans to amp up the cocktail menu in the new year. The bar stock is relatively small, but there are a few things which aren't found in standard Parisian cocktails bars (aperol, St Germaine, wide range of bitters) alongside a decent gin selection for Paris (Hendricks, Martin Millers, Tanqueray, Tanqueray 10). The staff seems to know what they're doing and aren't thrown by classic off-menu requests. So I'm crossing my fingers that they do indeed venture into more exciting cocktail territory.

They've got plenty of space to squeeze in the cocktail lovers with the stool seating along the lengthy (faux?) marble bar, plushly modern adjoining room and sizeable, clinically white main street terrace. When I stepped outside to see the terrace, the doorman gave me a similar "we've got bigger and better plans for the new year run down" and explained that they were putting in heating lamps and plants around the terrace to serve as a buffer from the busy street.

And that seems to sum up La Villa for the moment. There's more work to do, but it's a good start. So, I hope they do follow through and it just keeps getting better. And, with the end of my 2009 blogging, that's what I'm wishing for my readers as well: a 2010 that gets off to a good start & just keeps getting better. Happy Holidays everyone!

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Friday, December 18, 2009

Wednesday Cocktail Adventure: Le Marlusse et Lapin

Le Marlusse et Lapin
14 rue Germain Pillon
75018  Paris

I'll admit it: I can be a control freak sometimes. But, I've been a busy girl lately so this week I decided to abdicate responsibility and let Mr Matt choose our cocktail bar.

He sent me a link for le Marlusse and Lapin, which has a big cozy looking bed in the backroom for lounging. Cute gimmick. But, the fact that it was just a few minutes' walk from home sealed the deal. I figured if the cocktails were good, I could stay awhile and easily toddle right home after. I figured if the cocktails were bad, I could blame it all on Matt (and still easily toddle home). win/win!

I arrived at 7pm to find a busy little bar banging with Montmartre youngsters. The bed was piled high with bodies so I took a stool at the bar. The 7 Euros cocktail menu featured 11 drinks, 8 of which were vodka based. I'm not even sure if they stock gin because the bartender looked at me like I was crazy and shook her head suspiciously when I explained what I wanted. Instead, I took the "Jacky in Love" (Jack Daniels, Amaretto & Cranberry Juice) which turned out to be predominately cranberry juice.

While the kids congregated at the back, the stools next to me were occupied by a smattering of older artsy/character types holding forth and having loud pseudo intellectual debates in Frenglish with each other and then no one in particular - and even in a one-sided fashion with me. While this could be annoying to some, I actually thought it was very appropriate for a bar on this famous butte.

Matt and Lindsey both took drinks on the sweet side. Matt's Lapin was a sugary swamp with a bit of creamy whipped fluff on top (some combination of baileys, cream and possibly amaretto). Lindsey followed suit with a Lapin as well. For Matt's second he took a chocolatta , which was similar but with chocolate smeared on the inside of the glass. They weren't unhappy with their drinks, but they weren't for me.

I was hard-pressed to choose a second from the un-Forest-friendly menu, and then something caught my eye: an absinthe fountain. Problem solved.

The bartender filled a glass with a good measure of Libertine Absinthe and proceeded with the process, and now I shall nitpick. The three things I didn't like about her method:

1. She didn't put only fresh water in the fountain. There were dregs left over from a prior session (which could have been weeks ago for all I knew). She left it there and just threw in a bit more water and ice.

2. She lit the sugar cube on fire. (yeah, I get it. It's fun. But sorry, fire-lovers, I'm in the no flame camp)

3. She louched it too quickly.

Admittedly, I'm not an Absinthe professional. But I do like ritual. And, with my control freak tendancies that means ritual done right, i.e. MY way! (don't mind me, Readers, I'm feeling a bit saucy today, we'll be back to your regularly scheduled Pleasant Forest after the holidays.)

However, I do have to give this lady props. She was handling an onslaught of pushy customers ordering beer after beer and she probably thought "Who's' this pretentious git wanting the whole absinthe show at a time like this?" But, she did it anyway, and she was very sweet about it.

