Quicktake: Dirty Lemon bar serves cocktails plus Mediterranean inspired fried oysters and dirty fries worth crossing town for
It seems sort of strange to write about restaurants and bars while we’re all on lockdown and can’t go anywhere. But, this will eventually pass and it will be nice to have something to look forward to when we can freely move again. And, I look forward to a visit to Dirty Lemon. This is where I was a few weeks ago, in the company of some of my favorite foodie friends and drinking partners. The next day I left Paris for the countryside for what I presumed would be my normal weekend out of the city, but what subsequently became weeks of isolation in le Perche. But, how lucky was I to have had the opportunity to catch up with good friends, food and drink before heading into a long isolation?
Owner Ruba Khoury previously worked in the kitchens of some of Paris’ most popular Michelin starred restaurants like Yamtcha, Septime and Frenchie. After a night out at one of Paris’ few lesbian bars where she ordered a simple vodka soda, which was garnished with a bad lemon that she believes caused a bout of food poisoning, she wondered why there weren’t simply better women’s bars in Paris. She decided to rectify that with her own venture, Dirty Lemon, where she serves up mediterranean small plates and cocktails in a chic and welcoming environment. Ruba is British-Palestinian, raised in Dubai, young, female and gay – and this mix of qualities makes for not only a very interesting and talented person but is reflected in her bar as well.
You approach Dirty Lemon from an unpretentious cobblestone street in the city’s cool 11th arrondissement. The first thing you’ll notice are the windows taking up nearly the entire facade of the pink exterior. Inside it’s stylish, soft and a feminine but not not frou-frou. Mustard gold velour high back bar stools, pastels and dried plant arrangements are aesthetically balanced by stone walls and the slick green granite bar. Downstairs is a seperate room, available for private parties.
For the cocktails, Ruba reached out to some of the city’s top female bar talent. The initial menu was created by Brittini Rae, 2015 Speedrack winner and past bar manager at Candelaria. She developed a list of cocktails with female stereotype names like the Girl Next Door (gin, aquavit, apple juice, fennel liqueur, and celery foam). The recently launched new menu of six cocktails was designed by Hortense Van Der Horst, previously at Moonshiner, and features plenty of fresh juices, veggies and herbs like sage, sumac, rhubarb, and aloe vera juice. The names are still a bit tongue in cheek girlie like the Soft Butch (cognac, oloroso, winter pear and bay leaf).
The selection of old and modern classics is slightly tweaked like the Manhattan with olive, chocolate, myrtle and fleur de sel, which makes a for a pleasantly subtle twist on the original. Cocktails are 12 – 14 Euros. Or for something a little more laidback, you can choose one of three shooters like the gin, basil and combawa – only 4 euros! There is a tidy little selection of three whites and reds at nice prices and from regions where you can find some fun hidden gems (Beaujolais, Loire, Languedoc), a couple of bubbles and three beers from artisanal Paris brewery BAPBAP.
These days it’s pretty easy to find passable cocktails all around Paris, meaning bars have to up their offerings to make it worthwhile to cross town. And, Dirty Lemon has done that with the food. The selection of mediterranean inspired small plates is worth a trip across town. Ruba turns out delicious shareable dishes like hummus and devilled eggs, cockles, focaccia and spicy olives. The dirty fries are a big crowd pleaser – especially when upgraded with the lamb confit. But, my absolute favorite are the fried oysters. On my first visit there I had an excellent martini. I could happily make a nice little meal out of a couple orders of the fried oysters and a dry martini.
Ruba tells us it pulls in a nicely varied crowd with times when there are families with kids in early hours, a calm crowd early evening and as the night wears on it transitions to a younger, hipper crowd. It opens at 5pm, which is a big plus in Paris where it’s not easy to find a good snack or cocktail in the late afternoon early evening. And, they have a fun late night menu that’s served until 1am with the best kind of bar snacks with a subtle twist like the harissa chicken wings with feta dipping sauce.
And it’s not just me that’s digging the space, food and drinks. On my recent visit, I was happy to be in the good company of David Lebovitz, Jane Bertch and Jennifer Greco. And I asked them to succinctly share their thoughts on Dirty Lemon:
Jane: “My favorite thing about Dirty Lemon is the wonderful hospitality of Ruba and her team. The delicious cocktails and EXCELLENT food make it a great night out.”
David: “Dirty Lemon is one of the few bars in Paris I would go just for the food (although the cocktails are a big plus, too…) Ruba is one of the best cooks in the city. The dirty fries with lamb confit and garlic sauce and the hummus are standouts on the menu.”
Jennifer: “Dirty Lemon has three things going for it: Ruba’s superb food, a creative cocktail menu and a relaxed, comfortable ambiance. The fried oysters were the best I’ve ever had in Paris and I really loved that velvety Pillow Queen cocktail!”
Dirty Lemon was also recently featured in an issue of PUNCH magazine, in an article that nicely sums up the space: “The result proposes what Paris—and so many other cosmopolitan cities around the world—crave: an inclusive space with a hard slant toward queer and female folx, that drinks like a cocktail bar, eats like a restaurant and feels a bit like home.”
I’m so appreciative of having had the chance for such an enjoyable last night out before going into confinement and I’ll be looking forward to a time when I can get back there for martinis and fried oysters (and to maybe give those chicken wings a go!) But, in the meantime, if you want to take an even deeper dive into Dirty Lemon with us, tune into the April episode of my audio show, Paris Cocktail Talk, with Ruba as my guest and David my co-host.
24 rue de la Folie Méricourt