Paris Tips: Shake it up with 3 Classic French Apéritifs

Let the good times roll at the Jardin des Tuileries Photos by Theadora Brack

Harmonie by Antoniucci Volti at the Métro Arts et Métiers

By Theadora Brack

It’s springtime and the lazy, hazy sipping is easy. So let’s celebrate the classic French liqueurs, full-bodied bitters, anisés and wild gentians. The mind squeals with delight!

Here are three apéritifs—along with a few daytime touring suggestions to go with your drinks— that’ll help you ease into “l’heure de apéritif” in harmonious style. I’ll trap the snacks, while you grab our sketchbook pad. It’s high time to chill!

1. Picon

Craving for a taste of the past? Order a Picon. Created by Gaétan Picon in 1837, this bittersweet blend of oranges and deep blue gentian flowers is served with a demi-pression  (draft beer), into which you pour the Picon-bière. Aromatic and richly colored, the orange-toffee flavored brew combines with the hops to pack a power punch!

Where to go? I’d trek it to Montmartre, and work up a  thirst with a stroll by Picasso’s studio at the Bateau Lavoir  (13 Rue Ravignan), Van Gogh’s old digs at 54 rue Lepic, or the Chat Noir at 84 Blvd. Rouchechouart (where Erik Satie once tickled the ivories).

Looking for a classic French bar (with affordable prices)? Stop by Chez Ammad at Hotel Clermont at 18 Rue Véron in Abbesses. This is where Edith Piaf stayed in the early thirties, while performing in Pigalle. Non, Je ne regrette rien!

Harmonie by Antoniucci Volti at the Métro Arts et Métiers

2. Pastis

Here’s the scoop! After the 1915 ban on Absinthe, folks had to make do with Pastis, which tastes nearly the same but no longer induces appearances of la Fée Verte  (the Green Fairy) as the hallucinogenic muse of artists and poets. Opalescent green in color with a distinctive anise taste, it’s usually mixed with water and ice. For a literary twist, add champagne instead of water for a concoction Ernest Hemingway called, “death in an afternoon.”

If you find yourself in Saint-Germain-des-Prés, look for the Closerie des Lilas, where a plaque embedded in the bar marks Hemingway’s favorite seat or the former residence of Julia Child at 81 rue de l’Université (she had her own homemade absinthe recipe!). The Musée d’Orsay is another option. Take note of those cloudy green glasses in the works of Lautrec, Degas, or Van Gogh. It is easy being vert!

3. Suze

In 1885 Fernand Muraux found a recipe in Switzerland and introduced Suze (named for a Swiss river). Another gentian-based apéritif, this old-school bar favorite is typically served on ice with equal parts water or orange juice. Challenge your drinking companions to describe its strange and peculiar flavor!

Classic French Cylindrical Dandies

Muse in a bottle

Picasso once said, “I put all the things I like into my pictures—too bad for the things, they just have to put up with it.” Yes, the iconic bottle played muse to Picasso back in 1912. His  collage “Verre et bouteille de Suze” is a favorite. Looking for another masterpiece? Stop by the Musée Carnavalet (where you’ll spot Steinlen’s original Chat Noir sign!).

Covet vintage barware?

Porte de Vanves Flea Market has a groovy mix of kitschy ice buckets, ashtrays, bottle openers and glasses.

Looking for something specific? Ask dealers Danielle and Pierre Aurillon. Their booth is located across from the soccer field. While browsing through their swanky wares, don’t overlook the absinthe spoons, the tastevins (wine tasting cups) or the café glazed wine pitchers.

Once you have the proper gear, Suze, Picon and Pastis can still be purchased at most French grocery stores for under €10. I’d pick up a bottle or two for your cocktail party guests back home. It’s another win-grin for all!


47 thoughts on “Paris Tips: Shake it up with 3 Classic French Apéritifs

    • Thank you! Here’s one for the road: “Kir” is another favorite! Made of crème de cassis and cool white wine, it’s
      very refreshing. It’s another perfect summertime cocktail! Theadora


  1. 51 is the best Pastis !!!
    (Ok right now I have a bottle of Ricard at home … but I prefer 51 !!).
    Oh ! By the I’m coming from Marseille where Pastis is a “national” drink 😉


  2. Interestingly enough, absinthe is now back on the market. While the name “absinthe” was illegal in France for the longest time, even after the process to remove wormwood (the dangerous neuro-toxin) was perfected, the country finally had to bow to the pressures of European harmonization and allow the name to be used again (whereas before it was marketed under the unwieldy moniker, “Pernod aux extraits de la plante de l’absinthe”).

    My favorite drink I never tried is a cocktail with a very punny name. The name of the drink is a “fond culotte” and is a mixture of black current liqueur and Suze. Why a “fond culotte”? Parce que “ça s’use qu’assis / ça Suze – Cassis”!


    • Goodness gracious. I love the Suze-cassis pun! I’ll have to try it. Every blue moon, I’ll add a drop of Crème de cassis to my Suze and orange juice combo. Thanks for the tip and the giggle.! So it’s 1/3 de Crème de cassis and 2/3 Suze?

