Where to Drink in Paris
Paris and Champagne. As clichéd as it sounds, the two really do belong together. On a recent trip I logged but a handful of the most classic and notable sites for imbibing in this legendary French city, all of which are not to be missed!
Le Bar Long
(Hôtel Le Royal Monceau - Raffles Paris, 37 Avenue Hoche)
This bar is located in one of Paris’ most admirable and self-indulgent hotels, which was graciously redesigned by Philip Starck just a few years ago to become a place where luxury is a staple, and the air is completely electric.
The hotel’s Le Bar Long is a modern-day temple of opulence and abundance – a place that meets the highest standards of life-loving hedonists. People stop in to have a light lunch by day and then return for an apéritif by night. The Fashion Week crowd practically lives here, and celebrities on both sides of the pond have this place at the top of their travel list.
The main bar consists of a T-shaped central counter and a sleek front section, which converge to create an exceptionally intimate atmosphere. One moment you arrive alone, and the next you could have a Parisian (who could well be an ex-president of France) greeting you from the opposite side of the counter and offering you a glass of Champagne. Speaking of glasses, the head bartender says that Mr. Starck hand-picked the whole selection of interesting and colorful pieces himself in the flea markets of Paris. And while the glassware is creative and charming, if you really want to have an adventure devote most of your attention to the Champagne menu where the selection by the glass is both respectable and tasteful. You can go classy and have a glass of Dom or take a more decadent turn and choose Piper-Heidsieck Cuvée Rare, both of which will give you a true moment of pleasure together with an irresistible “something in the air” feeling. The head sommelier knows a great deal about wine, and this shows in the upscale and refined wine list, which will suit even the most discerning of tastes.
The bar menu is host to light snacks and gourmet tapas, as well as world-famous Pierre Hermé macaroons and desserts, something not to miss! Or you can go straight into dinner at Matsuhisa Paris, located just next to the bar, or enjoy cocktails in the courtyard.
(The Mandarin Oriental Hotel, 251 Rue St Honoré)
The sleek elegance of the Mandarin Oriental is captivating and majestic, especially when you enter the lobby straight from an exhausting fashion run of the rue Saint-Honoré. This is exactly what you need after shopping (or window shopping) for Chanel, Saint Laurent Paris and other French design icons. If a day of designer brand shopping has not already thinned your wallet, then this place will, but it’s totally worth it. The Bar 8 counter is made entirely of Spanish marble (a huge nine-ton piece) and surrounded by chic leather barstools. The rest of the place has smaller chocolate-colored sofas and tables overlooking an inner garden straight in front of you, behind huge glass walls. The inner walls are dark and decorated with tiny pieces of colored crystals that look like summer raindrops in the dim light of the bar.
The intimate atmosphere makes you sink into the seductive effervescence of Bollinger Rosé, which is available by the glass, along with other great choices of Bolly Grande Année and Dom Pérignon. As James Bond, the “ambassador” of Bollinger, would say, “bloody gorgeous,” and it is. The menu offers more than 70 Champagnes, including some real classics from Taittinger Comtes, Billecart-Salmon Elizabeth, Salon and others. As for the food, gourmet tapas and other basics will make sure that you do not go hungry.
(Hôtel Le Dokhan’s, 117 Rue de Lauriston)
This former 18th-century residential building now hosts a cozy boutique hotel with neo- classical furnishings, a legendary Louis Vuitton suitcase elevator, remarkable art works (including engravings by Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso) and probably the only real (and the very first) Champagne bar in Paris. The bar’s décor has elegant celadon wood paneling with a touch of gold leaf highlights, magical antique mirrors and romantic chandeliers that create an exceptional atmosphere for enjoying Champagne.
Le Dokhan’s serves over 240 Champagnes, many of them rare and exceptional, as well as an impressive selection by the glass. You actually get to choose the glass, as they will ask you which form you prefer. The wine list features only top selections, starting with Françoise Bedel’s organics to Jaquesson Grands Crus, Egly-Ouriet, Philipponnat, Selosse, Bérèche and many others. Each week, the head sommelier introduces three different cuvées from his personally selected producers – a brut, a rosé and a vintage, providing a great opportunity to taste wonderful and unusual Champagnes. You can go for a blind tasting if you feel adventurous, and if you feel like splurging even more, there is a good choice of magnums, as well as a caviar and Champagne tasting option on the menu.
Le Dokhan’s also hosts weekly live jazz events and tastings with the producers, which you have to book in advance if you want to get a table and mingle with the most sophisticated Champagne crowd in Paris.
(The Hotel Le Meurice, 228 Rue de Rivoli)
The bar at hotel Le Meurice offers one of the most exquisite hotel bar experiences you could possibly have, including impeccable service by almost invisible personnel. This bar once served as a library, but since Philippe Starck put his hands on it, it has become a completely new place, while retaining its sophisticated dark wood and tobacco-colored leather chairs, a beautiful hand-painted evening sky on the ceiling and loads of gilt. You would not expect anything less from a favorite hangout of Salvador Dalí, who used to be a regular guest here. Glamorous and charismatic like a British gentleman, the place captures your attention and senses without asking permission, but you don’t mind anyway. In a locale like this, you should choose a timeless classic like a Krug or Bollinger, and although the list of Champagnes is quite refined, you might also be enchanted by a rare and fascinating gem. The same refers to the dress code – classy will get you anywhere!
