The Experimental Experience

For those who may not know, I just returned from a week-long soujourn in Paris and Champagne. Tough life, ain’t it? I was urged that if I were to only go to two cocktail lounges in Paris, that I should visit the Hemingway Bar at the Ritz Hotel and the Experimental Cocktail Club in the “Les Halles” neighborhood of Paris. Well, I literally had to choose between the two (due to time constraints), and I dubiously chose the latter. No offense to the talented folks at the Hemingway Bar – I now have a priority visit for the next time.

My good friend, Andy, with whom I spent four glorious years with at a small liberal arts college in upstate New York, accompanied me on this trip. We wandered around the pedestrian-only streets of “Les Halles” in search of this Experimental place I had heard much about. We strolled up the Rue St. Denis, passing by hip bars and pubs that eventually turned into sex shops and peep show establishments. Hey, this was the real Paris – raw, uncut, charming.

We finally arrived at the Rue St. Sauveur, a street that is as small as small can be. We walked until the street changed names, and wondered how we could have missed our destination. Then I recalled – this is a speakeasy style place, just like all of the other speakeasy style places, it’s hard to spot – that’s part of the kitch.

We turned around and came to #37. A small golden plaque adorned the building, emblazen with the words: “Experimental Cocktail Club.” Here we both were, ready and willing to enter into Parisian cocktail heaven.

The place was empty – mind you we arrived at around 5:55pm and they opened at 6pm. This was actually a good thing. We were able to watch the Carina, the Bar Manager/Tendress prepare for the evening: picking fresh basil, laying the long lemongrass stalks into highball glasses on the bar, organizing the syrups and tinctures.

The place is tight. And by tight I mean it’s well-run and the staff is well-educated. Our first round included the “Bee’s Kiss” – a creamy blend of Appleton VX Rum, cream, honey, and pepper. My drink was called the “Rye Tobacco Sour,” and included Rittenhouse Rye, Tabacco liqueur (although I couldn’t much taste this in the drink), fresh lemon juice, egg white, and bitters. The drinks were good: I would have loved for the Bee’s Kiss to have drummed up a bit more honey and a bit less cream; some more frothy foam on the Rye cocktail would have been nice (the key is really to shake as hard as you possibly can) – I guess this means I’m becoming a cocktail snob. Please! Say it ain’t so!!

The next round was perfect.  Andy got the Old Cuban (Havana Club 3-yr, Champagne, Ginger cordial, lime juice, fresh mint, sugar cane, and angostura bitters), a classic!  I sipped “Carina’s Experience” – a drink that just popped out at me on the menu, mainly because it was the drink’s namesake who was tending to us.  Along with the “Strawberry Alarm Clock,” (Ketel One, fresh strawberries, fresh lemon, fresh mint, strawberry cordial), these two drinks, according to Carina, are the most popular.  Although the menu notes “uniquement du lundi a mercredi” (only from Monday – Wednesday), I was in luck, and the ingredients for the “Carina’s Experience” were available.  Carina made the drink herself, and she suggested Gin as the base, in lieu of the Cognac Grosperrin that is stated on the list.  She combined this with Carpano Antiqua (very hot these days), lavender essence, and the Bitter Truth aromatic bitters. 

Our two drinks were so well-balanced that for the rest of our trip we stood up as straight as arrows. 

By the time said second round hit the bar top, the place was packed, shoulder to shoulder. Our glasses empty, we ducked out then and there and continued our evening with a stop in the 17th arrondisement at my cousin’s boyfriend’s flat. The night culminated with a stop at Chez Castel in the 6eme arrondisement (for those of you who don’t know this system in Paris, it’s fairly easy- each neighborhood is given a number, beginning with 1, and starting in central Paris and spiralling outwards). This really is a topic for an entirely different post – but you’re in luck because I’ve just decided to include it in this one.

Club Castel – the name itself evokes secrets, lies, deception, $50 glasses of Champagne. We somehow finagled our way into this members-only, celebrity hot-sspot club (or I think it used to members-only at one point). My buddy Andy, oh good old Andy, was wearing a huge no-no: Jeans and Sneakers. We were never going to get in here. Yet, somehow we did. Not sure if the doorman was bribed, or perhaps more feasibly the promise of multiple bottles purchased by our new friends was exclaimed. Nevertheless, we made it inside.

This multi-storied lounge/dance club was an eye-full to say the least. The walls, bars, furniture and clientel were the epitome of oppulence. I noticed grey-haired fancy men sipping champagne at tables, gawking at the late-teen, early-20-something year-old blonde beauties swirling around them, of whom were aching for the chance to explore their old man gawker pockets.

When you’re at Club Castel you dance – you dance hard. The lights get you moving – the music (although all American, like Britney Spears and Alanis re-mixes) gets you jumping, and the drinks force you to empty out your pockets. Needless to say, we only had one round.

If there’s one place to go in Paris, it’s the ECC, hands down! And if you can get into Club Castel, go for it, but just don’t wear jeans and sneakers…or do and see what goes down. Your choice.

experimental-cocktail-club1

The Experimental Cocktail Club

37 Rue St Sauveur

Paris, France

chez-castel

Chez Castel

15 Rue Princesse

Paris, France

Sneak peek – next entry: Champagne!

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