City of Light

Martine Nouet takes us in search of the great Parisian bars
By Martine Nouet
Paris by night has been unanimously praised in literature and travel guides.You may all have done it, walk down the Champs-Elysées at Christmas time or sit on a bench at the end of l'Ile-Saint-Louis on a summer night, counting the "vedettes de Paris" which ceaselessly carry tourist crowds on their sightseeing cruises. But it is obviously more exciting to sip a whisky in one of these trendy bars which have flourished these in the last five years in the capital. Their recipe to take the yuppies to the end of the night? A cocktail of hip DJs, flashing lights and incredible drinks.

It is interesting to note that the more classic bars – they can also boast a legendary past – stay on the right bank of the Seine while the newest ones which thrive on cocktails and trendy drinks are located on the left bank. This is not surprising as “la rive droite” is the hub of business and luxury stores, hence attracting more mature people while “la rive gauche” has always been the student territory, and thus captivating younger generations, pretty broke but open to innovation.

"You will find whiskies from all over the world, or special rare releases"

Thierry Daniel, the organiser of the “Cocktails Spirits Salon” in Paris has founded a communication agency dedicated to spirits, Liquid Liquid. He is a regular of cocktails and whisky bars and knows all the hip bartenders. “The whisky bars have changed a lot these last years, he notes. Besides the notorious historic bars like Harry’s Bar or Le Forum, you find a new generation of bartenders who are more versatile and don’t try to have a comprehensive whisky list but look for the specialty drinks. They may have only 10 or 15 whiskies which they will rotate regularly but these are top quality ones. You will find whiskies from all over the world, or special rare releases”.

Cocktails are also a rediscovered territory. “I would not say that the new bartenders invent cocktails. All has been done. But they dust the old recipes and they have made them more affordable. Before you could only drink cocktails in luxury hotel bars and they were ridiculously priced. Now for 10 or 15 € you have an excellent drink based on a remarkable spirit, whether it be whisky, cognac, rum or vodka. France is far behind regarding cocktails consumption, especially compared to Britain and the United States. Mixology is still a new concept.

Eighty per cent of the spirits are consumed neat. And the innovative whisky cocktail is still a Parisian thing. But all that is slowly changing”.

Curio Parlor

16 Rue des Bernardins, 75005 Paris
Tel: 00 33 1 44 07 12 47

From Right Bank to Left Bank. One year after establishing the Expérimental Cocktail Club, the friendly trio, Olivier Bon, Romée and Pierre-Charles Cros, opened another likewise bar, the Curio Parlour, just behind Notre-Dame. Not very far from Jussieu university but in the peaceful part of the 5th district. Even the tourists seem to forget what lies behind Notre-Dame. The place deserves its name, as the decoration is inspired from Deyrolles “Cabinet des curiosités”. Hunting trophies are hung on the walls, alcoves lined with seats featuring mini lounges give the place the look of a “shabby chic” club. Not to be missed is “the Nikka Bar” created in close collaboration with La Maison du Whisky. It offers 35 Japanese whiskies.

Le Forum

4 Boulevard Malesherbes, 75008 Paris
Tel: 00 33 1 42 65 37 86

If you think ‘historic’, this is the place. Le Forum is the oldest cocktail bar in Paris (founded in 1929). Its central location, close to La Place de La Madeleine, and the two institutions of luxury food, Fauchon and Hédiard, not to forget La Maison du Whisky just one street ahead, has certainly helped to keep the bar at the top in the best addresses guides. Le Forum has revamped its decoration last year though, with modern looking charcoal grey armchairs and wooden panels in dark chocolate colour. The last drink lists had 65 items. In 2000 it boasted 250. A skilled team, driven by smiling chef barman Xavier Laigle can make any cocktail. The new Forum could be a mix of New York’s Brandy Library, Employees only and the Amsterdam Door 74.


52 Rue de Saintonge, 75003 Paris
Tel: 0033 1 42 74 41 28

A hidden gem in the back of a small Mexican Restaurant (A tequilaria), this tiny bar reminds of a speakeasy. It can hardly contain 50 persons. The whisky list is short but excellent and so are the single malt based cocktails.

The Auld Alliance Scottish Pub

80 Rue François-Miron, 75004 Paris
Tel: 00 33 1 48 04 30 40

All the exiled Scots and the rugby aficionados know the place and love it. Wonderful atmosphere, music, giant screen for the matches and a superb selection of single malts and beers. Life is good!

Bar Hemingway/Hotel Ritz

15 Place Vendôme, 75001 Paris
Tel: 00 33 1 43 16 30 30

The atmosphere is cosy and delighfully old-fashioned. When entering the Hemingway bar, you feel that literary air breathed by the shadows of Scott Fiztgerald and Ernest Hemingway. There is obviously more than a bar here. Colin Field, the chef barman, has retained from his British origin a charming accent but he is more Parisian than a lot of natives. He has a real passion for all spirits but calvados is certainly his “enfant chéri”. His cocktails are stunning. Any Eve would trade off the paradise for one of his liquid apples!

Harry’s New York Bar

5 Rue Daunou, 75002 Paris
Tel: 0033 1 42 61 71 14

Just as legendary and almost a neighbour of Le Forum, the Harry’s New York Bar is on the list of the not to be missed places for every American tourist. Go there on the 4th of July and you will judge by yourself. I have a special liking for the bar which I used to visit regularly some 15 years ago when Duncan MacElhone, son of Harry, was the manager. A good friend of mine who died brutally. Wonderfully stocked with “Jurassic” whiskies, this bar is a paradise for collectors. It is always interesting to compare old versions of iconic whiskies to recent ones. The cocktails are also a strong point with generous measures and classic recipes.

Prescription Cocktail Club

23 Rue Mazarine, 75006 Paris
Tel: 0033 1 46 34 61 73

This is the last bar opened by the owners of Experimental Cocktail Bar and Curio Parlour. Obviously there is a family likeness between them. Cosy speakeasy-style bar with a mouthwatering cocktail list and a short but noteworthy selection of whiskies (the offer changes every six months), the Prescription attracts young night birds (between 25 and 35 years old). Note the lampshades: all bowler hats!


13 Rue des Beaux-Arts, 75006 Paris
Tel: 00 33 1 44 41 99 00

Just a few yards from Place Furstemberg, for me the most charming square in Paris – Delacroix had his studio there, worth visiting for his sketches – this hotel houses a lovely bar. Carlos the barman is very knowledgeable and passion infused. The perfect hideaway for a romantic break. Last but not least, the restaurant is excellent too. Oscar Wilde died at 13 rue des Beaux-Arts. A good reason to come here and have a toast to his genius.

La Conserverie

37 bis Rue du sentier, 75002 Paris
Tel: 01 40 26 14 94

A place like no other one. Different is the word. You drink excellent cocktails but you can also eat fresh and high quality food, including Philippe Conticini’s magical cakes. Philippe is the (underrated) genius of French pâtisserie. Vintage canapés, coffee tables, intimate ambiance make you feel well. And the cocktails prepared by a highly skilled team do the rest.