Despite what Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald might have you believe, Paris has not historically been a cocktail-drinking town. Even today, the traditional pre-dinner drink—the apéritif or more familiar “apéro”—usually takes the form of a glass of champagne, a kir (white wine with a splash of cassis), or a pastis (an anise-flavored liqueur favored by pétanque-playing French gentlemen of a certain age).
This is beginning to change, especially among Paris’ young branchés (scenesters). Just as “speakeasies” are cropping up all over downtown Manhattan and Brooklyn, drinking holes that serve serious mixed drinks are on the rise in Paris. Skilled “mixologists” are at the helm of both renowned institutions and newer establishments, and they continue to raise the bar on both the quality and inventiveness of the cocktails they pour.
Nonetheless, one must know where to go. We know how seriously Paris takes its food, but unfortunately, the same rigorous standards are not always applied to mixed drinks. If you take a wrong turn, you can easily end up with a sugary concoction that evokes kindergarten rather than the Jazz Age.
Luckily, we’ve done the work for you. Here’s our short list of the best places to score real cocktails in Paris. In no particular order:
Le Fumoir—Just across the street from the Louvre, this swanky cocktail lounge is the perfect place to kick back for a post-work martini. The refined atmosphere provides a chic backdrop for the sleek, young crowd that convenes here. Sit in the front (or on the terrace) to people-watch or curl up in the cozy reading room in the back. Take advantage of the great happy hour prices from 6-8pm on weekdays.
(6 rue de l’amiral Coligny, 75001; Tel 01 42 92 00 24)
Harry’s Bar—One of Paris’ classic “American bars,” Harry’s has been open since 1923 and is considered a Paris landmark. It’s the kind of place your grandfather probably came for drinks when he was in Paris, but it has proudly stood the test of time and continues to attract a diverse, international crowd. With its dark wood paneling and American college penants adorning the walls, its friendly atmosphere makes you want to settle into a corner table for a night of swilling and story-swapping.
(5, Rue Daunou, 75002; Tel 01 42 61 71 14)
vodka gimlet – www.slashfood.com
Curio Parlor—From the mixologists who brought you the Experimental Cocktail Club, Curio Parlor is Paris’ newest speakeasy. Tucked away on a quiet street in the 5th, this dimly lit cocktail den serves up a playful menu of inventive drinks made with fresh fruit and top-shelf liquors. In the evening, you can slip into a velvet banquette for quiet conversation. After 10pm, the see-and-be-scene crowd takes over and the vibe becomes decidedly more decadent.
(16 rue des Bernardins, 75005; Tel 01 44 07 12 47)
Le Doudingue—Montmartre residents are happy to keep this place a neighborhood secret. The décor is cozy-café with a Moroccan twist. Upstairs, you can sit at tables, while downstairs has private banquettes where groups can lounge. Drinks range from well-mixed mojitos and mai thais to classic martinis—done right.
(24 rue Durantin, 75018; Tel 01 42 54 88 08)
Bar Hemingway at the Ritz Hotel—Clichéd, yes, but this old-school bar is still the gold standard in Parisian mixology and has been considered a go-to spot since Hemingway’s “Lost Generation” frequented it in the ‘20s. Today, it is inhabited by a considerably more swanky set. Colin Field, the head bartender, has become somewhat of a celebrity among cocktail aficionados for his perfectly mixed drinks. Though they are stellar, they don’t come cheap. A Manhattan will run you 26 Euros, so save this place for when your sugar daddy is in town.
(Hemingway Bar, Hotel Ritz, 15 Place Vendôme, Paris. Tel. (33-1) 43 16 30 30)