For decades The Ritz’s Bar Hemingway was lauded as the best cocktail bar in Paris…. so Chris Osburn drops in for a Dry Martini, before exploring a new wave of movers and shakers that are stirring up the scene.
The cocktail may have its origins across the Atlantic, but with the number of American expats enjoying the moveable feast in the 1920s and 30s, perhaps it’s small wonder that the art of mixology has been practised in Paris so perfectly for so long. Bar Hemingway is still worth a visit of course but if you want a genuine taste of the high life with Paris’s glam set – and of course an ingenious and delicious liquid concoction to imbibe – then make a beeline for the likes of Prescription, Curio Parlor and Experimental Cocktail Club. All offer expertly mixed cocktails in ultra dark, low key and fashionable venues, with prices to match (mixed drinks start at €12). Don’t be surprised to find these places filled by 8pm or so on a Friday and only more tightly peopled as the night blurs into Saturday morning. Many of the bartenders at these high end bars have experience working in London and New York, and you should get by with English but – as always in Paris – a little effort to speak French goes a long way.
The scene here is laid back and sophisticated. Think turn of (the last) century chic with messed up funk and soul piped out at just the right volume. The place is teeming by 8 o’clock with beautiful people meeting up for after work drinks and keen on having a proper night out. Prescription is definitely the place for aficionados of classic cocktails and nouveau drinks based on such classics. Highlights of my recent visit included the North America Sour (Rye Rittenhouse Whiskey, Absinthe, maple syrup, orange pressée, lemon juice, egg whites, and “spray de liqueux de cafe Borghetti”) and the Evening Glory (Appleton Rum VX, Havana Club Anejo Especial, fresh ginger vanilla and bitters). They serve food too. Consider if you will just how delectable a mini burger with Comte with truffle mayonnaise might be after a couple of the above mentioned libations.
23 Rue Mazarine (on the left bank)
Keeping with the chic, the funk and the impressive cocktails – but with an added touch of evocatively-lit taxidermied animals as well as a competent bartender wearing a ridiculously massive and utterly fake afro – a brief walk from Prescription led me to Curio Parlor, where more adventures in drinking awaited. Amongst the most likeable libations here was the superb Lynchburg Lemonade (Rittenhouse 100 proof, Cointreau, Angostura Bitters, lemon juice and Fever Tree Lemonade). Served in a cute little soda bottle and fizzy, it was a treat. More reasons to amble into the Curio Parlor? Apparently it’s the only bar outside Japan with its very own ‘Nikka’ (Japanese whiskey) bar.
16 Rue des Bernardins
Experimental Cocktail Club
A similar vibe as Prescription and Curio, but possibly even swisher, Experimental Cocktail Club (aka ECC) is located north of the river at 37 Rue Saint Sauveur, behind a nondescript door just off the buzzing little market street of Rue Montorgueil in the oh so trendy district of Châtelet-Les Halles. With plenty of late night restaurants, street vendors and the well connected Les Halles Metro station, it’s a brilliant spot to end a night of cocktail sampling (I was sticking with superb Old Fashioneds by this point)… which is probably why the place was so slammed with glamorous Paris folk when we slipped in way past the witching hour.
Rue Saint Sauveur
Recently restored to all its leather armchair, wood-panelled splendour, this bar within the ultra-luxe Ritz Paris hotel at Place Vendôme is a brilliant bar for those who like expertly-crafted cocktails and tasty tapas in a historic setting. Ernest Hemingway‘s favourite place to work his elbow (back then it was known as Le Petit Bar), a visit to this high class boozer affords the opportunity to walk through the opulent labyrinth of the Ritz without splashing out for a room. Still, that hardly makes it affordable. Deemed the best bar in the world by Forbes Magazine (in 1998), the drinks ain’t cheap. Expect to pay at least €30 for a cocktail. Whilst if it’s your mate’s round, a Ritz Side Car at €400 is definitely one to consider. If the likelihood of sharing the bar with under-dressed rich and ageing American tourists doesn’t turn you off, this is still one of Paris’s very best spots to treat yourself.
15 Place Vendome
Back when this cellar bar was the Whiskey-a-Go-Go, it was Jim Morrison‘s home away from home during his last days in Paris (and purportedly where he spent his last night). Now called Wagg and catering to those who like to get their groove on as a vintage-centric dance club, it’s certainly been contemporized but still retains a cosy old school feel. Located heart of the Saint-Germain-des-Près, the bar dates back to the late 40s and is reckoned to be the first Parisian disco. Go early(ish) to avoid crowds.
62 Rue Mazarine