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Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Whisky Cocktail Adventures: Grant's Popup Bar

Grant's Afterworks
58 avenue Philippe Auguste
75011 Paris

Change is good. Shaking things up from time to time keeps you from rusting in place and freshens up your perspective on life. So, as someone who knocks back a bit of gin, when I got an invite for the Grant's whisky Afterworks launch party I figured a bit of diverging from my usual course was in order. Plus I never turn down a party invite.

For the next two weeks Grant's is sponsoring an early evening, reservations only, (free!) ephemeral bar. So I dragged along a +1, past the eye candy at the entrance and into a space that was actually even better than I had anticipated after seeing the press packet and Facebook page. Lively guests were partaking in tastings, billiards and cocktails while photogs snapped pics. The space is large and open, but the copious comfortable chairs and sofas lend a surprisingly relaxed air and allow for somewhat intimate groupings.

We headed to the busy bar to choose from the five featured cocktails. I started with the Old Fashioned (Grant's whiskey, angostura, orange bitters, simple syrup) and Luke took the Grant's Sour (whisky, lime juice, honey, simple syrup). Judging by the orders, the sour seems to be a popular choice and also a good option for those who are not die hard whisky fans. The barboys are doing a nice job of it and seemed to be - if not speedy - conscientious about what they were mixing and shaking.

We bumped into lovely Sion (of Paris (im)Perfect) and joined her and Ericka on their sofa while the first act of the evening began. A comedian and then a band hit center stage. After a bit of couch-time, we had a visit with the pleasant Ludovic, who was overseeing the degustations for the night. (henceforth, it will be Raphael heading up the tastings) He gave an interesting and concise rundown on Grant's whisky and took us through a sampling of the Family Reserve, Sherry Cask and 12 year. While the 12 year was a crowd pleaser, I preferred the Sherry Cask. The 12 year is a drink with a good smokey, woody touch. But for me, personally, when it comes to scotch, I prefer some serious smoke over a little tease.

We finished the evening with a bit more meandering, a few nibbles from the passing waiters and a final stop at the bar. I ended with the Grant's Jazz Club (Grant's, creme de cacao and a vanilla bean). On leaving we got a swag bag with 3 sample bottles and a whisky glass in the triangular shape for which Grant's has been known since they introduced it for their bottles in the 50's.

Sound fun? Well, you've got until 30 April to experience it for yourself. Reserve via their Facebook page and go play a bit of foozball with a whisky cocktail in hand. And, report back! I'm curious to hear about the scene and crowd on regular nights.

I've been known to be a bit snarky about heavily brand sponsored events. But, I do think that if you believe in your product, the best advertisement is to give people a taste of it. If it's as good as you say, they'll come back for more. So, kudos to Grant's for sharing their spirits in a fun, informative environment. In short, I like the people and products at Grant's (especially their Hendricks gin - you know I couldn't go a whole blog post without mentioning it!) But taking a tastebud detour for an evening was definitely a nice change of pace.

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Monday, April 18, 2011

Anything's possible cocktail adventures: Echelle de Jacob

Echelle de Jacob
10-12 rue Jacob
75006 Paris
tel: 01 46 34 00 29

Echelle de Jacob means Jacob's Ladder in English. So, what is Jacob's Ladder? It's a biblical stairway to heaven. It's a children's game played with string. It's a disturbing movie circa 1990. And, it's also a cocktail bar found on rue Jacob in Paris' Saint-Germain-des-Prés quarter where "toutes les nuits deviennent un autre jour où tout est possible."* How to resist the lure of such a romantic claim?

In addition to the promise of possibility, Echelle de Jacob is oft referred to as a New York style 'private club' with an impressive cocktail list. Not knowing exactly what was meant by 'private club' I emailed to reserve and was told they'd be happy to receive us at 7pm on the appointed day. Arriving on time, I was surprised to find it closed. Fortunately, the convivial barman allowed me to cozy up in a corner and wait for Matt and Vio while the evening's entertainment did their sound check. Back in the 50's, this locale was a popular cabaret, serving as a starting point for iconic french lyrical talent such as Brel and Brassens. Staying true to their musical beginnings, Echelle de Jacob still pulls in bands and musicians for a night crawling crowd of regulars.

The cocktail menu features 12 'martinis' including a chocolate martini, velvet martini and ginger martini. Three drinks veer from the martini theme: cosmo, sex on the beach and the eponymous Jacob (cranberry, citrus, strawberry, mint and your choice of rum, gin or vodka - or virgin). They also note on the menu that you can ask for whatever that suits your fancy. Cocktails are mainly vodka based with a few bubblies thrown into the mix. Spirits are heavily weighted towards whiskies (with 10+ on offer). For gin we have the choice of either Tanqueray or Hayman's Old Tom

Order any cocktail on the menu and it will set you back 12 Euros. Unless....you order the most expensive drink on the menu (which of course I did) at 15 Euros: a Dry Martini. My Tanqueray martini looked okay on arrival, but on tasting, i realized it was made with sweet rather than dry vermouth. When the barman came around to ask how I liked it, i hesitated. My pause caused him to press. i hate know-it-all customers and i don't want to be one, but at that moment i decided if someone asks your opinion, let's assume they want to hear it. So...

