Where to Find the Most Exquisite Cocktails in Paris
Long gone are the days when grabbing un verre du vin in a dingy cafe was your only option for a booze-filled evening in the French capital. While slower to jump on the craft cocktail train than other European cities, Parisians bars claimed a number of spots on 2018’s list of The World’s 50 Best Bars.
In recent years Paris has come a long way in offering locals and visitors interesting ways to remain adequately hydrated. From bars hidden behind functional pizza shops to an 18th Century hôtel particulier, if you’re looking for the best cocktails in Paris, look no further. Whether you’re from near or far, we’ll review everything you need to know about the City of Love’s burgeoning cocktail scene.
Paris Cocktail Culture
To suggest that cocktails are a new trend in Paris would grossly overlook a culture of liquor- making that dates back to the 1800s. However, it wasn’t until more than one-hundred years later when the phenomenon really began to gain traction. American prohibition was in full-swing which sent a wave of newly unemployed bartenders to Europe. They eventually landed in some of the continent’s finest hotel bars.
And then we must take into consideration two iconic bars that popularized the American-English cocktail tradition in the 1920s– Harry’s New York Bar and the Bar Hemingway at the Ritz Paris. Known in equal parts for their creative cocktails, and literary and artistic clientele, these Parisian bars are still popular among locals and tourists alike.
The common theme here is obviously a distinctly American and British influence. As the land renowned for their fine wines, cocktail culture in France seems highly disengaged from a tradition of haute cuisine. And it is this idea that perhaps held back the spread of the cocktail trend from luxury hotels to the general public.
Exclusive to the rich and famous, the cocktail phenomenon never made it past the doors of the fine hotel bars in which it took root. That is until 2007 when three friends opened a cocktail bar on Rue Saint-Sauveur.
Now known as the Experimental Group (EG), the trio own a series of highly successful cocktail bars around Paris and are credited with jump-starting the Paris cocktail culture we know today. EG’s first bar, the Experimental Cocktail Club offered prohibition-era tipples using top-shelf ingredients and liquors that Parisians couldn’t find in their local supermarkets.
What they accomplished– the merging of the American roots that have always been present in French cocktail culture, with hundreds of specialized small-batch products made in France, passion, artistry, and an ever-increasingly sophisticated palate– perfectly sums up the Parisian craft cocktail movement today.
While not always known for their willingness to change and innovate, the French cocktail culture is about as far from the classic verre du vin, digestif, or apéritif as you can get. And yet, it is still distinctly Parisian. After all, no one else can perfectly combine the best products in the most tasteful yet creative ways possible to create something classic yet innovative quite like the French.
The Best Cocktail Bars in Paris
Whatever your style, the development of the cocktail scene in Paris has something for everyone. From classics to modern, our list offers a tipple for all types. Read on for the best cocktail bars in Paris.
51 Rue du Faubourg Saint-Denis, 75010 Paris
Nearest Metro: Château d’Eau (Line 4); Strasbourg – Saint-Denis (Lines 4, 8, 9)
Responsible for bringing the “buy local” trend to the bar scene, Le Syndicat was one of the first bars to create cocktails using exclusively French ingredients.
The owners and bartenders are constantly striving for ways to explore inward and embrace their French culture. In the words of one of its founders, Sullivan Doh, Le Syndicate is “more local than local.”
The bar serves up some seriously lavish cocktails made from often surprising ingredients, such as in one case, beet puree, and spicy watermelon syrup.
However, you would never expect it from the outside. The exterior of the bar is so nondescript I passed in front of it three times, cursing Google Maps and little blue dot that never seems to be in the right place, before finally finding the entrance.
Graffiti and posters cover the doors that are devoid of any signage, so you have to really know what you’re looking for. Once inside, the interior feels reminiscent of your cool cousin’s basement recording studio circa 1976. The small space features unfinished, exposed sheetrock with gold curtains climbing up the walls. And yet, it all works. There’s a comforting, yet hip vibe to the place and the cocktails perfectly accentuate this feeling.
The Most Exquisite Cocktail: For something new try the aptly named “Drop the Beet,” made with Normandy Calvados, beet puree, honey syrup, and fresh lemon juice. It’s tangy, yet delightful.
Little Red Door
60 Rue Charlot, 75003 Paris
Nearest Metro: Filles du Calvaire (Line 8)
As you probably guessed, Little Red Door in the Marais really has a little red door–but a false one. The real entrance is nearly invisible, situated immediately to the left of the red door.
The speakeasy radiates a welcoming vibe– which is hard to find in such a big city if you ask me. The interior is intimate and workers who seemingly enjoy their jobs, interact with guests, offering expert advice and helpful recommendations.
This sense of comradery is reinforced through LRD’s recently released Menu of Universal Values. The experimental cocktail list explores unifying ideas based on 10 values, to which all people can relate, regardless of geography or culture. Drinks appeal to the common humanity of guest by bringing up ideas such as ‘Achievement,’ ‘Strength’ and even ‘Hedonism.’ For added fun, the menu looks like a kid’s storybook.
While there might be a long line to get in, it is decidedly worth the wait. The staff at LDR want to ensure everyone has a nice, relaxing time so they only allow those in that have a seat. So, while small it doesn’t feel over packed and you’re sure to have a spot once inside.
The Most Exquisite Cocktail: The menu changes often, and my all time favorite was from a previous menu. The Paper Architecture, made with Havana Club Rum, Malt Whisky, and Plum. Simple, yet unique you really can’t beat the flavors or presentation.
