Cocktail bars are the new black in Paris
World Best Bar
Mar 15, 2019
26 November 2020
In Paris cocktails are on the up, and new cocktails bars have sprung up on every street over the last ten years.
The French drinking culture traditionally centres on wine; at home around the dinner table, as part of an apéritif and, of course, on café terraces with friends. Yet it appears that times are changing in the City of Light. Yes, there are cocktail bars that have been kicking around since Prohibition America (Harry’s New York Bar springs to mind) but for a long time there were seriously lacklustre options – no wonder wine has held onto its crown for so long.
So, the new cocktail scene in Paris, what – or rather who – is responsible for ousting the beloved ‘verre de vin’ in favour of this American import? Well, no one on the Paris bar scene could fail to mention the Experimental Group. They brought the Experimental Cocktail Club (ECC) to the city in 2007 and haven’t looked back. They’re also behind Prescription Cocktail Club and Ballroom du Beef Club to name but a few, all which have gone from strength to strength off the back of the craft cocktail movement. They brought passion and great drinks to Paris at a time when most cocktail offerings didn’t go further than the usual offenders like Mojitos or Sex on the Beach. Great drinks, atmosphere, and top-notch service, all hidden away in a speakeasy setting made for the perfect storm at ECC and the bar has since been an unstoppable success, as it appeals to a youthful, jet-setting, urban crowd.
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The millennial set was so enamoured by ECC that they demanded more craft cocktail offerings in Paris. We’re talking about people with serious purchasing-power who travel internationally wanting the best they can get. They’re looking for something unique, something that they won’t find duplicated at every bar. This trend is defined by a focus on top quality drinks, beautiful presentation and, most importantly, an atmosphere that makes them want to stick around. In short, the new cocktail drinkers want to pay for an experience with their drink. What’s more, plenty has been said about millennials showing interest in what they’re drinking: where it came from and how was it made. All of this taps right into the craft cocktail craze. Bars are paying more attention than ever to every single ingredient going into a drink. In Paris, the ever popular Le Syndicat has shown that this really works, proudly using 100% French ingredients across their menu. It was a bold move, but it paid off, hence there has been a big revival of local and heritage products in cocktail bars across the capital. This last point shouldn’t come as such as a surprise, France isn’t known as the gastronomic capital of the world for nothing, and bartenders are taking their profession as seriously as the country’s chefs do. The experience is going haute couture.
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Another aspect which has really hooked in cocktail drinkers is the conceptual menu approach. Take a look at Mabel, a self-described ‘rum empire’, where rare rums are on offer and there are even tastings to understand the complexities of the spirit – everything is centred on rum instead of a run-of-the-mill menu. Candelaria runs in the same spirit: a taquería out front and a speakeasy in the back focusing on agave spirits, winning over plenty of fans in the process. Drinkers are rethinking what they knew and really embracing unusual alcohols in even more unusual settings.
Paris cocktail week, following the lead of cities like NYC and London, has also helped open up the cocktail world to unsuspecting drinkers, encouraging them to branch out past humdrum wine lists to find something really special. 75 bars joined in this year and the event is only going to get bigger in subsequent years. The celebration really showed off carefully curated cocktail menus in settings that speak to all tastes: speakeasies, grown-up lounges, themed-bars, dive bars and experimental watering holes. Parisians can find a cocktail bar with their own distinct identities, serving up creativity and passion in every glass. The success of these new wave cocktail bars is driven by imagination and reinvention and drinkers love it because they want to break away from the stuffiness of France’s old guard wine snobbery.
Ultimately, the proof that wine is feeling a little passé is found by taking a closer look at the cocktail bars which are brimming with customers keen to be part of this movement. Three Parisian offerings made it to the world’s 50 best in 2017 – Little Red Door reached 11th place, followed down the ranks by Candelaria and Le Syndicat – and bartenders in the city are making a serious name for themselves at a global level.
Hemingway once said: “If you want to know about a culture, spend a night in its bars.” We couldn’t agree more, so if you want to understand the new Paris, then you know where to find us.
Photo by MaximFesenko on iStock