Paris may have been the ultimate cocktail city in the roaring twenties but it has only recently regained its stripes in the world of mixology. Now in among the glut of wine bars, there are inventive cocktail dens blossoming all over the city. From scintillating speakeasies to dingy dive bars, check out the list of our favourites.
Le Syndicat is hidden away behind a decrepit façade covered with a 5cm-thick layer of peeling posters and guarded by a bouncer. But co-founders Sullivan Doh and Romain Le Mouellic's dive bar proves to be kitschly sparkly and bronze-hued inside. The drinks list ticks the fashionable vintage box, with little-known liquors (cognacs, armagnacs, eau de vie) in contemporary combinations. From vintage bottles, updated classic cocktails and daring modern creations, this is a great place to discover forgotten tastes of French alcohols.
Once a hostess bar (they’ve kept the name, evidently), the only phallic elements left at Dirty Dick are the Polynesian totems scattered throughout the bar, which has a kitsch, exotic ‘tiki’ vibe and lots of free-flowing rum – the sort of bar that flourished in the US after the end of Prohibition. Practically crying ‘Aloha!’ as they go, the flowered-shirt-sporting barmen cater to the crowds with a list of twenty or so fruity cocktails served in giant shells or miniature volcanoes.
After cocktails like this, you’ll never go back to the usual watery mojito. Paris has been slow to catch onto ‘mixology’ bars, reinventing cocktails with strange spirits, fresh fruit juices and subtle spices. Order Tommy’s Margarita Especial, an insane 100% agave tequila Arette mix with lime juice and organic agave honey, infused with Bourbon vanilla and cloves. Or perhaps the Bee’s Kiss, a balance between the Jamaican rum Appleton VX, cream, organic floral honey and crushed Indonesian pepper.
The tiny white taqueria with its open kitchen, a few stools and communal tables hint to the hip bar behind, where the neighbourhood’s youth come to sip margaritas or the house specials, like the guêpe verte [green wasp] (tequila, lime, pepper, cucumber, spices and agave syrup).
The Left Bank isn’t known for its nightlife, but perhaps that’s because some of its best haunts are hidden away down back alleys or concealed behind featureless façades. Castor Club's discreet frontage, elegant lampshades and wealth of log-cabin wooden panelling create an aesthetic reminiscent of the speakeasy bars of Prohibition-era America. Often busy, the bar plays a mix of Nashville pop and country from the ’50s and ’60s while customers try out the eclectic range of house cocktails.
Enter Moonshiner through Pizza Da Vito restaurant and push the metal door of the walk-in fridge. Expect cocktails and whiskies, at a large range of prices – from €6 for the delicious seasonal punch to €14 for a more complex cocktail. The team behind the bar (who also founded the UFO, the Rock’n’Roll Circus, the Kremlin and the Dirty Dick) are fun and easy going, making the ‘secret’ experience all the more pleasurable.
In a pretty building in the Marais, this kitsch alternative bar fits perfectly with its trendy neighbours Le Derrière and Le 404. It’s decorated with kitchen supplies from 70s Moroccan homes – paint pots as poufs, washing powder packets papering the walls – and there’s a lovely tree-lined courtyard. When evening comes, it’s set aglow with romantic candlelight, and inside you can sit on Moroccan sofas, sipping an inventive cocktails (around €10) that the menu offers during the happy hour (5pm-8pm).
Named in honour of the Charles Bukowski poem, the intriguing gin-oriented drinks list would have been to the American writer’s taste. The subdued yet relaxed atmosphere is complimented by a warm colour scheme, copper ceiling and a smoking room surrounded by an aquarium – resulting in a cross between a cosy hotel bar and the back room of a chic Chinese restaurant. Milanese barman Flavio Angiolho rustles up his negroni recipe with his own bold and heady blend 'le Farmily' and there's club sandwiches on offer too.
Behind a discreet façade on a Marais side street, Sherry Butt (whose owners previously worked at Prescription Cocktails Club and Curio Parlour) hides two spacious long rooms filled with studded leather couches, huge mirrors and dim lighting. The cocktail list has 11 entries, but most of the ingredients are either homemade (like pine nut syrup or champagne syrup) or frankly mysterious, like the Umeshu spirit (made from Japanese plums). They aren’t cheap (€12-€13 a throw) but the service is attentive and well-informed.
The ceiling at this hip cocktail bar is covered with vertical wave-shaped slats that seem to crash down dramatically behind the massive steel counter. Choose from a wide selection of inventive cocktails (€12), and although waiting times can be long (20 minutes), every drink is strikingly vibrant, well balanced and generously sized. Team your drinks with one of the various imaginative sharing platters (all less than €10), like the salmon ‘bonbons’ with maple syrup and peanuts, or the duck tataki with fig and pistachio.