156 avenue Ledru Rollin
I like the cocktail crowd. I find many bartenders, while enamored with and respectful of their craft, to be an approachable, friendly lot who enthusiastically engage with the less knowledgeable but curious. However, the learning curve for cocktails can be steep and people or establishments can go from friendly amateur to intimidating snob in short order – and some of Paris’ bar crawlers have been complaining of exactly that. Thus the new wave of bars espousing more all-encompassing door policies and easy-going attitudes. Enter, The Pigs, which has taken cocktail democratization to a whole new level.
On first glance, The Pigs, seems to be a standard café, with a varied customer base filling the box-standard terrace tables while smoking ciggies and sipping demi beers. But, step up to the bar and you’ll find something a little different from the traditional corner bar fare.
The menu includes the usual brews and wines plus a list of 8 or so house creations. There was no dry vermouth, so I ordered an MG Tequila sour from the friendly barman, David, which was nicely prepared with a cheeky sprinkling of Piment d’Espelette. As I was sipping my drink, I watched someone write up the new cocktail menu on a chalkboard, which comprised some rather unusual drinks for a typical Paris café at 7.50 to 9 Euros – including one cocktail with cuttlefish ink!
Turns out the person writing up the new menu was not only one of the owners but a barman I had met previously when he made his debut in Paris at the Silencio bar. After a stint at this ultra-trendy venue, Nadir decided to seriously democratize the Paris cocktail scene and branched out with a friend to open the Pigs. He created a menu, in a low-key, typically French locale, while still employing some sophisticated cocktail practices. All syrups and sprinkles are made on site, higher quality mixers like Fever Tree are available and cocktails are straw-tasted. Perhaps that last item is not the be all end all, but I got a kick out of seeing that happen in such a popular place. And, I also enjoyed the juxtaposition of these practices alongside the mixed crowd including twenty-something frenchies ordering half-pints of beer on tap.
In an effort to further bring cocktails to a more approachable level, he’s filled the speed rack with something beyond the bottom shelf without being excessive. The house rum is Havana Club, tequila is Ocho, whiskey is Jamies, etc. Apparently, his aim is to create cocktails using accessible rather than special ingredients. However, the back bar – available for customers who want to expand their cocktail knowledge after sampling the mid-range tipples – includes more surprising products like Nikka Whisky and Botanist gin.
Obviously in a place like this, I expected mojitos to the number one ordered drink. So, of course, I asked if they were. I was told that when costumers ordered a mojito they were directed back to the menu of house creations – so it’s not a place to order the classics. But according to Nadir, that’s not the aim here. And, I witnessed this first hand when one of the demi-sipping regulars asked for a Pimm’s Cup (which I also found amusingly out of place in this venue) and Nadir steered him to something else on menu.
Also of interest, the Pigs offers up a lunch menu. But in the evenings they discontinue that for more bar-friendly French fare like rillettes or croustillante de camembert (which was the perfect belly filler for me on a night when I was checking out more than one venue). On the weekends they also do a nicely priced brunch. But, what will probably draw the majority of the locals is their very generous happy hour that includes pastis at 1 Euro!
Overall, I really enjoyed chatting with the folks behind the Pigs. I like their MO, appreciate their efforts to spread the cocktail love and really dig seeing something more than a few dusty bottles of bottom shelf in a venue of this type. I won’t make this a regular because it’s a bit out of the way for me, but it’s a prime example of how the new scene is affecting Paris and it’s the first place that has really taken a certain level of cocktailing to the common bars. And for that I say: respect.