52 Rue de Saintonge, 75003 Paris
Nearest Metro: Filles du Calvaire (Line 8); République (Line 3, 5, 8, 9, 11)
Yet another speakeasy-style joint, Candelaria is hidden behind a taqueria in the third arrondissement. The location is probably the most difficult to find of all the speakeasy bars on this list. The tiny taqueria is best described as dingy (yet welcoming), and the doormen protecting the secrets of the bar are inhospitable at best. However, I do have to add that the authentic tacos served up in the taqueria are easily the best in Paris…but that’s another post for another time.
Survive the entrance charade and you’ll surely be rewarded. The atmosphere is casual and delicious agave-based cocktails dominate the menu.
Unlike the others that made the list before it, Candelaria is a great place to have a chill evening or intimate late-night rendezvous.
The Most Exquisite Cocktail: Be bold and try the El Sombreron. While I wouldn’t have expected tequila and vermouth to work together, Candelaria proved me wrong. Made with Tequila Altos Blanco, Gran Classico Bitter, Vermouth, Pink Pepper tonic, hibiscus, and lime, the El Sombreron is delicately floral but packs a punch.
Harry’s New York Bar
5 Rue Daunou, 75002 Paris
Nearest Metro: Opéra (Line 3, 7, 8)
No list of the best cocktails in Paris would be complete without mentioning the famous Harry’s New York Bar. Often considered the first cocktail bar in Paris, Hemingway and Sartre drank here and George Gershwin composed “An American in Paris” on the piano upstairs. The history and connection to the US make Harry’s an institution for both expats and visitors.
The atmosphere is welcoming with an atmosphere that’s reminiscent of years past. It almost feels like nothing has changed at Harry’s since Hemingway and his pals spent time there. Although I’m sure there have been renovations, this isn’t entirely untrue. The red leather booths and wooden bar date back to the early 20th century.
It was actually at Harry’s that Hemingway met his last secret love, Italian countess, Adriana Ivancich. The 50-year-old Hemingway met 18-year-old Adriana at the bar when she met his gaze. The pair then began a seven-year secret love affair, exchanging love letters that went unpublished for decades after his death.
Anyway, the place is steeped in steamy history which is almost palpable as soon as you enter. I advise coming during the day when you’ll have the place to yourself, grabbing a Bloody Mary, and plopping yourself down on one of the red leather booths to ponder times past and take in the great Parisian treasure that is Harry’s Bar.
The Most Exquisite Cocktail: If it’s your first time to Harry’s you pretty much have to get the Bloody Mary. It was in this precise location that everyone’s favorite brunch beverage was invented back in the 1920s.
In addition to American bartenders looking for a way to remain employed during Prohibition, at the time Paris was also a refuge for Russians escaping the Communist revolution back home. They brought with them a new type of alcohol called vodka. There’s a number of theories as to how the Bloody Mary actually came to be, but the most widely accepted is that a barman named Fernand Petiot found vodka too bland, so he added tomato juice and spices to give it flavor. To you Fernand, we say good lookin’ out.
Le Très Particulier
23 Avenue Junot, 75018 Paris
Nearest Metro: Sèvres – Babylone (Line 10, 12)
I almost hesitated to include this one, as Le Très Particulier is by far my favorite gin joint in all of Paris– perhaps the world. And thus far, relatively undiscovered. This swanky hotel bar is tucked away behind Le Butte de Montmartre on a little private-access street. After passing through the gate you’ll notice a pretty famous tower directly in front of you. Possibly the best view of the Eiffel Tower from Montmartre, the view is completely unobscured.
Once inside the old building, you’ll head past the restaurant and a small library to the Le Très Particulier, complete with an intimate lounge and sunroom. The lush velvety lounge is very Twin Peaks but in the best possible way. There’s an aura of whimsy as well as sophistication, elegance, and privacy. Perfect for a date night, Le Très Particulier also offers a range of tasty bar snacks.
And then let’s not forget about the hotel gardens. Designed by Louis Benech (who also renovated the Tuileries), the lush enclave hardly feels like Paris. With its towering trees, wild ferns and patches of ivy, it feels more like you’ve found yourself in a forest thicket than a garden in the center of a major metropolis.
And if that weren’t enough the service at Le Très Particulier can’t be beat. Discreet yet attentive– two adjectives that very rarely can be applied to Parisian servers.
The Most Exquisite Cocktail: You can’t go wrong with the Laura Palmer. If you’re wondering if things might be getting a little too David Lynch, to you I say, impossible. Made of Americano Cocchi, Mastica, absinthe, lime juice, white sugar, and sage– now that’s a damn fine cocktail.
5 Rue Sedaine, 75011 Paris
Nearest Metro: Bréguet – Sabin (Line 5); Bastille (Line 1, 5, 8)
I can almost guarantee that your first thoughts will be “am I in the right place?” and, “should I order a pizza slice?” The answer to both is, yes. Moonshiner is a speakeasy-style bar (no surprise there, right) hidden behind a functional pizza parlor.
The bar is small so wait times can get a bit long on weekends. Luckily the pizza is excellent. Rather than waiting outside, I advise that you arrive hungry, have a seat and order a pie. You won’t regret it and before too long you’ll be able to enter through the freezer into the first speakeasy bar in Paris.
With dim lighting, retro jazz on the gramophone, and an old-fashioned smoking room, the atmosphere of Moonshiner can best be described as “hushed.”
The Most Exquisite Cocktail: Go big and order a Smokey Island. Made of three-year-old Havana rum, vodka, Beefeater gin, and spices, there’s no turning back.