      And yes, Absinthe is back. Didn’t pop up again about decade ago? According to a few “bold-timer” local friends, it’s just not the same. Maybe I’ll give it a shot. I’ll keep you posted! Theadora


    • Thanks, Krista! Jot down Chez Ammad’s address. The bar is located about two blocks from the Abbesses Métro station. It’s full of zinc bar, murals, and beveled mirrors, along with sea merchants, off-duty cabaret performers, artists, poets, and gypsy musicians, each with a cache of tales. Also, the draft beer is super cheap! We’re talking 2 to 3 euros a pop! Theadora


      • AND there’s an affordable Tapas joint next door at 12 rue Véron (18th arrondissement, Métro Abbesses). It’s small and charming. Food portions are huge! Try the guacamole and soup of the day. Look for the pale pink door! T.


    • Oh, yes! There’s always a reason (or one hundred reasons!) to return to Paris. As Papa H. preached, “There is never any ending to Paris and the memory of each person who has lived in it differs from that of any other.” Theadora


    • Thank you for your swell words!! And by the way, congratulations on snagging the Versatile Blogger Award. It was well deserved! By the way, I enjoyed reading your acceptance post. It was quite lovely and inspiring. In fact, it me weep a bit. Bravo! Theadora


  3. I’m more of a kir royale girl when in Paris, but love the idea of the flea market (new for me) and my favourite Musée d’Orsay, accompanied by an aperitif! Must get booking the Thali’s soon……


    • I’m also a big time fan of Kir! Hemingway made his own version with vermouth, called “Chambéry Cassis.” Oh, la la! Yes, add the Porte de Vanves flea market to your trip agenda. The Musée d’Orsay is often my next stop after hunting at the weekend flea market. The Louvre is another option. If you take the “95” bus, it’s a straight (and quite scenic!) shot. Bon Voyage! Theadora


    • Ah, let me know what you think of it! I love Suze with orange juice. “Paris Paul” just suggested adding Crème de cassis. The drink is called a “Fond Culotte.” Great name! Theadora


    • Thanks, Shira! By the way, I plan to try your “Cilantro Jalapeno Sauce” at my next outdoor cocktail shindig. It looked tasty and very beautiful. The colors really pop. It’s a shows-stopper! Theadora


  4. Great tips, Theadora! I have to set aside Grand Marnier in lieu of your 3 fantastic spirit tips. 😉


    • Grand Marnier! It has an interesting history. So it was created by by Jean-Baptiste Lapostolle during the early 1800s in a little village near Paris. Off to do more research! Merci! Theadora


    • Hi Michelle, I also dig Kir! According to Paris Paul, it works well with Suze! Hemingway added Vermouth. (Here’s one more tidbit for the road. Originally called blanc-cassis, Kir was named for Canon Félix Kir, the Mayor of Dijon who popularized it when the good red Burgundy was confiscated during the German Occupation.) Cheers! Theadora


  5. Wow, love, love, love your blog/site. Your post makes me want to tour the streets of Paris and your descriptions do this beautiful city (one I’ve yet to visit, but on “My List”) come alive. Thanks for sharing!


    • Thanks, Brigitte! I enjoyed your New York City tour. Cafe Fanelli’s is one of my favorite bars in the city. In the world! I love the bartender. Former boxer Bob Bozic is such a character. Back in January of this year, he was featured in The New Yorker magazine. It’s worth a read! Theadora


  6. I’ve been thinking of trying Pastis one of these days. I’ve been a Kir guy mostly, which doesn’t seem to be the manliest of apéros but I still like it. Now that I know Pastis is a cousin of Absinthe I’m curious I give it a try. Great blog!


    • Thanks, Corey! I’ve been enjoying your “A French Frye in Paris” site. I especially loved your recent post about Picasso’s studio on 49 rue Gabrielle. The photographs are magnificent! And speaking of Picasso, you should try Suze-Cassis. Picasso’s 1912 collage “Verre et bouteille de Suze” is a beauty! Theadora


  7. Can’t wait till my next trip to France to try Suze and Picon! Pastis, of course, is an old friend–reminds me of ouzo from Greece.

    Thanks for the hints–great post, yet again!


    • Merci, Martino! Let me know what you think of Suze and Picon. I look forward to your report! Also, Café Saint-Jean on rue des Abbesses is another favorite haunt. Have you been there? It’s located kitty-corner to the Métro Abbesses entrance. I recommend sitting out on the terrace. The chicken salad is divine. You won’t be sorry! Theadora


    • Good one!! “Aniseediness,” indeed. Love it. I plan to steal it. Merci!! Theadora (Your vibrant nod to the daffodil and Wordsworth was a true beauty. I haven’t been able to stop thinking of Wordsworth’s “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud.” Not I’m not trying. And then my heart with pleasure fills, And dances with the daffodils. Thank you!)


  8. Pingback: Moulin Rouge Riddle Solved: Tin Man Brings Home the Gold! « People, Places and Bling!

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