The boisterous crowds just kept coming - to the point of being uncomfortable. And, that's when I realized that almost every drink being served behind the bar was a pint of beer in a plastic cup. It was Happy Hour with 2.60 pints until 8pm. Ah ha. There was a time when this might have been a draw for me. But, I'm just getting too old and picky to put up with being jostled, jolted and groped for a pint of cheap Pelforths. So, with a wave of tipsy toppling kiddies, we made our way for the door and called our cocktail night to a close.

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Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Wednesday Cocktail Adventure: Hotel Concorde Lafayette

Hotel Concorde Lafayette
3 Place du General Koenig
75017 Paris

La la, la la la la, la la la, la la.

10 points to anyone who guesses what I'm singing right now! Who knows what those points go to, but if you're competitive like I am, you'll give it a try anyway. I'll get into why I'm singing that later.

t’s Christmas time – I want fun and festive and fancy! So, this week we decided to visit the panoramic lounge of the hotel Concorde Lafayette hoping that might fit the bill. Sure, I couldn’t exactly see all the Christmas lights strung up throughout the city from the 33rd floor of this hotel, but I could see Paris twinkling beneath me.

I arrived to find Matt already ensconced in one of the cozy seats in this surprisingly busy bar. Every row of banquette style seating facing the window wall was full of Eiffel tower-watchers. Incidentally, the new light show for the tower isn’t very interesting. (Melanie pointed out that perhaps we were getting the backside of the show?) Démodé décor aside, I liked the private feel of the undulating long booths. Everyone gets their own little curve in which to congregate. And, in a different mindset I might have totally dug the cheesy feel of the 70’s style of this hopping hotel lounge.

Matt had already started on a so-so sidecar and after a glance at the menu, I took my usual. My Bombay Sapphire martini was very light on the vermouth and came with a twist in an icy glass. I was slightly suspicious at first, but pleased enough by it. I pretty much singlehandedly ate all of the mixed nuts and marinated olives that came with our drinks.

We had a good turnout of newbies, regulars and occasional visitors all coming for holiday wishes and pre-vacation check-ins. That means we got to sample several things off of the cocktail menu, which run about 14.50 Euros a drink.

But here’s the problem: all the drinks pretty much seem the same to me. They’re served in the same glasses with the same garnishes and the same colors. Violaine started with a Princesse (rum, coconut milk, banana juice, grapefruit and red Curaçao.) I won’t even bother describing the rest of the drinks ordered because they all tasted like a riff on that.

I was feeling a bit adventurous, so instead of sticking with another martini, which was not bad, or trying something I know I would like for my 2nd round, I decided to go with one of the “Concorde Cocktails” which seemed to be a mélange of whatever wasn’t selling behind the bar.

My “Hello Paris” arrived (with further nut and olive reinforcements) and I was immediately in love with the colors: but for fun, not for drinking. This mix of rum, banana liqueur, coconut liqueur, banana juice, grapefruit juice, strawberry syrup, and blue Curaçao was about as bad as it sounds. We decided the way to go would be to mix this crazy rainbow up.

The finished product was an extremely blue drink with a layer of red at the bottom. It looked like someone had taken Papa Smurf, thrown him in a blender, put a pineapple slice on the mix and served it to me. (Hint: here’s where the “la la” comes in). Matt tasted it and said “I can’t believe you’re drinking that disgusting drink!” And, I’m much pickier than Matt when it comes to drinks.

We were all happy to see each other and I was happy with my martini, but for the rest, we were all somewhat non-plussed. Melanie was the winner with her order of the Chicago 1934 (cognac, grand marnier, lemon juice and ginger ale) Even the view is a bit obscured by the lights reflecting off the window panes.

Maybe stop in for a martini if you’re in the area and dying for a view (or just missed your bus to Beauvais, which I’ve been known to do). But, otherwise, skip it for serious cocktails. So, next week, I’m letting Matt (who has been my longest standing partner in crime for Wednesday drinks) choose the bar. It couldn’t get much worse. I just drank a Smurf.

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Sunday, December 6, 2009

Quickie: Hotel de l'Abbaye

Quickie: Hotel de l'Abbaye
10 rue Casette
Paris 75006
Tel: 01 45 44 38 11

It's the season for year end drinks & festive apertifs. The girls and I decided that warranted an elegant cocktail apero so we decided to try the bar at L'Hotel de l'Abbaye.

