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Finding Good Cocktails in Paris

Living in San Francisco, we're spoiled when it comes to cocktails. Almost any bar you wander into could make a half-decent manhattan or gimlet. As I've brought up before, cocktails in Europe are a little lacking. Hampton and I wanted to find some decent mixed drinks, so did some research on the cocktail scene in Paris.

There are a handful of well-rated places, and we learnt that the first high-end cocktail bar to be successful was the Experimental Cocktail Club ("ECC"), which has been open for about six years. Apparently, a number of trainee bartenders from there have spread across the city, opening their own high-end cocktail bars. We went to three (alas, we didn't make it to the ECC).

We ended up at the similarly-named Prescription Cocktail Club, in the Saint Germain quarter, as it was close to one of our favourite restaurants in Paris (Fish la Boissonnerie). There was no obvious sign from the street that it was a cocktail bar, but we were pretty sure we had the right address. We peered in a window and saw a bunch of people sipping cocktails, so we went in. Although we showed up at 9pm on a Friday, we were lucky enough to get a table. The service was pretty good (there was table service at every bar we went to), and the cocktails were competent. I ordered something with gin, green Chartreuse, and crème de menthe. It was a little too sweet for my taste, but drinkable nontheless.

Mary Celeste was another bar we went to. It had pretty good cocktails and some tasty-looking tapas – we'd just eaten so we'll have to go back for the food.

The bizarrely-named Sherry Butt, not far from Bastille, was probably my favourite cocktail bar that we went to. We went on a Thursday night and it was really quiet (being quiet is definitely a bonus for us). The bar was set up like a workshop – unfinished wood tables and odd contraptions on shelves. The menu was inventive and they seemed to produce a lot of their own syrups and flavourings for their drinks. Although they only listed their own concoctions, I asked for a Last Word and the bartender didn't hesitate to make one. The bartender was super-friendly and explained to us the cocktail scene in Paris – about how the "ECC" started it all, and that most of the high-end bartenders originated there. He was surprised we hadn't been to Candelaria, and strongly recommended we go there next.

Candelaria, just south of République, is a pretty strange place. It reminded me of something you'd find in San Francisco. From the street, it's a tiny, bright taqueria. There's one table and a handful of seats at a bar. At 9pm on a Thursday night, it was packed. People were spilling out onto the street, and we were told it would be a 30min wait if we wanted food. However, we were there for the cocktails.

If you squeeze past the people sitting at the diner-style bar, there's an unmarked door. Go through it and you're in a much larger room – although equally busy – lit by candles. The space was decorated with Day-of-the-Dead style skeletons and it really did feel like we were back in the Mission. Unfortunately, the cocktails were mediocre. We hadn't reserved a table ahead, so we were stuck standing elbow-to-elbow with the hipsters of Paris. It was a little clostrophobic in there.

We went to another cocktail bar/tapas restaurant nearby Candelaria: Le Mary Celeste. As far as I know, the bartenders weren't ECC alumni, but they had a neat cocktail menu. The bar had a vaguely nautical theme, and the cocktails were refreshing – both on-menu and classics like a manhattan or a gimlet. If you're in the area, and want to get away from the intensity of Candelaria, I'd say it's a good call.

It's worth pointing out that cocktails in Paris are expensive. €13 (~US$18) was not unusual. Compare that to cocktails in San Francisco, where anything more than $12 would be considered pricey. It's a trade-off, obviously – the price of a baguette (80¢ or ~US$1.10) or some great cheese is way less in Paris than in San Francisco.

I'm happy we found these places. Most were a little tricky to track down, but fun to drink at. It's good to know there are decent cocktial bars in Paris – even if you have to walk down a weird side-alley to get to them. I look forward to finding more next time we're in the city.