Paris is in the midst of a cocktail revolution. Cocktail bars are making a huge resurgence with glitzy spots and cool backstreet speakeasies mixing wildly inventive creations Parisians wouldn't have dared to try a decade ago.
So whether you're after a traditional dry martini or an elaborate cocktail crafted from forgotten French spirits and local ingredients, Paris has you covered. Here are our favourite places to tipple.
For long-standing cocktail bars, explore around Les Halles in the 2nd arrondissement (2e). Harry’s Bar is a venerable establishment from 1911 where Hemingway, Sartre and other literati quaffed cocktails. Barmen here invented cocktails including the original White Lady in 1919 and the Bloody Mary in 1921. At Jefrey’s, a gentlemen’s club with dandy leather Chesterfields, order a I Wanna Be This Drink (rum, strawberry juice, fresh raspberries and balsamic-vinegar caramel). Another hot cocktail spot here is the subterranean candlelit Lockwood.
Paris’ new generation cocktail bars tend to cluster in the well-established nightlife hot spots Le Marais (3e and 4e) and Bastille (11e and 12e). For new openings, watch increasingly fashionable south Pigalle in the 9e and the up-and-coming 10e.
Best cocktail bars
Begin at the Experimental Cocktail Club (ECC). This Parisian speakeasy pioneer was the first new-generation cocktail bar to open in the city in 2007 and it has lost none of its original appeal. A retro-chic decor evokes the cocktail-fuelled années folles (Golden Twenties) of Prohibition-era New York and cocktails are mixed with fresh fruits and homemade syrups. Pauvre Chérie – crushed pink peppercorns and fresh sage mixed with gin, sherry and bitters – is an ECC classic. The same team is behind Prescription Cocktail Club and Le Ballroom, the basement cocktail bar of restaurant Beef Club.
The Ritz Paris, in the 1st arrondissement (1er), is home to the legendary Bar Hemingway, which Hemingway himself liberated in WWII. This is where the hotel's first head bar tender, Frank Meier, allegedly invented the Sidecar in 1923; it was updated by current head bartender Colin Peter Field in 2001. On rue Frochot in Pigalle, hostess bars have been transformed into creative cocktail temples like Glass, which democratises the scene with palatable cocktails on tap, thumping music and a dance floor; Dirty Dick with its exotic Hawaii-style vibe and fabulous rums; and Lulu White serving absinthe-based cocktails in Prohibition-era New Orleans surrounds.
In Le Marais, laidback Le Cap Horn packs a punch with well-shaken pina coladas, punch cocos and cocktails made with pisco (Chilean grape eau-de-vie).
A stunning city panorama accompanies cocktails at the Bar Américain inside Le Ciel de Paris on the 56th floor of Tour Montparnasse. Or head to Gare de Lyon where cocktails and belle époque opulence at Le Train Bleu make for a memorable au revoir (goodbye) before leaping on a train.
Where to eat (cocktail in hand)
Regulars swear by the weekend brunches with cocktails at cool taqueria Candelaria. At Le Mary Céleste in Le Marais well-mixed cocktails are partnered with oysters (September to April) and gastronomic tapas dishes. Reserve if you want to eat – the nautical-feel bar gets rammed. Not far away in the foodie district of the 11th arrondissement (11e), a hip crowd favours Blue Valentine for cocktails and exquisite dishes spiced with edible flowers by Japanese chef Terumitsu Saïto.
For serious cocktailians, you can't go past the Cocktail A at PasDeLoup . Created specifically with eating in mind, the sparkling Cachaça-based cocktail is only served as part of a food pairing (with a Catalan kid goat brioche sandwich).
Nearby at A La Française cocktails come courtesy of France’s top mixologists. The drink and food menus only feature French and francophone products, old and new.
Where to stay (cocktail nightcap obligatory)
Cocktails are the driver behind the Grand Pigalle Hotel from the ECC team. A state-of-the-art cocktail bar enjoys pride of place on the ground floor of the boutique hotel, and mini-bars in the 37 rooms are stocked with craft cocktails.
A cocktail in the bar at Hôtel Amour is utterly romantic. Within slingshot range of the Eiffel Tower, St James Paris is a luxurious mansion hotel behind a high stone wall. The hotel bar, open to non-guests and al fresco in summer, is a beautiful setting for a cocktail – as is Bar 228 at five-star palace hotel Le Meurice where bartender William Oliveri has mixed cocktails since 1978.
Little beats a cocktail with a Sacré-Cœur view on the dazzling roof terrace of the edgy Generator Hostel in the 10th arrondissement (10e). Order its signature cocktail Le Macaron (gin-infused white pepper, Suze, cherry liquor, fresh ginger and macaron syrup).
Shake your own
As cocktails take off big-time in Paris, more and more venues are offering courses where you can learn the craft. The Ritz runs two-hour courses in English and French with famed bartender Colin Peter Field, while the Maison des Chefs has one-hour courses ranging from Vintage Paris Cocktails to Cocktails of the Moment. Or get in touch with The Chamber, a pop-up cocktail club which organises monthly tastings, classes and other cocktail events for its members (there's an annual membership fee or a one-off charge for visitors). The Chamber is the brainchild of cocktail guru Forest Collins who reviews a new bar each week. Famously, she always orders a dry martini first as a means of comparison, followed by the cocktail of her choice.
Then there are all the pop-up cocktail classes – Paris Cocktail Week is the perfect opportunity to catch one.
- Cocktails are served in bars all over the city, but if you’re after an authentic dry martini not straight out of a labelled bottle, a proper cocktail bar is best.
- Expect to pay €12 to €22 for a cocktail (more at some high-end establishments).
- Cocktails bars generally open from 6pm or 7pm to 1am or 2am Tuesday to Saturday; some open until 5am at weekends.
- Every cocktail bar has a menu and many bartenders speak English.
Last updated in July 2017.