Forest Collins, the savvy writer behind discriminating Paris cocktail blog 52 Martinis, shares with us here her frustrations with France’s strange aversion to H2O’s solid incarnation. She also has the low-down on where to go for seriously refreshing cocktails. Hint: it’s not your corner bistrot.
As an American expat in Paris, the question I get most often is: What do you miss most about home? Honestly, this question usually stumps me.
While, of course I miss friends, they come frequently for visits, so it’s less of an issue. In a pinch I can find a reasonable substitute for many of the readily available items from the U.S. that I might miss. If not, said stream of friends usually keep me in a steady supply of goods and sundries that evade me here. But, there’s one thing I can’t ask even my nearest and dearest to lug over in a suitcase: Frozen water. Yes, you heard correctly. The thing I miss most about the US is ice.
When I’m back home, I get a special thrill out of sitting down to a table from the grungiest of roadside diners to the fanciest of upscale eateries and immediately being served a large glass of water full of sparkly, playfully tinkling, cold-making ice! While, in France, you’re lucky to get a small votive candle holder full of warm tap water after asking…twice.
And, this epidemic goes beyond commercial establishments into the very hearts of homes nationwide. On trips to Seattle, I play with my friends’ automatic ice makers, spewing out cube after magically chilly cube, delighted by this largesse. In France, you’d be lucky to find a freezer containing ice trays. You’re even luckier if they’ve been filled prior to putting them in. My least favorite are the homes that use those thin blue disposable plastic bubble-infested bags for home ice-making. I find these about as about as effective as scrunching up a plastic sack from the grocery store, immersing it in a bowl of water and sticking it in the freezer.
Back when I was still living in the US, I had a girlfriend who had spent a few years in Paris. She was my go-to girl for all things Euro. I observed her foreign affectations and dreamed of the day that I, too, would be an ex-pat. Then one evening we went for drinks. She ordered hers with “no ice.” How very European of her! And, suddenly I saw a possible glitch in my dreams of becoming Frenchified. I can’t envision a life without ice. I can’t envision a life without cocktails. And, a proper cocktail depends on ice for it very existence!
Having lived here for years now, I enjoy learning about and trying to integrate into French culture. But, I still simply can’t understand the French aversion to ice.
A joke I heard recently::
“Why don’t the French make ice?”
“Because they can’t agree on the recipe”
After 9 years here, I still can’t get to the bottom of this deep-seated aversion. Perhaps it’s linked with their distrust of air-conditioning.
So, what’s an all American ice loving, cocktail sipping girl to do in Paris? I’ve been known to take my love of ice to extremes and pack it in insulated bags to bring along to others’ homes and gift people with ice trays. This evening I’m going to the home of some French friends for dinner. They’ve asked me to make cocktails for the occasion. Of course, I emailed them yesterday and told them to start making ice.
For those seeking Paris cocktail bars that know the value-added of a bit of solid H2O, here are a few of my favorite stops:
Prescription Cocktail Club (23 rue Mazarine, 75006) is my go-to for serious craft cocktails by knowledgeable staff in a loungey, speakeasy-reminiscent environment. For extra ice-y fun order something that uses their large format cubes. You’ll be hard pressed to find cocktails of this quality ringing in at such reasonable prices elsewhere.
A bit more downscale, the Andy Wahloo (69, Rue des Gravilliers 75003) doesn’t skimp on ice. In hot summer months order something packed with the crushed ice and take a seat out back on the charming, lively terrace. The vibe here is young and funky – especially during happy hour.
I’m a fan of pretty much everything they do at le Forvm (4 Blvd Malesherbes 75008) where their attention to detail and consideration of cocktails ensures that every drinks is made with just the right ice. This is where I go if I’m feeling flush and craving some sophisticated sipping. Sometimes the kid in me likes to play with the large, chunky ice sticks you might get in a cocktail at the modern and upscale E7 bar (39, av de l’Opéra, 75002) at the Hotel Edouard. Drinks here are pricey, but this little spot has become the darling of epicurean Paris socialites and offers up a selection of unusual spirits. And, of course, ice isn’t exclusively for cocktails. I head over to Mama Shelter (109 Rue de Bagnolet 75020) if I want a refreshing glass of cucumber infused ice water along with a stellar cocktail. The cocktail menu changes every few months at this hip and trendy spot that makes you feel like a rock star for a pretty reasonable price.
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