While the French have always been fidèle to their wine, they've also been known to carry on a little flirtation with fine spirits. French ingredients like Chartreuse and Benedictine have often served as a cornerstone of cocktail recipes. Yet, for most of its recent history, the country has been relatively dry when it comes to quality cocktails. During this mixed drinks downtime, those who wanted more than a glass of wine either sucked down Bloody Marys à la Harry's or sought refuge in high-end hotel bars like the Ritz's Hemingway, which were accustomed to catering to an international clientele....but those drinks came at a pretty steep price.
But, everything changed in 2007 when three enterprising young Frenchies started up something new with the Experimental Cocktail Club. The ECC gave the capital a taste of the craft cocktails already prevalent in other cosmopolitan cities at much more reasonable prices. While Paris may have been a slow to catch on, they weren't slow to catch up. Soon, a new generation of bartenders (many of whom were trained by the ECC) branched out to start up their own innovative and interesting spots.
It's an exciting time for cocktails in France: the current crowd has developed a more adventurous mindset when it comes to drinks, and bars are responding with ever-more interesting (and delicious) ways to quench your cocktail cravings.
Here's our guide to the best places to go for cocktails in Paris. Our selection highlights the variety of Paris cocktail bars from old standards to a few excellent newcomers.
The Little Red Door
The Little Red Door courts a cool cocktail crowd with its lounge-like interior and loft-like aspirations. Revolving exhibits regularly adorn its distressed brick walls as a small selection of creative cocktails regularly rotate on the menu. Although they've more than earned their rep as one of the city's best bars, there's still something that feels under-the-radar about the LRD. The staff encourages exploration and experimentation: try ordering a Caipirinha and you'll likely be steered to a cachaça based-sangaree.
Bar le Coq
Owned by the team behind the city's annual Cocktail and Spirits salon and Tony Conigliaro (of the famed 69 Colebrook Row in London), this bar oozes a 70s vibe with candelit corners, but it has serious cocktail cred. Talented barmen mix up a small selection of cocktails that focus on French ingredients, including some lesser-known suspects like liqueur d'ambrette. Order the unusual Dry Martini: for this drink, Beefeater gin is mixed with a distillation of tannins and polyphenols that add an extra-dry element to the cocktail.
Experimental Cocktail Club
No list of top cocktail bars in Paris is complete without a nod to the Experimental Cocktail Club. While the ECC group is responsible for a few of the city's most popular spots, the original, a 10 minute walk from the Centre Pompidou and the historic Marais district, is worth a visit to see where the new wave of craft cocktails kicked off in France. Exposed brick walls give it a bit of edge, but that's softened by velvet-covered settees, oversized armchairs, and dim lighting. Cocktail choices change on a regular basis (we tend to like any drink they recommend) and off-menu classics can be ordered confidently from the capable staff.
The city's second dedicated tiki bar has managed to bring more than just some South Seas fun to the drinking scene. Dirty Dick merges cocktail geekery with a kicked-back attitude, providing boozy fun minus the snobbery often found in the latest trendy spot. Here, not far from the Moulin Rouge, locals laugh with friendly and savvy staff, amidst the usual island accouterments like a bamboo-lined bar and cocktails served in conch shells. Go full tiki and order something that's on fire: the Zombie packs a potent punch as well as flaming passionfruit.
The latest bar from the group responsible for Candelaria and Glass is a breath of fresh air with its light and bright approach to decor as well as drinks. The focus is on aperitif style cocktails, which can be paired with small plates and oysters (only when in season) from a chef with Michelin star experience. The perfect accompaniment for their happy-hour oysters is the Dear Apollonia. In this drink, grappa stands up against the salty shellfish while Manzanilla sherry and crème de peche play nicely with the Asian-inspired spicy mignonette.
Bar le Forum
Open since 1918 (and under the direction of the same family since 1931), this bar offers a selection that covers classic drinks and house creations as well as a very fine range of whisky. With its polished wood bar, antique jukeboxes, and besuited staff, the Forum is the perfect spot to mingle with the afterwork crowd over high end cocktails. Come here to spoil yourself with a drink from their "Hall of Fame" list, like the popular vodka-based Porn Star Martini, made with a soft touch of passion fruit and vanilla.
The Red House never forgets that giving clients a good time is as important as giving them a good cocktail. At this bar—not far from the Bastille—friendly and irreverent staff has fun with customers while the music blares and the pinball machine in the corner pings away. A huge set of longhorns hangs over the bar where hungry locals line up to fill their bellies on taco nights and take advantage of one of the city's best happy hours. Get in on the good time by ordering one of their Wild West Sides: the combination of cool cucumber and peppery bite may surprise you.
When it comes to passion for the craft, it's hard to beat Candelaria. The staff is enthusiastic, knowledgeable, and creative. Head through the unmarked door at the back of a bright and busy taqueria, and ask for the reserve menu, with dozens of choices from old standbys to modern classics like Audrey Saunders' Gin Gin Mule.
The Moonshiner, which just opened its discrete doors a few weeks back, brings one of the slickest 'hidden entrance' bars to the city. Those who manage to find their way in (via the busy pizzeria) slip into a cool dark space that evokes the age of Gatsby. Play with the Prohibition theme by ordering a Bottled Vieux Carré, mixed up with high quality ingredients and discretely served at the table tucked inside a book. Pour over ice or sip it directly from the flask.
If you're looking for something a bit upscale, skip the overpriced hotels and big clubs along the Champs Elysees and opt for a visit to the swanky newly-opened Bistrologist. Watch the beautiful people from the terrace while munching on a burger, or slip inside to sip something custom made for you. (The decor makes this place an ideal hideaway for a romantic tête-à-tête.) A large selection of interesting housemade syrups and a nice collection of spirits allows the team to tailor something to your taste, available in individual portions or served in a heavy cut glass decanter to share.
The Best Cocktail Bars in Paris, Mapped
Got any bars to add to this list? Where's your favorite cocktail destination in Paris?
About the Author: Cocktail-stalker, opinion-foister, and things-happening-maker Forest Collins writes 52 martinis, the most widely read English language blog on Paris cocktail bars. You'll also find her frequently writing about unusual eating and drinking experiences for Paris based websites and publications. You can follow her on Twitter @52martinis.