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Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Gin Bar Cocktail Adventures: Le Parc Trocadero Hotel




Le Parc


ero Hotel

Gin Bar





75016 France

When I began my martini-fueled adventures there was no serious cocktail culture to speak of in Paris. Having long given up hope of finding a decent mixed drink, I subsisted on French wine when out and mixing my own when at home. My first recorded foray into serious spirits imbibing began – fittingly - with the Experimental Cocktail Club. Having recently opened at the time, these boys were at the forefront of the capital’s cocktail culture revival. Several years later, both 52 martinis and the Paris cocktail scene have evolved (for the better in both cases, I hope!)

Now, there are more worthy cocktail bars than I can visit on a regular basis. And I’m seeing additions that wouldn’t have been considered four years ago such as bars not only stocking but also showcasing spirits like gin. The Renaissance Paris Le Parc Trocadero Hotel has recently undergone a remodel and unveiled the first and only self-proclaimed gin bar in Paris. Of course I had to check it out.

The hotel reopened its doors last April after 4 months of renovation that resulted in the award of a fifth star. On entering the lobby bar, one does feel as if it’s just been revamped. It’s clean, modern and non-fussy but still manages to flirt with a bit of fun. Cheeky green armchairs and shiny surfaces offset more traditional paintings and low-key sofas. As with many hotel bars, lighting is bright. But, those looking for something more relaxed or romantic can move to the lovely leafy courtyard terrace year-round with its heat lamps and charming ambience.

I don’t know if it’s intentional, but the featured gin, G’Vine, reflects the décor with its green and grey tinged bottles of G’Vine Floraison and Nouassin. Oversized bottles of both sit center stage on the back bar and empties decorate various corners. A closer look at the other bottles at the bar indicates a definite bent towards the juniper with 20+ brands on offer. They’ve got the usual suspects (Gordon’s, Tanqueray, Bombay), the latest darlings (Monkey 47, Gin Mare) as well as one I don’t know (Topfergeist Peket.) Is that a gin or genever? The bottle looks like genever, but when I look it up it says gin. I’ll look into that more later. Anyway…

Prices range from 14 to 16 Euros. The standard cocktail menu features four classics based on a range of spirits and a suggested alternative for each. The classic dry martini has a recommended variation of the cucumber gin martini (Hendrick’s, cucumber juice and lemon juice.) I think this is a fun idea but I only got it from paying close attention to the cocktail list. I wonder if the regular costumer would even notice and might need more of a “If you like this, try this…” approach on the menu.

Next up are the ‘signature drinks’ which all feature French gins (either G’Vine, Citadelle or Magellan.) Teacher’s pet seems to be the Flower Power @ le Parc (jasmine infused G’Vine Flourison, Saint Germain, rose syrup and lemon.) Once again, I don’t know if this is intentional but the name is very similar to the already established Flower Power cocktail from Simon Difford (also gin and St Germain based).

In short, it’s a good start for a gin bar. However if I were really angling to corner the mothers’ ruin market, I’d put more gin-based drinks on the menu. But, the staff tells me there are plans to expand both the menu and the gin selection. It should be noted that bar manager, Axel Ginepro, was not in-house when I made my visit and I think that fact made some of the teething pains more evident.

For example, I ordered the Dry Martini (listed on the menu) and initially got a margarita (which was immediately changed when I pointed this out). Also, the dry martini on the menu is listed with “French gin” but no specification of brand. When asked which brand I wanted, I assumed it was made with the featured gin and requested G’Vine. I was then told there would be a supplement for this French gin in my martini. Considering my micro-management of the mixed drink, the bartender was exceedingly friendly. While most likely annoyed by my multiple questions, she never once showed it and gave me the G’Vine martini at the standard price. I was apologetic for being so persnickety and I meant it. I imagine most guests order drinks, take what they’re given and appreciate the attentive service

over dishes of truffled cashews. But from an admittedly attentive customer’s perspective: if you’re going to call yourself a gin bar, step up!

Notwithstanding, I do think this an interesting and exciting project. But in order to capitalize on that, more staff training and expansion are in order. Otherwise, it’s just a nice hotel bar with excellent service that just happens to have a lot of gin on hand. I get it. We all have to start somewhere. And, just as hopefully both this blog and the Paris cocktail scene have grown into something more substantial with time, so will le Parc’s gin bar.

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Saturday, November 26, 2011

Cocktail Shopping Adventures: Sipeasy


50 rue de



Paris 75009

I often get asked where to buy certain spirits and cocktail-related items. So, in addition to my usual thoughts on cocktail bars and classes in town, I’m adding a third category to the blog for spirits shops. And the first post on shopping goes to a well-deserving little spot that’s newly (and conveniently!) opened in my hood: Sipeasy.

Sipeasy is based on a concept that goes beyond just the standard cavist. Owner, Paul-Eric, stocks the usual suspects: wine, bubbly and booze. You’ll also find a wide range of high-quality nibbles and bar equipment. But Sipeasy takes the art of apero shopping one step further with the Sipbox: a boxed set of ingredients to create a particular cocktail at home.

