French Cocktail Revolution: The Bars Making Paris a Great Drinking City Again

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I spent much of my life learning French. From eighth grade through college, I devoured French language classes, French literature classes, and French conversation classes. And when I finally had the good fortune to visit France for the first time after my high school gradation, I devoured French food and beverages. And while cocktails were about the furthest thing from my mind, I did enjoy my share of Schweppes et Pamplemousse (grapefruit juice and tonic water, to this day one of my favorites) and biere panaché (also known as a Shandy, another favorite).

But by the time I had developed a budding interest in cocktails, my dreams of enjoying [Sidecars](http://www.playboy.com/articles/simple-fix-perfect-classic-sidecar), [Bloody Marys]() and Mimosas in the city that supposedly created them were dashed by the reality of tourist-trap bartending: manufactured and bottled juices and mixes, sloppy technique, and overpriced pale imitations of the classics. I was convinced that Paris’ time as a drinking destination had come and gone.

Cocktails were never really a French thing, anyway. Most of those well regarded Parisian cocktails were a result of American prohibition, anyway, as the great barmen fled the Stares to ply their trade overseas. But all of that changed for me when I visited in 2009. Suddenly there was a small handful of dedicated bars watching what was happening around the world and determined to throw their hat into the cocktail renaissance. That first wave of craft-obsessed cocktail bars like Experimental Cocktail Club and Curio Parlour, and with older bars like Le Forum and Buda Bar were putting out cocktails the likes of which I had never had the pleasure of experiencing in the city before. It wasn’t huge, but the seeds had been sown. 

During the next few years there was a sort of Renaissance in French food, as a young generation of chefs took up the banner of classic French cooking, heirloom ingredients, and farm-driven cuisine. And, as it just so happens elsewhere, that set of sensibilities eventually found its way to the bar. I didn’t get to visit Paris much over the next five years, until last October when I brought my girlfriend to show her the city I fell in love with so many years ago, just to eat and drink for a week. And once again, I was pleasantly surprised. Here is a short list of the places that are spearheading a new sort of French Revolution in the beverage world.

LE MARY CELESTE

Part cocktail bar, part oyster bar, Le Mary Celeste, with its loud music, tall windows that gaze upon a busy side street and an attentive staff is that annoyingly wonderful neighborhood spot you love so much that it becomes impossible to get into once it’s discovered as a destination.

DIRTY DICK

A proper Tiki bar can be a tricky thing to pull off. While kitsch is inherent in the theme, it can be overdone, or, tragically, underdone. But to hit that sort of balance in a city like Paris? Nearly impossible. Somehow these wizards manage to balance the feeling of the bar as well as they balance their cocktails.

CANDELARIA

We originally planned only to stop in at their front-end business, a tiny shop serving some of the best tacos on the continent and perfect blended Margaritas. But once we were lulled into the bar, a barely hidden spot nestled in the back, I found a cocktail bar that rivals anything I’ve ever been to. With a brilliant agave spirit selection (of course), we eventually lost track of which city we’d be stepping out into once we left.

PAS DE LOUP

Pas de Loup is that little gem you almost don’t want to tell everyone about, yet you’d feel too ashamed if you were somehow responsible for every visitor to Paris not getting to experience the place. It’s hard to make a real distinction between the world-class cocktails, the understated and perfectly executed food, the warm and friendly service (another new trend in Parisian drinking and dining) and the deep yet playful wine list, because everything comes together in the symphony only a flawless restaurant can do. During our short stay, we returned three times.

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