I'll tell you right now, I don't know if they do a good mixed drink or not. When I asked the server if they could do a dry martini, he informed me that they were only doing wine & champagne because the bartender was not in for the evening. While I do believe that nice hotels should be equipped to deliver every night of the week, I also appreciated this after our first visit to the Hotel Particulier where they didn't tell us beforehand that the bar tender was not in residence that night.

So, I'm going to give them a little shout out anyway. The daintily delectable lounge at this little hotel would work well for a beverage stop in winter or summer months. This weekend they had a blazing homey fire. When the sun comes out, I plan on taking a seat in their secluded and lush garden terrace. The night we stopped in, it was almost disturbingly quiet, but got busier towards 10pm.

In lieu of a cocktail I had a glass of Laurent Perrier at 12 Euros (which, let's face it, is more festive than a martini anyway). The deco may be a bit too pretty for the boys, but for a quiet ladies' libation, I think it's a charming little find. The bar menu features small simple dishes of smoked salmon, croque monsieurs and salads at around 12 Euros. At those prices, this is a sweet spot to have a girlie gossip on the back terrace over a glass of bubbly and a light lunch.

I'll head back to check out the terrace in warmer months and may give the cocktails a try (although my hunch is it's better for the aforementioned activities)

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Wednesday Cocktail Adventure: Le Doll

Le Doll
104 Blvd de Clichy
Paris 75018
Tel: 01 82 09 47 42

Maybe I'm a closet pervert. I just realized, I've always lived close to "redlight" districts. In Seattle, I was just off of Aurora where the working ladies congregate. In Geneva, it was the Paquis, just blocks away from the hostess bars. And, in Paris, I've always been just a few minutes' walk from Pigalle. So, I'm no stranger to passing shady, seedy bars with their friendly female staff loitering just outside the doors.

When I saw ads for Le Doll, a new bar opening around here, I thought it might be a promising little spot in this area overrun with sex shops, tacky tourist souvenirs and kebab take out. They claim to specialize in cocktails and the graphics on their site made me think I might just stumble into a small modern-day, cheeky Studio 54 - glitzy disco swank with just enough underbelly to make it interesting.

Unfortunately, rather than tweaking the standard Pigalle fair to appeal to a sophisticated cocktail-seeking crowd, Le Doll just depressed me. The music was too loud for this completely empty and dark space. The multiple disco balls, neon lights, glowing screens and sketchy black couches adorned with pillows took the ambience beyond fun kitsch to borderline trashy (and not in a good way).

Behind the bar, clients will find such things as a variety of flavoured Grey Goose vodkas and a couple of gins on hand (G vine, Bombay Sapphire). Their cocktail menu offers up several pages of champagne based drinks, house creations and standards (mai tais, mojitos, etc) at 12 Euros. The martini section features two options, one of which uses Earl-grey infused gin, (not to be confused with Audrey Saunders' MarTEAni).

I ordered a martini and got a suprisingly drinkable (not withstanding the chunk of lemon floating in it) Bombay Sapphire & Noilly Pratt combo. Others tried the mai tai, mint julep and a champagne based drink. The drinks were fine, but certainly nothing that merited repeat visits. For my second drink I took a Between the Sheets, which was not bad, but served on the rocks.

Some additional friends called and couldn't find the place. So, I stood in front of the door looking up and down the street to find them. After a few moments in this spot, I realized that the throngs of pedestrians that are always on Blvd Clichy were looking me up and down as they passed probably thinking I was another one of the loitering ladies in front of another dodgy bar.

When the last of the group arrived, we decided it wasn't worth it to stay for more. We paid - taking advantage of the 1/2 price happy hour until 20h00 - and went elsewhere. Perhaps this place becomes more interesting afterhours when this area pops with tipsy bar-hopping tourists looking to bump and grind in noisy crowded bars with blaring music and dark corners after 2am.

On the upside, the service was great. But, for me if either the drinks had been stellar or the atmosphere more interesting in a trashy fun way, I might be willing to forgive one for the other. But, as it was, neither will bring me back to this place where I fully expect to get propositioned if I spend too much time near the door.

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