Considering that France produces about seven billion bottles of wine a year, it’s understandable that most people categorize Paris as a vino town. And while it’s certainly a magical city in which to sit on a patio with a glass of French white, it’s also, in more recent years, become a city in which to enjoy an expertly-crafted cocktail.
About a decade ago, what some might consider college highballs—whiskey-Cokes and gin-tonics sloshed haphazardly onto ice—were the norm. However, this actually wasn’t always the case. During the time of Prohibition in North America, the Paris cocktail scene was so significant that many of the lauded classics, such as the French 75, bloody Mary, and sidecar were invented here at bars that are still celebrated today. The famed Harry’s New York Bar is still a solid spot for a boulevardier, and the historic Bar Hemingway at The Ritz is still the best place to spend time with a dirty martini at apéro hour (or a mimosa at all other hours).
And lucky for the craft cocktail-obsessed, the city’s scene has seen a resurgence in recent years, having now reached the next level of maturity in its offerings. These days, not only are there Paris cocktail monuments to explore, but there are also the new Parisian cocktail innovations to discover. Here is a list of favourites.
The birthplace of many classic cocktails, Harry’s New York Bar (yes, it’s in Paris) has had a long list of notable patrons since its opening in 1911. Coco Chanel and Humphrey Bogart could be seen lining the bar in their days, and it’s said that this is where George Gershwin composed An American in Paris. Order anything old and you’ll get perfectly-executed history—the vieux carré is a great option.
We have the mimosa thanks to The Ritz, where it was invented it in the 1920s. In addition to being one of the most historical bars in Paris (and evidently one of Ernest Hemingway’s favourites), Bar Hemingway also serves some of the most perfectly saline and fragrant dirty martinis.
Frequently mentioned in prestigious awards lists such as the World’s 50 Best Bars, Mary Celeste is as inventive and consistent with its cocktails as it is with its food and wine list. Try the one with a slip of sesame that edges towards savoury.
Bisou’s design is a punch of slick pink, but what makes this bar even better is that there is no menu. Just tell the bartender what you’re in the mood for, and a bespoke drink will be made just for you.
Each time Talia Kleinplatz of Two for the Bar visits Paris, she swears by Candelaria’s Guepe Verte cocktail with tequila, green chilies, lime juice, agave syrup, and coriander. If that doesn’t sound good enough on its own, the bar also has an adjoining hole-in-the-wall taco joint serving up delicious Mexican fare.
This spot is a favourite of Vancouver-raised, Paris-based photographer Joann Pai. Her pick is The Ronin, a cocktail with depth and well-balanced complexity with Japanese whiskey, madère dry pandan, Oloroso sherry, Champagne syrup, smoked tea, and a black-salt saline.
Though a touch out of the way, Cravan is this writer’s personal favourite. The architecture is original work by Hector Guimard, who also designed the iconic Parisian metro signs, and the cocktails are elegant yet unfussy. Order the Yellow: a mixture of gin, Suze, and yellow Chartreuse—and if the kitchen is serving, do us all a favour and order the croque madame. Because drinks are great and all, but French food is its own kind of love affair.