37 rue St.-Sauveur, 75002 Paris
Paris has been decidedly slow to embrace the cocktail-frenzy that has overtaken many other cities. As far as I can tell, people are still far more likely to drink wine and beer when they are out for the evening. To be honest, I’ve got mixed feelings about elaborate mixed drinks, despite their ubiquity in places like Los Angeles, New York, and Berlin. A big part of this stems from my genuine mortification at the idea of spending more than ten bucks on a single drink. I’m also not a huge fan of super-sweet drinks, and I often find that designer cocktails tend towards the sugary side of things.
Nevertheless, I started researching cocktail bars in Paris when S began bemoaning the dearth of such places to me recently. He tried to take his girlfriend out for a Manhattan before the opera and ended up having an overpriced and disappointing experience. Some poking around on the internets yielded a lot of chatter about l’Expérimental Cocktail Club. The New York Times Style section, which I read compulsively despite regularly thinking I would be better off just smacking my face into the wall, love love loves this place, so a few of us decided to check it out last night. It does feel much more like a New York bar than a Paris one. There’s only a small plaque on the outside of the building to let you know you are in the right place and you have to go through a heavy velvet curtain and past a no-fucking-around doorman to get in. We didn’t have any problem on that front, though there was quite the line at the door when we left after midnight.
L’Expérimental is an intimate space, with probably only the capacity to serve about fifty people. It was packed to the gills last night, and we found ourselves awkwardly propped against a piano that was doubling as a DJ booth. We just missed snagging one of the large black leather couches, what with our being properly socialized and recognizing that it is in bad taste to sit down before you order your drinks and all. Goddamn Yuppies. The décor is really lovely with rough wood beams on the ceiling and old brickwork juxtaposed with Sander Mulder’s gorgeous Therese plexiglass chandeliers and a long zinc bar. The music was pretty standard fare for as supposedly cutting-edge as this place tries to be. Are we sure that Lykke Li should still be in heavy rotation at a bar that Quentin Tarantino supposedly frequents? I’m not so sure…
The cocktail menu is very complicated and a highly curated affair. The internets tell me that it is the work of “master mixologist” Xavir Padovani, who shills for Hendrick’s Gin and Monkey Shoulder scotch, both of which play a starring role at l’Experimental (no complains from me on that one). A and I arrived early and our first round consisted of the “Experience #1” (Ketel One vodka, Elderfower cordial, lemongrass, lemon juice and fresh basil) for him and the “Ivresse Brune” (Cognac, ginger cordial, lemon zest, and schmancy ginger beer) for me. His was revelatory, mine was warm. Can I say that I don’t entirely understand the French resistance to ice? It seems to me that anything sparkly and sweet like a ginger beer-based drink should be served icy cold. I understand the desire not to dilute the drink, but isn’t that why these places make those giant ice cubes? And why oh why do I see people drinking warm diet Cokes everywhere in this town? At any rate, my drink consisted of a tall glass of syrupy booze and lemon rind served alongside a warm bottle of ginger beer. While I guess the Cognac and cordial were indeed shaken with ice, when I added the ginger beer the whole thing ended up lukewarm, sticky, and pretty blah. Oh, and there was too much ginger beer for the glass, so then I had this awkward double-fisted thing going on with the treacly bottle. H liked it, however, so maybe I’m just being a jerk. Her first drink was some kind of terrifying concoction of tequila and nutmeg and cream. After sampling it I concluded that it was too smart for me. There seemed to be a collective acknowledgement that A’s “Experience #1” was the cocktail of the hour, and everyone had one of those for their second round, except S, who was finally able to get the proper Manhattan he had been jonesing for.
Details: This is a 15-euro-a-cocktail place and the crowd dresses and acts accordingly. I wasn’t wearing heels, but I wished I had been. I agree with the Style section (and every other internet reviewer) that the “Experience #1” is the drink to order. It’s not my scene per se, but it’s exactly as well-executed as you would expect from the hype and made for a delightful evening out with excellent people.
Photo via qype.fr