You don’t have to look too hard to see the influence that Americans have had on the Parisian cocktail scene. Back in the early 1900s, the legendary Harry’s New York Bar established itself as the de facto clubhouse for a growing expat community in Paris, including luminaries like Ernest Hemingway and Humphrey Bogart. And the recent mixology boom in the City of Light has been largely engineered by three French drink-slingers—Olivier Bon, Pierre-Charles Cros and Romee de Goriainoff—who were inspired by their trips across the pond. When they opened their inaugural bar, the Experimental Cocktail Club, in 2007, they took direct cues from Gotham trailblazers like Pegu Club and Death & Company. Now, after launching a collection of boîtes back home, as well as a successful ECC spin-off in London, the trio have brought their brand of refined boozing back to the source, opening an NYC outpost in the Lower East Side neighborhood that they’ve long considered a spiritual home. Parisians rooting for a subversive coup—the student becoming the teacher, if you will—shouldn’t hold their breath. Perhaps not surprisingly, the import seems vaguely out-of-date, closer in feel to the decadent, speakeasyish parlors that kicked off NYC’s tippling renaissance than the more democratic joints that have defined its recent evolution. Still, it doesn’t lack sexiness or flair: The baroque cocktails are wildly creative even when they don’t quite hit the mark, and the sumptuous setting—complete with pressed-tin ceilings, fireplaces and an ornate wall mural depicting ancient explorers—provides a fine escape from the ’hood’s increasingly debauched bar scene.
DRINK THIS: While many of the city’s nouveau cocktail joints can nail a Negroni, the ECC has a different raison d’être. In keeping with the bar’s name, head bartender Nicolas de Soto is more of a tinkerer than classicist, shunning simplicity in favor of flamboyant concoctions that lean heavily on infusions, house-made syrups and esoteric spirits. It’s nearly impossible to decipher the long list of ingredients below each drink on the menu, so choosing something you’ll enjoy can depend heavily on the guidance of your server—a dance that, thus far, is still a bit shaky. We loved the Last One, a lush stirred drink that balances rich, nutty Spanish brandy with bitter aperitifs and a carrot shochu that delivers a dry, vegetal finish; a passionate host helped bring the cocktail to life by pointing out its kinship with a boulevardier, as well as the oloroso sherry casks that give the brandy its sweetness. But another staffer’s bumbling description of the Kelpie’s Julep failed to prepare us for the brow-furrowing bitterness of the drink, an unpleasant shouting match between blended Scotch, Szechuan peppercorn syrup and wormwood bitters. Withmost options going for $14 to $16, drawing a dud can be frustrating. But those willing to get into the whimsical spirit of the place are just as likely to be delighted by novelties such as L’Americain, a carbonated Americano riff flash-infused with orange zest and served in a bottle.
GOOD FOR: Francophiles looking for a break from the wine bar. You’ll want to avoid the awkwardly low-slung chairs and ottomans in the main room if possible. Try your luck at walking in and snagging a spot at the bar, or make a reservation (e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org) and request a table in the more intimate back room.
THE CLINCHER: Weekday drinkers should stop by on Tuesday nights, when live music (sometimes ’50s-style jazz) sets the nostalgic mood. And soon, a few bar bites from fashion-mafia hang the Fat Radish will help you abide by that old French credo of never drinking on an empty stomach.—Chris Schonberger