The best cocktail bars in Paris - according to the city's bartenders
Paris: the city of lights at the centre of a culture embedded in cheese, revolution and alcohol. We know that some of the world’s best restaurants and wines can be found in these 105km, but where should you go for the best cocktails in Paris? I ventured out and asked bartenders where they drink to discover the city's best bars.
1. Dr. Lupin (1 Rue Frochot 9th arr. Metro: Pigalle)
The drink to order: L’Oncle Picsou (14 euros) – Duck fat-washed Smokey Monkey whisky infused with thyme, Liqueur de Tabac, Cointreau Noir, bitter orange, ginger beer, fresh sage. Served by Montmartre native Pete - the definition of inspirational.
When I was recommended Dr. Lupin I was told it was ‘in between a pub and a cocktail bar’. That description is vague and missed out everything that makes this bar my new favourite. Hear the heavy metal music pulsating through the exterior wood panelling, open the door and smell the welcoming reek of stale beer and you're back in your rebellious teenage years. This is what you want from a night in Pigalle.
The tattooed and talkative staff welcome you in and within five minutes you’ve had three hugs and a Facebook friend request from Pete the bartender with the Australian-French accent. L’Oncle Picsou – translated as ‘Uncle Scrooge’, maternal uncle of Donald Duck – was spicy and floral and refreshing served in an beaten up metal stein, and they have a great selection of beers on tap, too.
But don’t go here if you’re looking for a Mojito or a Spritz – they have a sign hanging on the bar that says they refuse to make them. I just adore this attitude. This is my number one bar to go to now, and it is the bar where bartenders hang out. Head over for cracking drinks, world-class service and an unforgettable night out in the heart of Paris’ resurgent Montmartre.
2. The Cambridge Public House (8 Rue de Poitou, 3rd arr. Metro Saint-Sebastien-Froissart )
The drink to order: Cigarette After Sex (13 euros) – Agua de Jamaica; Sloe Gin Elephant; Mezcal del Maguey Vida. Served by Greg, who has reserved us a meat pie for Wednesday.
At the time of writing, Cambridge Public House has been open for one week exactly. But when you walk in the door it feels as homely and well-loved as your grandmother’s front room.
With a name like Cambridge Public House I was expecting to see old men in tweed jackets sipping on pints of bitter, however was pleasantly surprised to find more youthful faces and a 14-long list of minimalistic, diverse and delicious drinks that perk up your taste buds and soothe the soul.
They also have a short but sweet menu of pies and sausage rolls and the like, that is available until midnight so it’s perfect for the expat with a craving for meat and pastry. Expect for this place to be gaining momentum in the next few months; you may be struggling to get a seat.
3. Little Red Door (60 Rue Charlot, 3rd arr. Metro: Filles du Calvaire, Oberkampf, Republique
The drink to order: Hedonism (14 euros) – Botanical Red Wine, Lot 40 Rye Whiskey, Apple, Green Chilli, Flowers. Crafted by the lovely Angel.
Rated #33 by World’s 50 Best Bars, this most welcoming spot was the first destination on my list. Even before moving to Paris, I’d heard whispers of their much talked about Menu of Universal Values; a lavish hard bound picture book based on Shalom H. Schwartz's Theory of Basic Human Values which identifies 10 universal desires and emotions. Sound a bit heavy? Not really - the design of the menu by Laura Sheldon is stunning.
The drinks which took weeks to develop aim to transmit those feelings. Stimulation contains ingredients that are natural stimulants such as chlorophyll and mushrooms, and Hedonism, named in honour of sensual self-indulgence, tells the story of how the ancient Romans spiked their wine with spices and honey to improve the bloody awful taste and achieve alcoholic bliss. It was rich and complex, with the botanical red wine really shining through, making it a good choice for wine and whisky drinkers alike (of which I am both).
It's best to go to this truly innovative bar at the beginning of the evening, as even early on in the week there can be a 30-40 minute wait at the iconic door.
4. Bisou (15 Boulevard du Temple, 3rd arr. Metro: Oberkampf, Filles du Calvaire, Republique
The drink to order: Nico’s choice (12 euros) – Craigellachie 13, Mezcal, Pedro Ximenez, Angostura Bitters, Amontillado. Served by Nico, ramen obsessive.
Bisou is on every list of ‘where to drink in Paris’, and there’s good reason for it. With its decisively millennial minimalistic interior, and its lack of menu, it is the place to be if you want a personalised, aesthetically pleasing night.
The bartenders ask you what you like, and they work their magic to create something you’re going to love. I said I normally go for a mezcal or whisky based drink that’s short and boozy, and they delivered a coupette of dark, sweet, balanced liquid that was gone too fast.
Be careful to also tell them the things you don’t like, since our bartender said he loves putting anise flavours in drinks, at which point I would have probably walked out.
Under the light of a single pink fluorescent tube, you can talk nonsense to the bartenders, especially good on a deserted Monday, or sit back on their streetside heated terrace and indulge in a bit of people watching (though maybe not on a snowy January night)
5. Le Syndicat (51 Rue du Faubourg St. Denis, 10th arr. Metro Chateau d'Eau:
The drink to order: Sur Le Butte Je Flambe (10 euros) – Cap Corse Mattei, Noilly Prat, white wine, lavender and verbena cordial, absinthe paint.
The well-hidden Le Syndicat has gathered quite a reputation across the world of bartending, and is renowned for making great drinks. The bar itself is free standing, and the walls are covered in graffiti (which you can add to, which I did, several times) With gold curtains and geometric furniture and a great choice of blaringly loud music, it is just cool.
Although the service was quite slow, and I didn’t have a chance to ask our server what drink or bar she would suggest for us, the menu is fun, mixed and youthful, with drinks associated with famous landmarks of Paris such as Montmartre and the Arc de Triomphe.
The drinks aren’t ground-breaking, but they are delicious and inventively named, especially if you like '90s French rap; “Sur le Butte je Flambe” means ‘I blaze on the hill’, a shout-out to Doc Gyneco’s 1996 song, Passement de Jambes, where he blazes on the beat (which got the staff confused as to how I know the song, since my French is shocking) and the Butte Montmartre.
If not for this well-named drink alone, I understand why this bar deserves its spot on the best bar in the world list at #24.
6. Les Justes (1 Rue Frochot 9th arr. Metro: Pigalle)
The drink to order: Gaëtan la Cagole (10 euros) – Vertical Vodka, kiwi shrub, lemon, tonka syrup, tonic
Now I won’t lie to you, I went to Les Justes by accident. I was looking for Dr. Lupin (above) and they are right next door to each other. And it looked nice, and it was busy and you could feel the bass resonating through the windows.
I’m glad I did; the bar was inviting, you feel immersed in the Rue Frochot bar community, and what they were lacking in service – so much so that 2 tables around me were giving daggers towards the single bartender – they made up for in quality of drink.
The Gaëtan la Cagole isn’t my usual style of cocktail, as I’m normally a short, strong and bitter kind of girl, but it was sweet, fresh, with great depth of flavour, too.
These bars know how to hit the spot when it comes to names too, as a “Cagole” is the Marseillais word for bimbo. Perfect to match the risqué history of Pigalle.
Nathalie Gardiner is a sommelier and is currently studying for a Wine and Management Diploma at the Cordon Bleu Institute in Paris.
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