Bar du Bristol
112 rue du Faubourg Saint Honoré
High end hotel bars are like designer sunglasses. They give those who can’t splash out on a night at the Ritz or a Chanel suit a taste of the brand at a more palatable price. Even so, a cocktail in a swank Parisian hotel can still command a hefty 25+ Euros. But, in some spots this price tag is more justifiable than others.
Having thoroughly enjoyed a lavish meal at the Bristol years ago, I had been meaning to get back to the bar to see how their cocktails rate alongside other luxury hotels. Then, earlier this year, Sebastian and I met for a drink in their “Ephemeral Bar” for Fashion Week. At the time, I was non-plussed by both their temporary “Harper’s BAZAAR bar” as well as the cocktails. Some framed magazine covers hung on the walls and a screen looped catwalk footage. Otherwise, this appeared to be the usual Bristol Bar, with (seemingly) little effort made to bring anything more ephemeral to the space or concept. I don’t recall my cocktail, other than it came from the menu specially created for this event (or rather “marketing move”), that it was mediocre and it was served on the rocks although it should have been up. In general, it was a bit of a bust, but I hadn’t taken notes or been particularly inspired to blog it. So the recent launch of their latest bar, following a few years of hotel refurb, seemed a good opportunity to get in and assess the current cocktail situation.
While the old bar, Jardin Français, remains, it’s the Bar du Bristol that is cornering all the current media attention. This new space gives off a luxury home den feel – a den into which someone has sunk some serious cash. A specially commissioned Thierry Bruet tapestry dominates the back wall, shelves are lined with old books, stuffed birds and other curio, and animal print furniture hangs alongside more classic arm chairs and sofas. Oak flooring, silk curtains and a fine marble fireplace further lend to the lux look. It’s comfortable without being too ostentatious and an overall lovely room. The mix of classic styles with the more daring prints works as does the decidedly feminine touch of things like delicate chandeliers set off against a boy’s club vibe. However, the large modern screen projections behind the bar offer a somewhat jarring juxtaposition for my taste.
While I understand that Maxime (formerly of George V) is heading up the bar here, he wasn’t in house. However, Roman (formerly of the Ritz Hemingway) was one of the two barmen on duty. After searching – in vain – for a bag hook underneath the bar, I installed myself at said bar and was immediately offered a beautiful tiny “welcome” glass of gin, orange juice and peach. This is the kind of touch that can make a five star shine. I’ve seen this move in both London and Seattle bars, but this is the first time I’ve seen it here. A nice selection of seasoned nuts completes the welcome. The menu features 8 Signature Cocktails at 26 Euros, plus one champagne and white wine (with tequila!) cocktail. The menu also informs patrons that they can ask for a classic from the friendly barmen, so I went for the usual.
While I didn’t see my Beefeater 24 martini being prepared, it appeared in front of me in a frosty glass and the barman expressed the lemon oils and applied the twist in a suitably (but not over the top) showy fashion. However, I suspected just from looking at it that this martini had neither been stirred nor shaken, but poured directly from freezer bottles. My suspicion was confirmed upon sipping. Yes, there are high end hotels that serve martinis this way. And, no, I don’t think they should. I firmly believe that this method of prep may be better suited to serving seasoned old men and/or alkies. A martini – like nearly any cocktail – needs some dilution to avoid simply be a cold shot of booze. Zhao joined me and ordered an espresso martini, which tasted a bit flat to both her and me – but I don’t care for coffee, so you can take my opinion on that with a grain of salt.
We moved from the bar to a cozy corner table to finish our drinks and decide on a second round. While service was spot on at the bar, it slowed a bit here. I asked one of the wait staff to see the menu again, and waited for a quarter of an hour while she did other things, including plumping pillows and chatting with staff. While this is a rather small and petty complaint, it’s less so at these prices – at which it can be frustrating when it seems like a basic request goes ignored. One of the barmen eventually approached the table and immediately brought one when I asked again.
I followed up with a Fly Me to the Moon (pear eau de vie, cognac, Benedictine, lemon juice and simple syrup.) Considering the ingredients, I expected it to pack more of a punch, but it was rather sweet. The eau de vie is obvious as is a note of honey (presumably from the Benedictine), but I’d personally tone down the simple syrup to make it something more sophisticated rather than just an easy sipper. Zhao had a Jasmine Side Car. I like side cars and I like a floral touch to cocktails, so this is something I’d go for. But, personally, I might try bringing in the jasmine with something other than tea that tends to water it down too much for my taste. That said, it’s also nice to have a lighter cocktail on the menu for those who want something with less straight spirit in it, so I’m not going to fault them for this. However, both drinks had noticeable ice chunks in them – which may have also added to the watering down of the Jasmine Side Car. Other options on the menu are house creations, some of which riff on classics like the Bristol old Fashioned No. 1 with maple syrup and roasted coffee beans or Provençal Daiquiri with lavender bitters (which sounds rather nice.)
Edgar, the Responsable du Bar, came over to our table to follow up and see if we were enjoying our drinks, which is another example of the kind of extras these types of establishments offer that make them worth the money. He told us about the Thursday, Friday and Saturday night DJ’s that amp up the ambience on weekends.
There are certainly some aspects of the Bristol’s new bar that really sparkle. However – and it pains me to say this as I respect some of the talent employed in the project – I think there are some areas that could use some polish to really pull off these prices with aplomb.