February 17 2013
I'm going to be taking a little break from blogging, just until life decides to calm down. However, don't worry - that doesn't mean you should be adopting the brace position in preparation for some Burnt silence - I've got a few virtual friends to share their opinions.
It's so easy to get caught up in your own little bubble and lose perspective. There are so many things about living in Paris that I only realised that I have been taking for granted when I see the excited look in fresh eyes.
Monica, a native Australian, has just spent the last two months travelling round Europe. I love her blog, Honey and Charm, and so it was a great pleasure to invite her to write up three bars - one each in London, Sydney and Paris. (Thank you!)
"Speakeasies are back in fashion. This isn't because there is another prohibition going on. I'm not really sure why people are so into these little bars in the middle of nowhere with no real signage but if I were to hazard a guess, I'd say that it is because they are a throwback to another era, where cocktails mean quality ingrediants (fresh produce and good liquors) and not just another pink drink, pre-bottled in some shiny package. My other guess would be that because these are so damn hard to find, that people like to brag to their friends they've been able to get in and have a drink.
London, Sydney and Paris are home to very different kinds of drinking atmospheres. You've got a strong pub culture in London, the confused state of Sydney drinking (it likes to follow the motherland with pubs, but tends to end up with a more eclectic mix of bars and hotels) and Paris, where much of the drinking happens in its cafes and tabacs. However, even in the midst of these established drinking cultures, speakeasy "hole-in-the-wall" cocktail bars are becoming increasingly popular.
Here are my three picks.
London Offering: Experimental Cocktail Club
The Experimental Cocktail Club fits the bill entirely when it comes to a hidden away cocktail speakeasy. It cheekily hides itself away in the Chinatown area (street? sorry, not a London local) of Soho and the only way to find it is to look very hard for the bouncer and the hostess. Hidden indeed! The decor isn't anything to write home about, but I think that's for good reason. The bar itself is the pièce de résistance - you don't need to look further than the beautiful bottles of liquors, both popular and obscure, on offer.
The atmosphere is dimmed and intimate, inducive to quiet contemplation of cocktails, although the music is a little to loud (I think this is a complaint only someone not local to London will have) so I had hoped that my butchered pronounciation of "St Germain de Pres" would go unnoticed. No such luck though, the French (I think) bartender does not fail to pronounce it properly back to me when he checks the order. The French have such an affect on people, it makes me instantly blush at the horrid, and probably peasant way, I placed emphasis on the wrong syllables and sit in shame as I waited for my St Germain de Pres cocktail.
The cocktail itself was like nothing I have tried before. It had a delicious foamy top with a fresh body, including unexpected hints of cucumber and an extremely scintilating and spicy finish that lingers on your tongue. The rest of the cocktial menu consisted of similarly layer and daring cocktails that emphasised and accentuated the freshness of its ingredients and the quality of the liqour. The bill was also like nothing I'd ever seen before, but in the afterglow of my amazing cocktail, I'd say I merely glazed over how much of a hit to my wallet it was.
Experimental Cocktail Club located at 13A Gerrard Street, Chinatown, London
Transport: Leicester Square tube
Open Mon-Sat 18:00 - 3:00; Sun 18:00-0:00
Sydney Offering: Grasshopper
If the Experimental Cocktail Club is cheekily hidden away between Chinese restaurants, the people behind Grasshopper definitely did not want to be found. Not only do you have to walk down a dodgy looking laneway, but on cold days when they shut their doors to keep in the heating, new customers will be left outside dumbfounded. Most people think, "Is there a massive prank being played on me? Are all these people raving about a non-existent yet amazing cocktail bar?"
Have no fear, the bar does exist and that pair of white doors that greatly resemble the backdoor to the kitchen of some "interesting" establishment is in fact the front doors of the Grasshopper. Upstairs is a wonderful, fusion, Modern Australian restaurant, but downstairs is the beauty. The bar has a chucked together look about it with some odd bits of furniture and tables, as well as some old CRT TVs. Somehow, with the correct lighting, this all just looks kinda cool... like maybe you've stumbled upon Warhol's Factory when they are having a party - it's cool, slightly industrial and the mix of people is just unbelievable,
The drinks are the other half of the equation that makes this place so covetable. There's no names for the cocktails, just numbers and a very indepth description of the ingrediants. These includes phrases such as a "jigger of rum" and a "pony of Grand Marnier". Luckily I learnt that these are all measurements of liqour, and merely correspond to 45mL(jigger) or 200mL(pony). The "#63" is a particular favourite of mine, consisting of gin, Japanese plum wine, vermouth and apple all coming together in a fresh springtime pleasure. The "#69" is adoringy served in a "teddy bear jar" and constitutes of cubes of fresh watermelon and other fruity concoctions. In general, the menu is well constructed and well rounded and for those not into cocktails, there are the alternatives of spirits and a few beers.
Grasshopper located at: 1 Temperance Lane, Sydney, NSW
Transport: Town Hall train station
Open Mon-Thur 16:00 - late
Paris Offering: Curio Parlour
Interestingly, St-Germain de Pres, victim of my atrocious pronounciation in London Experimental Cocktail Club, is the setting of the third speakeasy, one, Curio Parlour that, as I am told is a cocktail bar by the people behind ... L'Experimental Cocktail Club in Paris. There's a interesting coincidence, but I am rightly assured that the connections behind all this is one I probaby intoned myself after one too many cocktails.
The setting of the Curio Parlour, is once again down a quiet almost residential street. In fact, my drinking party and I missed the quiet little bar no less than two times before we managed to let ourselves in. Turns out, there's a bit of a two way mirror going on, and the more scientifically inclined member of the drinking party noted that it's due to the light imbalance between the inside and outside of the bar. Interesting.
Decor in this bar is more Parisienne in a je nais se quoi kind of way. It's less obvious than the Sydney offering - no overwhelming or glaring theme in place, but more thoughtful than the London offering, with nods towards the Pre-Prohibition era in plush sofas and taxidermy. The cocktail menu is once again left to shine. For the life of me, and probably due to my less than high school level of French, the only thing I can remember of my cocktail was the vein of Absinthe through it. Nontheless, I remember it being an accomplished drink - not screaming for attention but alluring the drinker to wanting more.
Curio Parlour located at: 16 rue des Bernardins, 75006, Paris
Transport: Maubert - Mutualité
Open Tue-Thu 19:00 - 2:00, Fri-Sat 19:00 - 4:00"