Paris by Mouth: Beyond the Hotel Bar

by Catherine Down

“Don’t bother with churches, government buildings or city squares, if you want to know about a culture, spend a night in its bars,” –Ernest Hemingway

Serious cocktail snobs, beautiful bobos, eager expats, and beer geeks alike are buzzing around the octagonal bar at Le Mary Celeste on a weekday night. Bright, airy, young, and fun, the bar is the hub around which the restaurant itself is organized.

I could just as easily come for chef Haan Palcu-Chang’s globe-trotting small plates like tamarind soaked endives as I would for Le Nord Sud, a tangy-sweet drink that combines apple brandy from Normandy with dry Spanish sherry, lemon juice and a homemade grenadine leagues above the radioactive red syrup you commonly find in a Shirley Temple. There’s a freedom and flexibility to ordering international small plates that was not easy to find in Paris until recently. Combined with an equal opportunity beverage program (fine wine, beer and cocktails) and staff who are seriously professional without being too serious, and you have a triple treat on your hands. It’s a harbinger for the revitalized craft cocktail movement in Paris.

Pisco Punch at Fish Club. Photo by Catherine Down.

Pisco Punch at Fish Club. Photo by Catherine Down.

Craft cocktails are made from fresh ingredients, conscientiously sourced products, thoughtfully prepared and served with special attention to glassware and garnish. They demand preparation and presentation that go beyond the slapdash cocktails available at your standard bar.

In direct contrast to the expensive, old, heavy-drinking hotel bars that were the only Parisian cocktail scene for decades, and the dark and claustrophobic speakeasies that have swept the city more recently, Le Mary Celeste is light, open, casual, and in a word, accessible. To be sure, it doesn’t feel particularly Parisian. If anything, it comes off as très Brooklyn, the New York City borough where one can’t throw a rock without hitting a suspendered bartender. You could just as easily be in Cobble Hill as the Marais, but that’s just the point. Paris has finally caught up with cocktail mad cities like New York and London in terms of creating world-class cocktails by embracing worldly flavors and influences, ones that lack clearly defined geographic or ethnic boundaries.

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