American Cocktail Adventures: Ralph's
Tel: 01 44 77 77 00
I hate being told no. On two previous attempts at cocktails in the bar of Ralph Lauren’s eponymous restaurant I called ahead to make sure they were open, yet arrived to find them closed for a private function or not open at all. On both occasions I grumbled to the staff how annoying it was to make the trip after confirming by phone and was met with typical French insouciance and no hint of apology. That ensures I’d be turning an especially critical eye to this spot when I finally made it past the uniformed doormen.
Friend and fab fellow-blogger, Kim, joined me and we made our way through the sweet courtyard dining area, which she rightly remarked has a Costes vibe. Happily the bar decor does not disappoint. The space is small with just a few tables nestled up against comfy leather booths scattered with a mix of large plaid and faux fur throw pillows. Horsey pictures hang from the walls and the tabletops are finished with small vases of pretty red roses. The high and exposed wooden beam ceilings give it a warm and cozy feel without being claustrophobic.
The menu is divided into house creations, American cocktails, classic cocktails and martini cocktails. Inexplicably a couple of the drinks are mentioned under both the classic and American headings. Of note: it's overflowing with typos, misspellings and illogical switches between French and English. “Wiskies” feature prominently on the menu and we had difficulty guessing what “citron ass” might be. And perhaps this menu code-switching gives an indication of what to expect: an establishment that cannot commit to being either entirely American or decidedly French.
The waitress/bartender was friendly enough but clearly a bit hesitant and uncertain about what she was doing. But big points on the bar snacks of sugared and rosemary nut mix and fried okra (yum!) My martini was a stirred a Tanqueray, Noilly Prat. I wasn’t given the option of a twist or olive and got a much too thick twist. However, the temperature and proportions were good and overall it was a pleasant enough drink that I didn't feel gouged at 15 Euros. Kim ordered a cosmo, which was a bit too heavy on the citrus, but otherwise handled correctly.
While tasty enough, Kim’s second choice of a mint julep, could have been better executed. The mint was a swampy mess and the ice was cubed rather than crushed. I also think a julep cup rather than a glass would be better in a place that considers themselves on the posh side. I also had an Americano about which I have no complaints.
We were unexpectedly joined in the bar by a frisky little mouse scurrying along the moldings. When we pointed it out to the French waitress she joked (in French) that we were in an American establishment so it was Mickey Mouse. I found that an amusing “save” but still felt like they could have been a bit more apologetic and even offered something to improve the visit. Really I don’t think either of us were terribly bothered by the mouse. But, again, it’s a nice place and little furry critters scampering about really freak some people out.
Speaking of fellow clientele, I am slightly concerned that those frequenting Ralph's could lean a bit more towards the pearl and twin set or obnoxious noveau riche Americans than is to my liking. But after spending a few hours here, we had the place basically to ourselves.
While I haven't tried the American-style food here, you can read a good report on it by Phyllis over at Paris Notebook. And for a better idea of the decor, check out Kim's pictures of it over on I Heart Paris (she also gets credit for the photos on this blog post).
So I must do as Ralph's does and say both yes and no. With its limited range of spirits and clear lack of serious cocktail consultation in setting up the bar, this is not a drinking destination for hyper-cocktail-critics. Notwithstanding, for its prices, I think the bar is charming and discrete and will keep this address for a leisurely drink with a friend or a romantic tête-a-tête.
So, to my readers, I say the two of us had a lovely time there and decided we would go back again for a good enough drink and delightful surroundings. But, to Mr Lauren I say: You're an American, with an "American" establishment in Paris. Polish up those cocktail skills and own it, Ralph!