So, what makes this different from just buying all the necessary ingredients separately? The Sipbox is based on three elements that make it stand out:

Quality Ingredients:

Whether it’s the citrus, syrups or spirits, Paul-Eric is selecting the good stuff. He’s been working closely with a producer who develops a range of liqueurs and syrups then bottled under the Sipeasy name. Not content with the standard triple secs on the market, he also convinced the distillery to revive their original triple sec recipe (from the 20’s), which is also bottled and sold under the Sipeasy name. Sipeasy offers a good selection of spirits from the standards to some which are more difficult to find in Paris.

Proper Proportions:

Sipboxes include smaller-sized bottles scaled to the number of drinks in each set. For example, if you wanted to make a martini at home, you’d have to buy an entire full sized bottle of both gin and vermouth, even though the vermouth will only make up a small portion of the drink. If you’re, say, me, this poses no problem as you will eventually make it through both. But, the numbers of times I’ve seen a dusty bottle of some obscure spirit sitting in the corner of someone’s kitchen, I realize that not everyone wants or needs a fully stocked bar at home. The sets come in three sizes and include the proper amount of ingredients to create 4 to 8 cocktails.

Interesting Prices

Sipbox prices vary depending on the drink, but the range stays between 2.50 to 4 Euros per drink.

I had the pleasure of sampling the Caipirumski Sipbox last weekend and can report back that he’s effectively united these three elements into a successful concept. My box contained:

-20cl of Très vieux Rhum Agricole réserve Spéciale HSE Saint-Etienne

-10 cl of sugar cane syrup

-two very nice limes

-4 straws

-recipe card

Following the recipe exactly, I mixed up the drinks and was happy with the result. Having had some spectacularly bad rhum agricoles in the past, I tend to shy away from it. So I was particularly pleased with the choice of this one with the aged aspect enhancing the flavor and giving the cocktail overall a more interesting aspect.

While Paul-Eric does develop some drinks, he’s very forthcoming about the fact that he is not a professional bartender and relies on inspiration from well-respected cocktail books such as Larousse, Imbibe or Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails. And I believe the fact that he doesn’t come from a bar background works in his favor for this type of venture. He approaches his project as a consumer would, resulting in a very customer-conscious level of service.

The Sipbox is a fun and easy way for the cocktail curious to try their hand at home mixing without having to rely on premade mixers and bagged or boxed ready-mades. Thus, the customer is better able to appreciate the individual ingredients and can more easily experiment with various drinks on a small scale without stocking up on ingredients that might go unused.

For me personally, the Sipbox is less of a necessity because I generally either already have or am happy to buy the needed ingredients for any given cocktail. However, what I will use the Sipboxes for is as a fun alternative to bringing a bottle of wine to someone’s home. And for those of you like me who don’t shy away from full-size, the Sipeasy shop of course offers everything in standard bottles as well. So stop in next time you’re in the market for something interesting or some spirits advice from the perpetually pleasant Paul-Eric. Or check out his blog that features drinks recipes, cocktail news and information on the store.

Congratulations to Sipeasy for a successful start. And, I just happen to know that tonight is the inaugural party, which seems a particularly fitting day to put up my inaugural post on cocktail shopping.

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Monday, November 21, 2011

Opera Cocktail Adventures: Martini Bar at Garnier

Opera Garnier Martini Bar
Place Jacques Rouche
75009 Paris

With its impressive exterior, grand staircase and Chagall-ceilinged auditorium, Opera Garnier has always had plenty to offer beyond just the performances. And, now the previously underutilized backside of one of Paris' most beautiful buildings also boasts a Martini bar and immense restaurant.

The Martini sponsored bar features three types of Martini vermouth and cocktails, which draw heavily on them. Many options also include prosecco like the Royal Opera (Martini Bianco, prosecco, peach and grapefruit juice).

Although the spirits selection is small, my martini was made with Bombay Original (not Sapphire, which is a surprising choice to find in Paris bars) and a twist. It was well made - as it should have been at 14 E.

Matt, Vio, Thibault and Opal joined and we tried a few other drinks with the caipi being the best of the bunch. Somewhat stale popcorn came on the side, which was a bit damp due to the dishes it was served in - still wet from washing.

Being an historical monument, this addition had to be done in such a way that no permanent structural changes were made to the environment. So the multilevel restaurant is built up on a groovy 60’s inspired structure that

rests on the ground. As a result the martini bar itself has a bit of a cold and temporal feeling.The entire operation seems as if it's cheekily squatting in a much more inspired setting. The temporary and incongruous bar and restau feel rickety and soulless. While the drinks were nice and the barman attentive, I wouldn’t make a trip back to imbibe. But, what might be more interesting is the large terrace off the back in summer months when weather warms and opera patrons are looking for a pleasing place for a post-show drink.

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