I suggested that dry martinis are normally made with dry vermouth. And (not for the first time) i got schooled by a french barman telling me that a dry martini is gin and sweet vermouth. He explained that in America 'where martinis were invented' that's how they drink them. At the end of his explanation on how Americans drink cocktails, he asked me where i was from. Oh, the irony.

Cocktails aside, I like this spot. It's dim, dark, candlelit and heavy on the velour. The small space is intimate without being cloying. The service is pleasant without being kiss-ass. In the bigger scheme of things they'll be hard pressed to compete with other bars in the area that either make stand out cocktails (Prescription, L'Hotel) or cater to an American audience (Ralph's).

In general, Echelle de Jacob feels like it's past its prime. And, i bet that's a big draw for loyal regulars, whether they realize it or not. With their pseudo strict door policy, unapologetic cocktail list and hints at former glory, there's something appealing here. Not necessarily the cocktails. But, maybe a coupe de champagne at 10 Euros and a bit of fun music. And, i just love the promise of the possibilities that a new day brings.

*every night becomes another day and anything is possible.

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Thursday, April 7, 2011

Yelp Drinks Week Cocktail Adventures

Dearest readers,

Can we talk? We've been together a long time. Three years. That's longer than most of my relationships. And I want us to stay together for a lot longer so I will be honest with you about my dalliances. I'm diverging slightly from my usual posting M.O. I know you've come to expect certain things from me: exclusively cocktail bar reviews with an occasional Friday Five for fun. But, you see, this week is Yelp Drinks Week. And not only are the ladies behind Yelp France super cool, they work hard to make fun things happen for the Paris Yelp community.

So what have they done for us lately? They've arranged with 7 Paris bars to offer drink specials at half price all week long. So for you, gentle reader, I took it upon myself to visit all seven spots and give you the lowdown on what to drink where. No weekend plans yet? Good that means you've still got three days to check out the sweat deals on offer. TIP: if you want to make it a Yelp bar crawl the first three are on the list all within easy walking distance of each other.

Les Enfant Perdus
9 rue des récollets
75010 Paris
Tel. 01 81 29 48 26

Yelp Week Drink Specials:
Bourbon Vanilla Sour: 6
Martini Bianco Shine: 4.25
Cosmo: 5

Restaurant: yes
Terrace: yes

Les Enfants Perdus is a convenient stop after a wander along nearby Canal St Martin for a Martini Bianco Shine apero on the tiny sidewalk terrace. The vibe is more restaurant than bar so if the dinner menu tempts, head inside to sip on a starter beneath the small bar's brightly colored ceramic tile ceiling.

Petit Chateau d'Eau
34 rue Château d'eau
75010 Paris
01 42 08 72 81

Yelp Week Specials
Caïpirinha: 3,50€
Champagne: 3,90€
Cognac cocktail: 5€

Restaurant: I think so? light stuff?
Terrace: yes

With its laid back atmosphere and loyal local clientele, Petit Chateau d'Eau is the place to hit for a cheerfully cheap glass of bubbly. The interior is small and welcoming or the outdoor tables offer a glance of frenetic street life and the colorful characters accompanying it.

Le Napoléon
73 rue du Faubourg Saint-Denis
75010 Paris
01 47 70 21 36

Yelp Week Specials

Mojito Royal: 4,50€
Napoleon's Victory: 3,50€
Mary Martini: 3,50€

Restaurant: no
Terrace: yes

La Napoleon provides a hipster retreat in a Parisian pocket of some slightly less than savory neighbors. Make it a late night cocktail date, check out the kitsch cool decor details and try their eponymous cocktail special topped off with fresh honeycomb.

Le Pixel
10 rue Dauphine
75006 Paris

Yelp Week Specials
Yelp Cocktail:: 6€
Cointreau Champagne: 5€
Beer by the pint: 4€

Restaurant: no
Terrace: I don't think so, but there might be something out the side door

Enthusiastic owner Michel pulls out all the presentation stops at the oft mentioned Pixel bar. Grab a group of friends and spend happy hour watching him light things on fire and load up your Yelp cocktail with more bling than your average drink.

