Slow to embrace any trend not of its own making, Paris was a bit behind other major cities to jump onto the cocktail craze. But fuelled by an enthusiastic expat community and an eagerness to strut its stuff, the capital has more than made up for a sluggish start. Nowadays, pretty much every new bar is a cocktail bar and restaurants and nightclubs have entered the fray. Held in January, the third edition of Paris Cocktail – where aficionados and amateurs share tips, tastings and attend masterclasses – was a huge success.
Paris’s cocktail bars range from shadowy speakeasies and swank lounges to deluxe hotel bars where a drink can set you back €30. Barmen are referred to as ‘mixologists’ and vie for fame and the devotions of avid enthusiasts. Everything from syrups to ice is house-made, barrel-aged, infused and artisanal. You’ll even find single-spirit bars, where you can sample a mind-boggling array of whiskies, rums, gins or bourbons.
Paris’s offerings are too numerous to list here, but what follows is a selection of cocktail bars each with its own personality and allure. Many of the listings are hotel bars, as hotels were the first to offer cocktails in Paris, back in the Roaring 20s, and still offer some of the best options in town.
Opening hours are usually at 6pm and closing hours around 2am. Hotel bars can close as early as 11pm on weekdays, but have the added virtue of being open on Sunday and Monday.
SHERRY BUTT: Set on a picturesque street in a quiet part of the Marais (not far from where Jim Morrison met his demise), Sherry Butt was among the first to open its doors toward the start of the cocktail craze. The cavernous, industrial loft-like space, between 17th-century stone walls, is made cosy with comfy leather sofas and mood lighting, perfect for pleasing a hip young crowd. A specialist in whiskies, the tasting flights attract aficionados, and the consistently high-calibre cocktails (with ever-changing specials on a blackboard above the bar) are dependably delicious. An inventive bar snacks menu hits the spot, and on weekends a DJ gets the place rocking. Website: www.sherrybuttparis.com
DANICO: Step through the soaring ultra-chic pizzeria Daroco – housed in a stripped-down version of Jean-Paul Gautier’s ex-boutique in the lovely Galerie Vivienne – to Paris’s newest cocktail lounge du jour. Danico’s black-and-white herringbone-patterned bar is the sleek centrepiece from which emerge some seriously delectable cocktails (in adorable themed glasses). No surprise, as the globetrotting head barman is multi-award-winning Nico de Soto, veteran of some of the city’s first cocktail successes with a New York lounge of his own. Get the best view on the mixology action from a velvet barstool or grab a table on the mezzanine overlooking the restaurant, the source of your delicious bar snacks. A big plus: the bar is open Sundays and Mondays, a rarity in Paris.
EXPERIMENTAL COCKTAIL CLUB: Despite being one of the city’s pioneering cocktail bars, opened way back in 2007 at the start of the cocktail craze, this shadowy speakeasy on the rue Saint-Saveur still draws an avid crowd and can be tough to crack on weekends. This is the first outpost by the Experimental Group franchise, a three-man team behind a bunch of trend-setting lounge restaurants and hotels in Paris and beyond, whose formula has proven highly successful: stylishly louche atmosphere, comfy seating, deep gloom and a finite menu of reliably excellent and reasonably-priced drinks. A live DJ on weekends perks up an already happy crowd.
LE NIGHT FLIGHT, HÔTEL BACHAUMONT: If you were to limit your cocktail crawl to a single Paris arrondissement, the second would be a good bet. Along with perennial favourites Mabel, the Experimental Cocktail Club, Lockwood, Hero and La Conserverie, Night Flight, in the chic Hôtel Bachaumont, is a handsome addition to the neighbourhood throng. Plush, intimate and sophisticated, the drinks on offer here – all of the same premium quality we’ve come to expect from the Experimental Group – refer to France’s beloved Saint-Exupéry, author of Le Petit Prince and Vol de Nuit, from which the bar takes its name. A stylish place for a before-dinner drink, you can also groove the night away to live or DJ music on weekends and enjoy the terrace in warm weather. Website: www.hotelbachaumont.com
LE MARY CELESTE: The Marais has understandably been targeted as the newest haven for hipster cocktail bars, but Le Mary Celeste – owned by the trio who pioneered the neighbourhood with the superb taco and cocktail joint Candelaria, about a minute away, Hero bar and restaurant, and Pigalle’s raucous Glass – is a perennial favourite. An A-list watering hole since the minute it opened, the crowds here are every bit as enthusiastic now for the half-price oysters at happy hour, splendid cocktails, natural wines by the glass, locally brewed beers and friendly low-key vibe. A reasonable menu of delicious tapas plates at dinnertime (and no-reservation policy) keep it crowded, so best to come as close to its 6pm opening as possible and stay awhile.
