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Best cocktail bars in Paris

Sup on classic cocktails at one of Paris's best cocktail bars

Experimental Cocktail Club

You can kiss the bog standard bar scene’s endless stream of mojitos and caipirinhas goodbye. After the Experimental Cocktail Club’s mixes, you’ll never go back to the boring drinks that are to cocktail bars what McDonald’s is to Michelin stars. Paris has been slow to host the type of venues that are so fashionable in New York – ‘mixology’ bars that re-invent cocktails with strange spirits, fresh fruit juices and subtle spices – but now we have, for example, the 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.

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2nd arrondissement

La Famille

This little Montmartre restaurant-bar is a well-concealed gem at the head of Rue Trois Frères. With not more than a dozen tables, a relaxed and friendly team and quality background music and a bar always ready to burst, La Famille also offers top-notch fusion cuisine, with innovative flavours and presentation at reasonable prices. Try the marinated salmon rolled in sunflower and poppy seeds with a piperade ice cream on the side, followed by an exceptional sweet and sour boeuf bourguignon with After Eights, and a lemon tart in three savoury segments. The wine list is good quality, but the bottles are pretty pricey. As you wait (which can take a while), try out a molecular cocktail as run through the shaker of Houcine, the barmaid. Your drink, built on a base of Caipirinha or Caipiroska and infused with strawberry and Espelette pepper, basil and mango or pear and tarragon, arrives at the table iced and smoking, garnished with wacky decorations like a boiled sweet eyeball or a syringe of peach liqueur. At the weekend, the tiny room is packed (reservation is essential) and noisy, so come in the week if you want to be able to hear yourself think. For those on a budget, a 10 Euro menu is available on the first Sunday of the month.

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18th arrondissement

L'Entrée des Artistes

Having travelled through the cities where the cocktail is king – London, Berlin and New York ­­– and having mixed drinks at Murano and the Experimental Cocktail Club, two well-lubricated friends decided to open l’Entrée des Artistes. The relaxed hybrid venue offers sophisticated cocktails as well as a more straightforward wine list, and top-end snacks like foie gras, Italian cheese or a classy plat du jour. Warm and intimate, the small space has an old-world feel, both rough and refined, cluttered with beautiful vintage objects from soda siphons to an old metal cash register. Dandified city slickers and the trendy youth of the Marais have quickly appropriated this fashionable new find, and the tiny handful of tables is packed out from cocktail hour onwards, fuelled by a mix of hip-hop followed by jazz, funk, disco and soul.

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The China is a chic Asian bar-restaurant and gig venue whose exotic décor seems inspired by a 1930s Shanghai colonial club. With padded leather Chesterfield sofas, red walls, dark wood panelling and a black and white checkerboard floor, the shadowy warmth of this lounge is in the best tradition of a British gentleman’s club. Behind a splendid chrome counter, discreet staff prepare distinguished cocktails, like the Hemingway (a visionary alchemy of brown Cuban rum, Cointreau, lime and grapefruit) – we recommend you take advantage of the happy hour (5pm ‘til 8pm) to sample them for €6 instead of €12. For those who prefer a good vintage, the wine list is enormous. If you’re not afraid to splash out on your credit card, head to the dining area to taste their Asian fusion cuisine, like a tender medallion of chicken gently scented with shiitake mushrooms and Thai lemon. Fancy an after-dinner tipple? Head upstairs for a good cognac in the cigar lounge, which sports a fireplace and a library of old books. You’ll also find a ‘genuine smoking room’ outside, in a winter garden livened up with bamboo plants. In the basement, there are two free concerts every evening, mostly jazz, soul, pop and world music (detailed program on the website).  As the venue is well known for its good gigs, the comfortable leather sofas soon fill up, so arrive early or reserve a table if you don’t want to finish propping up the bar.

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Eastern Paris

Harry's New York Bar

In 1911, a New Yorker dismantled his Manhattan bar, only to rebuild it stone for stone on Paris’s Rue Daunou. Writers like Hemingway, Sartre and Blondin drank signature cocktails here, Bloody Marys and White Ladies. This landmark for Americans has everything that you would expect from an authentic pub from across the pond – a classic décor, a menu of almost 300 whiskies, and oceans of different beers. A century later, it owes its success to its reputation and to the deep pockets of the tourists who pass here, near to the Opéra area. Certain mixes are worth the trip, like the superlative Harry’s Pick Me Up (a mix of Grand Marnier and cognac, champagne and orange juice) or the exotic Blue Lagoon (vodka, blue curacao and grapefruit juice). The barmen can also make you up a personalised concoction at the underground piano bar, where Gershwin composed the tune ‘An American in Paris’ and where jazz concerts are held every Thursday and Friday nights. It’s a shame about the slightly touristy atmosphere of the area, but we are in Opéra after all. Open until 3am at the weekends.

