Quick Take: Following the completion of its revamp in 2018, the Hotel Lutetia’s Bar Josephine serves luxury cocktails plus a small martini and negroni menu.
James Joyce, Picasso, Josephine Baker and a whole host of other historical figures have made the Hotel Lutetia their Parisian HQ over the decades. Since its opening by Le Bon Marché founders in 1910, this Paris institution has seen some serious history, including Nazi requisition during WWII! A few years ago the luxury left bank hotel closed for a 200 million Euros refurb, reopening doors in mid-2018. We stopped in to find out what all that might mean for the bar…
Inside this beautiful art nouveau building, there are a few different eating and drinking options with the salon Saint Germain, Brasserie Lutetia and the Bar Josephine, which was the subject of my liquid exploration. The Bar Josephine is visually impressive with stunning frescos and comfy arm chairs. It’s sheer size means it loses a sense of intimacy but it gains a lot of light thanks to the large windows. On my first visit, the welcome was warm and the hostess was very considerate about finding a place where more people who would be coming and going at different times could comfortably join.
After settling in I noticed the service was especially slow. I wondered if it was a reflection of that French style of entertaining, in which drinks are not served until everyone is present. But I think not, considering I had let them know the party would be arriving at different times and that I had the same experience on a subsequent quiet afternoon visit. I think 20 to 30 minutes to get a drink in front of me (especially when on one occasion it’s just a glass of wine) is too long in any establishment. But, it’s especially long in one where rooms may go for a grand and the presidential suite has its own terrace that’s nearly the size of my entire Parisian apartment. That said, if you have to slow your pace a bit somewhere, this is certainly a pleasant place to do it.
As for the drinks menu, prices at 26 Euros are standard for this calibre of hotel bar. Cocktail geeks will appreciate the three demijohn negronis on offer, one of which includes sake, umeshu and Martini bitter. It sounds like an interesting combo that leaves me wondering how the delicate sake might fair in that mix. On my list to try for a next visit!
Of course, what caught my eye was their “martini-o’clock” portion of the cocktail menu, which features three different martinis (two gin, one vodka) featuring additional “aromas” including bbq sauce, fino and wheatgrass (the most successful in my opinion), and cardamom. The martinis are all served with micro-herbs, oyster leaves, olives and truffled pickled onions – lovely touch. The additional touch of flavour is not as bold as you might think and adds an interesting seasoning to the cocktail, much like the classic move of adding a drop of orange bitters to a martini for some depth.
The signature cocktails offer a solid range of base spirits, with all the usual players. Cocktail ingredients include some additions that are slightly unusual in your average cocktail, but still understandable and accessible like sesame, fennel, or celery. There is a lot going on in the cocktails; for example, the beautiful Jardin de Provence includes whisky, rye, Suze reduction, lillet blanc, chartreuse, cardamom tincture and provincial herbs. It’s difficult to pull off a drink that includes more than a few ingredients and still have all the flavours sing. Of the handful we tried, each had a distinct flavour profile that stood out – not necessarily just one ingredient – so that’s a good thing.
Other nice features of this bar are regular free jazz (check the site for details) plus an early evening bar snack menu with sushi, sashimi, make and rolls. They also have a late night menu from 23h onwards with good solid small plate choices like the charcuterie or rillets. Plus, they have some nice tequilas and mezcals.
Overall, though the service might be a little slower than the hustle and bustle you’ll find in buzzy right bank bars, it’s a good spot in which to slow down a bit and enjoy a good drink in a place that successfully blends Paris’ past with its present.
Bar Josephine at Lutetia Hotel
45, boulevard Raspail