Ô Chateau
68 rue Jean Jacques Rousseau

Yelp Week Specials
Vin du Jour: 3,50€
Vodka Cocktail: 6€
Bas Armagnac 1974: 9€

Restaurant: yes
Terrace: no

The heavily buzzed and newly opened location for O'chateau is the perfect place to stick with the wine option during Yelp drinks week. Sit up at the expansive bar, order the vin du jour and nibble on some tasty olives for a steal.

Quinze Bar
15 Boulevard Saint Martin
75003 Paris

Yelp Week Specials
Chardonnay: 1,60€
Ti Punch: 2,50€
Shot: 1,50€

Restaurant: no
Terrace: yes

While 15 Bar won't wow with decor on entering, the back corner 'lounge' is a cute surprise and staff are exceedingly friendly. If the ass-kicking ti punch is to tough for your tastebuds stick with an unassuming glass of Chardonnay.

Rolling Pom's
25-27 rue Moret
75011 Paris
01 58 30 75 75

Restaurant: yes
Terrace: no

Yelp Week Specials
Leffe Ruby: 2€
Ti Punch: 3€
Vin de Pays: : 1€

A bit off the beaten path Rolling Pom's pulls in clients with its binging pinball machine and revolving monthly art displays. Sit up at the pleasant bar and take a break from cocktails with a refreshing Ruby Leffe served up by the cheerful staff.

It's good having goals. And now that I've reached my seven bar goal for the week I'll be taking some downtime next week. And a special shout out to Zeva and Elodie & the rest of the Yelp team for motivating me to try some new spots that I might not have visited otherwise. I encourage you to do the same.

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Monday, April 4, 2011

Pizza Cocktail Adventures: Grazie

91 blvd
01 42
78 11

Arriving on the scene in the shadow of cool-as-heck big sister (Merci concept store) Grazie is already turning heads with distressed industrial chic decor and wagging tongues with superior pizza and cocktail rumours. So, a week after its opening Kim and I were on the stools checking out and chatting with Oscar, the tatooed Italiano behind the bar.

The first thing I noticed was not the pleasant deviation from the common speakeasy/lounge style or the stepped up class for a pizza joint. The first thing I noticed was the smell. Something good was cooking in the large stone pizza oven visible from the open kitchen. I mentioned to Kim that the smell and the style combination reminded me of San Fransisco. I'm not even really sure what I meant by that, but Melanie made the same comment when she arrived so perhaps there is something to it.

Originally just up from Italy to consult on bar set up, Oscar ended up staying to work. The cocktail menu hints at his Italian origins in its offerings (Aperol Spritz), ingredients (Cynar) and cheeky names like 8 1/2 or the Pimm's Italiano. The 24 cocktails range in price from 9 to 15 Euros and comprise a respectable mix of traditional classics, tweaked classics and house creations. Plus, you gotta love a menu with a breakfast cocktail on it (Breakfast Martini.) The bar stock is small but very solid with an extremely impressive choice for a Paris bar (they're working with the nice people over at LMDW Fine Spirits). Gins on offer include Brokers, Plymouth Navy Strength, Gin Mare, No. 3, Monkey 47, Bulldog and Hendrick's.

I'd never tried Monkey 47 in a martini, so I went with that. It was expertly made and the Monkey 47 has a distinct crisp and bitter flavor that I personally found a welcome change of pace for my martini. [Although for those of you who don't drink martinis all the time, I'd recommend something a bit more classic from their choice.]

We had a larger group than usual for a Wed so I got to sample several different drinks. Bloody Mary fans should try the two bloody mary riffs (one including sake and wasabi and the other with Hendricks gin.) Other group favorites included la Vie en Rose, the Mediterranean gin and tonic (with a spray of house-flavoured salt) and the Speakeasy.

As we worked our way through the menu, the bar got progressively more packed. And, this is when Oscar went from from damn good to excellent in my estimation. He didn't let the growing crowds pressure him into time-saving measures of dropping nice touches like using tongs instead of fingers to handle straws. He maintined his cocktail making standards but still knocked out drinks at an acceptable pace. Other little extras that impress are the attention to mixers (Fever tree tonic over Schweppes) and the beautiful bar and glassware.

We would have loved to have scored a table for some pizza tasting, but the place was already booked up for the week. Instead, the friendly staff served us at the bar. And the these pizzas are the perfect accompaniment to the cocktails. When a drinks menu is so tempting, upscale carby goodness is the ideal way to soak up any overindulgence. And these pizzas aren't just belly-fillers - they'll draw as much clientele on their own as the cocktails.

Overall, Grazie is a great deviation from the Paris norms. I think Oscar is injecting some quality novelty into Paris' nicely growing cocktail scene. I already made ressies for pizza and cocktails with the girls there next week to further explore. But, for now, Grazie seems to be more than earning the hype it's generated.

What? you still want more info on this hotspot? Check out Kim's post on I Heart Paris.

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