A LITTLE ROMANCE
LE BAR, L’HÔTEL: Cosy doesn’t begin to describe this romantic one-of-a-kind cocktail hideaway in a one-of-a-kind hotel on a tiny street in Saint-Germain-des-Prés. L’Hôtel is a bit of a legend, having made history as the place (then the Hôtel d’Alsace) where Oscar Wilde died, famously disparaging the wallpaper with his last breath. The hotel has more than made up for any décor deficiencies, with sumptuous interiors by Paris legend Jacques Garcia, who introduces you to his artfully sophisticated theme in the lobby with original drawings by Jean Cocteau and a letter written by Wilde during his residence here. Tucked between the lobby and Michelin-starred restaurant, the cocktail bar is in torrid colours, with plush settees, shaded lamps, a fireplace, gilt-framed oil paintings and a small library. It’s just right for languidly sipping a cocktail while time goes on somewhere else. Website: www.l-hotel.com/le-bar/le-bar.htm
BAR AT MAISON SOUQUET: Paris’s latest ‘it’ destination, Pigalle, the capital’s notorious red-light district, has enjoyed a renaissance of sorts in the past five years and now harbours some of the city’s more interesting watering holes. Five-star Maison Souquet hotel, opened last year in an old maison close (brothel) just steps from the Moulin Rouge, takes up all the tropes of louche Parisian nights. Another Garcia fantasy, Souquet is a masterpiece of lush erotica, with rooms named after famous courtesans, naughty artwork and velvet everywhere. Part lounge, part boudoir, the hotel’s enchanting half-lit bar – complete with library, fireplace and miles of crimson plush – inspires perfect abandon, as do the scrumptious cocktails. There’s also a hidden champagne bar and an outdoor ‘conservatory’ for sultry evenings. Website: www.maisonsouquet.com/en/bar-salons-2
COCKTAILS WITH A VIEW
L’OISEAU BLANC, THE PENINSULA: There’s nothing quite like sipping a cocktail over sweeping views of Paris. We are therefore indebted to The Peninsula’s swanky L’Oiseau Blanc, perched on the panoramic top floor. The glass-roofed bar is named after the plane flown by two French war heroes attempting the first transatlantic flight, and a full-scale replica is suspended outside. Indoor seating at the luminous aviation-themed bar offers views, but the outdoor terrace adds to the thrill. Service is impeccable but drinks do not come cheap at a Palace hotel; expect to pay in the neighbourhood of €26-€30 a pop. Website: paris.peninsula.com/en/fine-dining/loiseau-blanc-rooftop-restaurant
LE BAR KLÉBER, THE PENINSULA: In its days as the Hôtel Majestic, the Paris Peace Accords was signed in the hotel’s stupendously beautiful Bar Kléber, on the ground floor, thus ending the Vietnam War. Website: paris.peninsula.com/en/fine-dining/le-bar-kleber
LE 43 UP THE ROOF: If views are a must, but money is an object, Le 43 Up the Roof, on the seventh floor of the Holiday Inn Paris Notre-Dame, offers some of the city’s best 360-degree views from the heart of Saint-Germain-des-Prés. Open 5pm to midnight seven days a week, this terrace cocktail bar is teeming on weekends, so get there at opening time for a reasonably priced cocktail and some elbow room. Be sure to reserve.
HEMINGWAY BAR AT THE RITZ: It would take a week to cover the author’s many Paris watering holes, but the Hemingway Bar at The Ritz, is a grand place to start. Enjoy the walk through the glitzy halls of this storied hotel – reopened after a four-year restoration – to the back of the hotel where this minuscule bar is grandly tucked away. [Read our feature article here.] The cocktails here are legendary, as is bartender Colin Peter Field, who is delighted to concoct a custom drink just for you. Done up in fishing memorabilia, artful trout lures and photos of Papa, this is a masculine bar (the Ritz’s gorgeous one-time women’s bar is across the way) but sufficiently cosy and warm for a wonderful – and breathtakingly expensive – night out. Reservations are not taken here, so arrive early or you’ll likely be waiting for a seat. Website: www.ritzparis.com/en-GB/fine-dining-paris/bar-hemingway
BRING ON THE BUBBLY
LE DOKHAN’S BAR, LE DOKHAN’S HOTEL: Set in the historic Le Dokhan’s Hotel, the lovely 18th-century panelled and gilded Le Dokhan’s Bar champagne bar is a little-known gem. With more than 70 champagnes offered by the glass, bottle or magnum, comparative tasting is easy (though, of course, not cheap). The bar is catnip for aficionados but a friendly sommelier is on hand to give unpretentious advice to novices. The bar also showcases independent producers and established houses every week with a tasting of three cuvées (brut, rosé, millésimé), and their once-a-month jazz evening is a lot of fun. Website: www.hotelledokhansparis.com/le-dokhans-bar
From France Today magazine