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Saturday, October 29, 2011

Big Buddha Cocktail Adventures: Buddha Bar

8/12 rue Boissy d'Anglas
75008 Paris
Tel: 33 1 53 05 90 00

It's time to address the big Buddha in the room. For a good part of the past decade the Buddha bar has barely bleeped my radar. I considered it a past its sell-by date hub for expense account-wielding wanna-be hipsters more interested in where they are drinking than what (with a bit of electro mood music in the background.) However, over the past couple of years, I began to suspect that just maybe the Buddha was going to have a renewal of cocktail cred. Cocktail acquaintances were mentioning the Buddha Bar, they showed up at the Bar Rouge at this year's Cocktails Spirit and I heard talk of talent behind the bar. I thought, maybe I should give this place another look.

So I dragged one of my besties, Wendy, along to try it. She's a girl with whom I've clinked many a glass and who deserves some cocktail cred of her own, having recently written the Seattle Cocktail Culture iPhone application and heading up the Seattle LUPEC chapter. She was with us ten years ago - probably the last time I had gone to the Buddha - when we were denied entry because someone in our party was in trainers. So, she seemed a good - albeit not totally convinced - person to go with.

Buddha belongs to the George V Eatertainment Group, along with other hyper-designed Paris venues like Barlotti, Barrio Latino and Bound. All of their ventures are bold, conceptual spaces that can only be kitted out like that with loads of cash. And, for me, that pays off with the Buddha. I am admittedly smitten with the decor, which many might consider a bit out-of-date in a been-there-done-that kind of way. My attraction has to do with the (hyperbolically) world's largest Buddha that literally fills the room. That Buddha is fantastically huge. I am both fascinated and frightened by the big Buddha.

We arrived on a Monday in August, an ordinarily quiet month for Paris, but the bar was bursting. Notwithstanding the heaving crowds, the cute, qipao-attired waitress seated and served us very quickly. My Martini was fine, but Wendy found her Last Word too tart. Nice job that the waitress came through the throngs to ask me if I wanted an olive or twist before placing the final order with the bar. The place was so busy I couldn't see the bar, bartenders or booze, and had nothing to observe but the menu. Amongst copious sake choices, the menu offers a couple of pages of 17+ E cocktails and my observations on each section are such:

Tiki: You don't see a lot of Paris bars doing a range of tiki, including some of the more convivial options like the group-intended (200 Euros!) 3 litre Tresor Secret du Temple.

Classics: I'm kind of perplexed by their choice of these four: Icebreaker (?), Pineapple Julep, Last Word, Pisco Sour.

Modern Classics: a mix of some sure-fire Stoli-based sellers, alongside a few more interesting and unusual choices, involving eucalyptus-infused shochu. There could be something interesting here.

World BB creations: various drinks, including one "by Marie Claire" which I don't really understand the reasoning behind.

Voyage in Asia: all involving either shochu, some form of sake or Japanese whisky. Makes sense given the venue.

Goody! three creations from cocktail and spirits notables, which could be considered more challenging than usual for Paris palettes with spicy chili infusions or bitter campari.

Shooters: Three choices. The standard tequila and vodka shots, as well as one diluted with a cordial. Meh.

So, in general it's a menu with both a few redeemable cocktails qualities as well as obvious profitable choices. I can't really knock a business for trying to make cash - you gotta bankroll those ginormous Buddhas somehow. Plus perhaps we would have stayed to explore the more interesting potentials, but it was so incredibly hot that I could hardly finish my first drink. And at those prices, with those massive crowds, I'd say a bit of aircon is in order.

So Buddha Bar: has-been or come-back? Anybody's guess. It will remain in limbo-land for me until I get back in to explore the bar action more seriously. And, given the crowds, I'm not sure that's going to happen anytime soon. So, got an opinion on the Buddha? Feel free to share. I've been getting mails from Buddha-curious readers who want to know.

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Thursday, October 6, 2011

Salacious-glam Cocktail Adventures: le 29

le 29
29 rue Vineuse
Paris 75016
06 18 40 89 93

I've said it before, but I have a fascination with the seedier side of Paris. I live near Pigalle, so I get daily doses of kinky sex shops, working ladies in action and the famous museum of erotica. So when i heard that Greg (formerly of Costes, le Secret and Royal Monceau) was opening a spot in a former girlie-type club in the relatively quiet neighborhood near Trocadero, I was clearly intrigued.

Still sporting the sign of the prior establishment, le 29 is somewhat sketchy (in a good way) and unassuming from the outside. With no windows, red lights to signal they're open and an imposing heavy closed door, you've little idea what you're in for when you buzz for entry. But when I slipped into this modern day den of sin, I was completely enamoured by the decor. I'd heard that they'd done little in terms of remodel when taking the place over and fortunately
that's true. Instead of having eradicated all traces of its prior existence, they play it up. It retains a slightly naughty and underground feel with its red walls and cushy red armchairs and lounges and the remaining shiny dance poles (check it out - you can see one in the pic). Yet elegant touches like the silver bar accessories, cocktails picks and gorgeous mixing glasses elevate it to something more luxurious and classy. I'd call it glamorous salacious boudoir chic at its best.

I stopped in early evening around 19:30 when mellow jazz and soul music played and I was joined by one of my usual cohorts, Matt, as well as Susie and visiting Seattle LUPEC ladies Courtney and Tracy. Similar to a few other spots like le Carmen and un Dimanche a Paris, le 29 doesn't have a printed cocktail menu. Options vary depending on what's fresh and what kind of new syrups are lined up behind the bar. So, Greg chatted with us to get an idea of what we might want to get in our gullets. I started with my usual and had a very nice No. 3/Noilly Prat martini, stirred with olives. Matt started with a side car variation that included lemon grass and the girls had some well-made Manhattans.

Thus began a couple of hours of tasting and sampling and general conviviality. My next drink was a margarita with thyme and salt infused syrup. I lost track of what everyone else was sampling and sipping for each one. But I do recall an Armagnac, red vermouth and bitters combo as well as another with gin, Thai basil, green chartreuse, absinthe and syrup. The booze selection, while not huge, is very respectable. Gins available were Tanqueray, Monkey 47, Junipero, Gordons, No. 3 and Hendrick's.

I've also said before, I think it can be intimidating for customers faced with no cocktail menu to order without knowing the prices. In this case, they run about 14 Euros a cocktail (similar to any other bar in Paris going sans carte) which are prices I'd be happy to pay here.

I love seeing a worthwhile bar arrive in this area, which previously had nothing cocktail-worthy to boast. Other things of note: For night owls, this is a spot that stays open until 4am (sometimes as late as 6am). It looks like they'll hopefully be bringing in some finger foods come October or so. Smokers will appreciate the discrete and comfortable fumoir in the back with more cushy red armchairs and elegant lamps. Also, for the moment they don't have a card machine, so take cash. Lots of it, because you can easily get sucked into the underbelly elegance of the place and not want to give up your bar stool for awhile.

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