Le Mathis Bar
(Champs-Elysées, 3 Rue de Ponthieu)
As scary as Champs-Élysées shopping might sound, there are some very nice stores to hit, as well as plenty of good restaurants and bars where you can rest after a frenzied shopping experience. One place to check out après dîner is the most private hangout of Paris – Le Mathis Bar.
Opened by Gérald Nanty in 1996 with the help of Françoise Sagan, Le Mathis has always been the preferred choice of Paris’ intellectual élite. A discreet door hides a sultry and voluptuous boudoir-type interior of red velvet sofas and dimmed lights. If you drop in at around 8PM, the place looks completely dead, but just a couple of hours later it becomes the hottest spot in town, with sparkling drinks and an exuberant Parisian vibe.
This is the perfect place for those who want to run into celebrities in a surprisingly convivial atmosphere. Le Mathis embodies Parisian cool and is a favorite place of seriously famous people from both the local and international fashion and movie scenes. You could spot Leonardo DiCaprio or French actress Isabelle Adjani chilling in the lofty and intimate sofas. This is also the place where Madonna was once famously left on the other side of the entrance.
(Four Seasons Hotel George V, 31 Avenue George V)
A definitive Paris classic that enthralls the visitor right from the start. Step into the breathtaking, white orchid-filled lobby to the distant sound of The Girl from Ipanema on a piano from a far corner of the hall. The George V conveys a timeless magic, just like in the movie Casablanca, providing you and your significant other with an unforgettable moment that seems to last forever. Plush and abundant red velvet sofas, Old World charm and a slight touch of Belle Époque glamour make this place cozy and comfortable.
However, once you get your hands on the solid book-sized wine list, you’re in trouble. There are quite a few things besides Champagne that are tempting enough to order. Why not have a bottle of decent Burgundy after your last sip of Champagne? Perhaps this voluminous wine “bible” is part of the reason for Le Bar’s staying power. The menu of “snacks” that are not really snacks looks good, and the food tastes even better, especially after a proper apéritif.
Restaurant Le Georges
(Centre Georges Pompidou, 19 Rue Beaubourg)
Fear not that this restaurant is located in the most tourist-crowded area after the Eiffel Tower. The crowd here is more artistic and therefore easier to handle, and you will only need to handle it for the short time that it takes you to ascend the imposing escalator of the Pompidou Centre’s outer wall. Le Georges boasts a spectacular view of Paris and its glorious monuments, along with a huge terrace that is the best after hours place in the summer and even late fall, thanks to the outdoor heaters. If you wish to look up at the stars, then you should definitely catch a moment outside.
The interior is as avant-garde as the building in which it is located, and the pure steel furniture goes well with the sensuous red roses on each table at any time of the year. Enjoy the architecture of Dominique Jakob and Brendan MacFarlane, and don’t forget that there’s a world-class art collection right beneath your feet. Le Georges is classic and enduring like a lover’s kiss – couples keep coming back again and again. It’s a place you can never forget because the aftertaste lingers on for years to come. Champagne consumption is an obvious must.
For your address book
(Wine Museum of Paris, 5 Sq. Charles Dickens)
For the most authentic Champagne experience that also turns out to be educational, head to the Wine Museum of Paris, a place that is surprisingly interesting even for wine professionals. The premises’ 14th-century walls were once used as cellars by the abbey that stood above them when the area, Passy, was covered in vineyards. During the mid-1900s, they served as cellars for the Eiffel Tower. If you are interested in learning something new, then take one of the tours (a guided tour of the museum includes one exhibit devoted entirely to la méthode Champenoise). If not, just have a look around and sign up for a tasting and lunch, which is possible even if you just stop by. www.museeduvinparis.com
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
As a Senior Wine Specialist at Acker, Santa Bernahl works with collectors around the world for both cellar acquisition and helping clients build their collection from Acker’s auction and fine and rare wine retail offers. Santa grew up in a small Baltic city called Riga (in Latvia), went to college in the United States and later moved to France, finding her second home in Reims. She earned a degree in Political Science and worked on political campaigns, formed her own public relations company, and served as Editor in Chief of Cosmopolitan Magazine before pursuing a career in wine. A wine lover and collector herself, Santa visited many wine regions around the world developing close ties with the winemakers and enrolled in the WSET school in London before establishing an import company for 3 countries representing some of the best Champagne and Burgundy estates. She later opened a wine bar (with more than 5000 bottle cellar) that was awarded best Champagne list in the Baltics, which her family still operate today. Eventually she settled in California, where she lives with her husband and is pursuing the UC Davis winemaking program.