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Le Crocodile

Prepare yourselves to hesitate at the moment of ordering your cocktail: the menu offers nearly 300, each odder than the last: Galéjade [The Tall Story], Tartempion [The What’s-His-Name], Va nu pied [The Go Barefoot], Traîne-savate [The At A Loose End], Rond de cuir [The Pencil Pusher]… how to choose? We’d advise you to check out the happy hour (6pm-8pm) so as to not break the bank – you’ll still have to rub shoulders with your neighbour to get hold of your glass (the bar is always packed), but that’s just part of the rambunctious atmosphere. In this slightly cramped tavern, we like the vintage posters and the crowded tables. And so what if we’re squeezed? The music is good, the service decent and the laughter free. The crowd is very mixed, from students to tourists to bohos – everyone comes to test out the Crocodile’s cocktails.

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5th arrondissement

L'Orange Mécanique

Along the Rue Jean-Pierre Timbaud in Paris, where the cheap and cheerful bars are clustered, no two the same, we advise the thirsty to patronise l’Orange Mécanique, a venue dedicated to 60s/70s rock, and to quality cinema. On film nights, we go there mostly for the brilliant psychedelic ambience, the good prices on beer and cocktails, and the music selected by DJs specialising in pop, soul, funk, or garage rock. Taking its name from Kubrick’s The Clockwork Orange, the bar once offered an all-night happy hour to those who came disguised as ‘droogies’, the film’s disturbing characters, who sport white outfits, bowler hats and doc martens. Today, happy hour is scrupulously enforce between 6pm and 8pm, but the prices remain unbeatable: a glass of red or white or Pastis is at €1.5, or a pint for €2.5. The menu of classic cocktails is also a site of creativity. To let it all hang out, try a Sex Toy (run, gin, raspberry, grapefruit) or a GHB. Nowadays the venue doesn’t need to do any publicity thanks to its regulars, and absinthe fans. Come early.

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Les Taulières

“Welcome to Toto’s! A bar where life pisses you off less” is how you are greeted by ‘Les Taulieres’ [the management], Catherine and Nathalie, a lesbian couple who manage this trendy micro-bar on the north face of the Montmartre mound. The regular clientele, straight and gay, are as rock ‘n’ roll as the cocktail menu: dive into the The Femme Fontaine [Juicy Lucy] (vodka-cranberry-strawberry-cointreau), and don’t be afraid to announce the “Raymonde de Saint-Véran turns me on!” (vodka-strawberry-caramel with salted butter and nut liqueur). The Clothilde de la Brigade mondaine  [Vice Squad Clothilde] (rum-ginger-strawberry-lime-mango) is on fire, and the unexpected Vladivostock (vodka-biscuit paste-hazelnut liqueur) is better behaved than her friends. The décor is as crazy as the management: rubber water lily leaves on the ceiling, furry chairs and 50s stools in orange vinyl, comic strip drawings on the walls and flames projected into the room. The star of the show is reserved for the men, in the loos, but we’ll leave that one as a surprise. The DJs set up behind the chest of drawers that serves as a bar every Thursday, and the weekends until 1.30am, mixing mostly electro, but also rock, funk and hip-hop.

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Café Bonnie

A café as sweet as a cupcake, whose walls also pay homage to cult films from the golden age of Hollywood and their femmes fatales, those ageless sex symbols. The décor is kitsch and colourful, but done with good humour: baby blue walls, bright pink neon lights, pop art paintings, princess armchairs and portraits of imaginary clients like Audrey Hepburn, Ursula Andress, Brigitte Bardot and… Snow White? A real little girl’s fantasy, Bonnie also manages to attract the male of the species. The clientele are young, arty and trendy, and come for the evenings of electro, rock, pop or hip-hop. But it’s the original cocktails which make the reputation of Bonnie, like the Bonnie and Clyde – a mixture of champagne, vodka, cranberry, strawberry and sugar, blended with ice – or the Petit Prince, made with vodka, rum, rosewater and banana. A change of scene for your taste buds that’s worth the detour.

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10th arrondissement

Ave Maria

You go to the Ave Maria to have a good nosh with your mates, squeezed between your neighbours at the table. As you enter, you’ll blink first of all at the psychedelic décor, featuring Latina Virgin Marys and Hindu goddesses. Next, you’ll be made rapt by the copious menu. Ave Maria’s speciality is to take you taste buds around the world – try out the original Himalaya Dream (delicious grilled chicken with turmeric, cinnamon, nutmeg, red lentils, split peas, coconut milk, mint, basmati rice and salad), the Indian Ocean (a creole dish to sweep you off your feet), the Women on Top (a spin on the traditional Brazilian feijoada stew)… if you can manage to make a choice. The house also proposes a range of foreign beers and surprising exotic cocktails like the Aguas Borobora (a cocktail with mango, rose, vodka and champagne). We only regret that the service isn’t nicer, and also the eternal wait for a table at the weekends (no reservations). Doesn’t take credit cards.

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Eastern Paris