Paris Sunset: 3 Drinks with Vintage Zest
By Theadora Brack
I’ve said it once, and I’ll play it again, Sam. The mere sight of the Paris rooftops at l’heure bleue has never failed to give me a thrill. Larger than life, I’m transfixed. I tumble flat.
Reaching for Henry Miller: “In Paris, on the asphalt, I have often walked saying: wild, wild, wild. You just say it, and walk, walk, walk. It makes everything rise, swell, burst. Then I am so happy I cannot bear it any more and I begin to sing. It is cause for bliss. You can get drunk on walking.” Oh, Henry!
Come fly with me
This week, as a follow-up to my salute to the Hôtel Ritz Bar, I’m sharing a few more old-school apéritifs—along with touring suggestions to go with your drinks— guaranteed to help you ease into the “l’heure de l’apéro” in harmonious style. I’ll also shine the spotlight on a few of my favorite bars in the city. All three flaunt retro charm, so let’s walk, walk, walk. Let’s fall in love.
A tall tale I often spin: In 1885 Fernand Muraux discovered a recipe in Switzerland and introduced Suze (named for a Swiss river). A gentian-based apéritif, this old-fashioned bar favorite is normally served on ice with equal parts water or orange juice. It’s peculiar flavor also plays well with grapefruit or cranberry juice.
Let’s head for the hills
Because everything tastes better in context! Before sipping your cocktail, work up a thirst with a stroll around Montmartre. Here you’ll find Picasso’s studio at the Bateau Lavoir at 13 Rue Ravignan, Modigliani’s flat at 7 Place Jean-Baptiste Clément, Van Gogh’s old digs at 54 rue Lepic, and the Chat Noir at 84 Boulevard Rouchechouart (where Erik Satie himself once tickled the ivories).
Back in 1912, Suze played muse to Picasso. The artist quipped, “I put all the things I like into my pictures—too bad for the things, they just have to put up with it.” Hands-down, his collage “Verre et bouteille de Suze” still rises above the heap, in my book.
Still parched? The Musée Montmartre (12 rue Cortot) features a 19th century bistro, outfitted with an old zinc bar, while the collection of the Musée de l’érotisme (72 boulevard de Clichy) fully embraces the history of brothels in Paris. Open until 2 AM. And yes, there’s a gift shop here, too. For that “special someone,” of course.
Favorite bar: Chez Ammad
If quaffing a drink while shooting the breeze with animated locals is a dream, Chez Ammad (at the Hotel Clermont, 18 Rue Véron) is your joint. Though located just a few blocks from the hustling, bustling Place des Abbesses, you’ll spot nary a tourist in sight. Cheek to cheek, this place is the real McCoy.
Setting the scene: Adorned with a zinc bar, murals, and beveled mirrors, Chez Ammad once tempted the likes of Henry Miller, Brassaï, and Edith Piaf! (Edith actually stayed at the Clermont in the 1930s, while performing on the streets of Pigalle.) Clank a few cold’uns with sea merchants, clowns, lovers, off-duty velvet-clad cabaret performers, artists, poets, and musicians, each with tales to tell! Also, try Ammad’s house couscous. They’ll post a sign if the pot’s on the stove. Bon Appétit!
2. Picon Bière
Hankering for a taste of the past? Order a Picon bière. Spilling all: Created by Gaétan Picon in 1837, this bittersweet blend of oranges and blue gentian flowers is served with a demi-pression (a draft beer), into which you pour the Picon. Aromatic and richly colored, the orange-toffee-flavored brew combines with the hops to pack a power punch. So pace yourself!
Let’s now hop on over to Le Supercoin at 3 rue Baudelique. Located on the back side of Sacré Coeur in Montmartre (two stops from Chez Ammad and Métro Abbesses), it also shimmies with pizzazz. If it’s a pleasant night and you are wearing comfortable shoes, I suggest hoofing it there. It’s about a twenty minute walk over the hill (but there’s lots to see along the way). Take a breather on the steps of Sacré Coeur. This is one of my favorite views of Paris. Do keep your hankie and camera in hand!
All that glitters
Blue skies suit the wedding-cake basilica, but she also glows at dusk. Back in the day, the then new Neo-Byzantine stunner helped kick off Cubism by rousing both Picasso and Braque. Both were driven to paint Sacré Coeur in all her fragmented beauty. Braque could see her powder-white towers and turrets from his studios at 101 rue Caulaincourt and 48 rue d’Orsel.
Favorite Bar: Le Supercoin
Rocking a funky vibe and a micro-beer menu that won’t quit, Claudia Lerin-Falliero’s Supercoin is decked out in eclectic art and retro posters. I spied Elvis and Clark Gable hobnobbing with The Smiths and a paddle of rubber duckies. More to the point, the joint is cozy, and Claudia’s signature “Tartine savoyo-comtoise” (cheese and sausage) with a salad costs just 5 euros.
Stéphanie Lebiez (Supercoin decorator) recommends the “moelleux au chocolat” (chocolate cake). I agree. My eyes have seen the glory. Frankly, Scarlett, you’ll never go hungry here!
Get Crafty: Ask for a beer menu, created by Claudia and Yohan Loiseau (beer connoisseur). Here are Yohan’s current picks: the Franche Profonde (La Franche), the Sorachi Ace Bitter (Mont-Salève), and the Cuvée d’Oscar (Craig Allan). Got a question? Ask Claudia. She knows. Beer selection cha-changes with the season. So just go with the flow!
Say “Kir” for a classic (and classy) refresher made of crème de cassis (a blackcurrant liqueur) in white wine. Originally called blanc-cassis, it was named for Canon Félix Kir, the Mayor of Dijon who popularized it when the good red Burgundy was confiscated during the German Occupation. As usual, brewmaster Hemingway made his own version with vermouth, called “Chambéry Cassis.”
Favorite Bar: Le Sévigné
While exploring the Marais at l’heure bleue, I recently discovered Le Sévigné at 15 Rue du Parc Royal. Located next to a garden, its terrace was the perfect spot to watch the sunset. Before relaxing, I advocate a whirl through the Musée Carnavalet (where you’ll spot Steinlen’s original Chat Noir Bar sign!). Also, Victor Hugo’s old digs are just a cobblestone away at 6 Place des Vosges.
Tip for the road: Paris has beaucoup bars and cafés, picture-perfect for your very own stardust memory. So while in Paris, stop and smell the rosé wine by the glass. Pack the camera and the sketchbook. And don’t forget Ritz bartender Frank Meier’s credo about what makes a great bar truly great. It’s not the drink recipes, he said. And it’s not the décor. It’s the people. Cheers!
Pinching Henry’s valentine again,“The aim of life is to live, and to live means to be aware: joyously, drunkenly, serenely, divinely aware!”