We are pleased to read of Mr. Field, in some ways doing in Paris what we have just noted happening with cacao in the Caribbean–a kind of renaissance of beverages that is also on our agenda in Belize:
In her new book, “The New Paris: The People, Places & Ideas Fueling a Movement” ($30, amazon.com), the writer (and T contributor) Lindsey Tramuta documents the creative and cultural shift she has witnessed in the city in recent years. Below is a passage on the rise of craft cocktails there.
To say that cocktails are a new phenomenon in Paris is to overlook a culture of distilling liquors dating back to the 1800s, one that gained greater traction more than one hundred years later during American prohibition, when newly unemployed bartenders came to Europe in droves and landed in some of the continent’s best hotel bars.Then, there is the importance of two iconic bars that popularized the American-English cocktail tradition in the 1920s — Harry’s New York Bar and the Bar Hemingway at the Ritz Paris, renowned in equal parts for its creative cocktails, its literary and artistic clientele, and its star barman, Colin Peter Field, who revived the bar in 1994 after it went dormant in the mid-seventies. The Englishman and longtime expat in Paris has been called the “LeBron James of liquor, the Matisse of martinis, the Yves Saint Laurent of gimlets,” but he is, above all, instrumental to Paris’s presence on the cocktail map. It is a result of his skill and advocacy of bartending that the Ministry of Education began offering a formal degree in 2011 — a Meilleur Ouvrier de France program for barmen — meant to bolster the profession.
However, to trace the democratization of craft cocktails as drinks accessible to all, we have to look to 2007 and focus on a trio of bon vivants with a vision — a vision whose impact reverberated widely and rapidly, ushering in a scene that was once relegated to luxury hotels and executed poorly by no-name bars. Romée de Goriainoff, Olivier Bon, and Pierre-Charles Cros of the Experimental Group (EG) were a bellwether to Paris nightlife and the first to move cocktails beyond their traditional codes in hotel bars with their first and most famous bar, the Experimental Cocktail Club. They offered prohibition-era tipples, using top-shelf ingredients and liquors that Parisians wouldn’t find in their local supermarket or corner store (no more Absolut! no more Jack Daniels!) and concentrated their efforts entirely on taste. Hard spirits, more popular at the turn of the century, became the foundation for their cocktails.
They weren’t interested in replicating classic martinis, mojitos, and cosmos (although they wouldn’t refuse to make them if customers insisted). Instead, they pulled from what they learned, tasted, and experienced in Montreal, New York, and London, each with established cocktail cultures, in the early 2000s as young, impressionable, and most importantly, curious students. They wanted an environment that spoke to their generation — less formal and stuffy, more approachable — and drinks made with good products and offered at price points they could afford (ten to fifteen euros). They sourced the best-quality spirits and fruit, made their own syrups and bitters, and worked with the right designer to create an entirely new image of the cocktail bar. “Friends told us we were crazy, that Parisians didn’t drink cocktails, they drink wine!” says Bon. But all of that changed within six months of opening their first bar, and they’ve never looked back…