The French are coming. And the new breed of bar is on its way.
By Miguel Calvo
High-end cocktail bars have been around for quite a while in the United States. In New York alone tropical Lani Kai (www.lanikainy.com), austere Death & Company (www.deathandcompany.com), tiki style Painkiller (www.PK-NY.com) and stylish Dram (www.drambar.com), to name a mere few, have set the standard in what people expect from a proper mixologist bar. In other parts of the country too, like in Chicago at The Drawing Room (thedrchicago.com), these bars exemplify what is now the norm in cocktail culture in the United States; offering fresh ingredients, paying attention to glassware, drink specific ice, house infused spirits/ bitters and atmosphere to match. While a number of the new breed of American bars have embraced a singular spirit centric focus like punch pavilion Cienfuegos (rum; www.cienfuegosny.com) and Mexican style Mayahuel (tequila; www.mayahuelny.com) many still embrace Prohibition rooms as Milk & Honey (www.mlkhny.com/newyork) and PDT (www.pdtnyc.com). So are we ready for a European invasion that may challenge what we have thought should be a mixologist bar?
Across the water there is a surge in the style of what may be the new direction of cocktail culture that is headed our way. These drinking dens sometimes have a selective door, they allow standing (and occasionally dancing), and have no fear of vodkas. Of course you may find the usual spirits suspects on their menu such as Hendrick’s gin (www.hendricksgin.com) and Appleton rum (www.appletonrum.com); but right alongside these iconic brands proudly stand a group of vodkas, such as Ketel One (www.ketelone.com) and Stoli (www.stoli.com), which are commonly ignored by their stateside brothers. Another big difference is that these cocktail crafters who, like their US counterparts, embrace the use of bitters like Peychaud’s (www.sazerac.com) and Bittermens (www.bittermens.com) also have a wealth of bitter liquors in their arsenal like Cynar (www.camparigroup.com) and Averna (www.avernausa.com).
One of the bitters loving, amaro embracing groups that is looking to jump the pond is the team behind the Experimental Cocktail Club (ECC; www.experimentalcocktailclub.com). The ECC’s owners plan on moving to New York sometime late in the year and have already began the process of looking for spaces in the downtown area. They are a force to be reckoned with.
Style is key in many of these bars that ECC has opened. With four wildly popular places in Europe, ECC Chinatown in London (www.experimentalcocktailclublondon.com) and ECC in Paris, Curio Parlor (www.curioparlor.com) and Prescription (www.prescriptioncocktailclub.com) in Paris, they plan on introducing New Yorkers to a livelier form of the high-end cocktail den; of the kind only familiar to those who have visited Employees Only (www.employeesonlynyc.com).
Like the real estate available in New York, space availability in Paris dictates that the ECC’s Paris spots are smallish in square footage; but that’s where the similarities end. ECC offers a spot that is quite large in style with the quirky Magritte inspired lamps setting the tone in the ECC’s hallway, and without the seriousness of some of their stateside brothers and sisters. This approach will be a breath of fresh air to New York.
And the ECC isn’t the only fashionable one about to blow through the States; the ECC also has some competition from their own land. Another style-centric transplant that plans on opening this year will be the team behind the behind the Philippe Starck (www.starck.com) designed Mama Shelter (www.mamashelter.com) located in the 20th arrondissement of Paris. With a combination of two restaurants, a lounge and a 170-room hotel, Mama Shelter is a behemoth of good taste. Opening September of 2008 in 20th; an area which is quite further out then most stylish Parisian haunts, Mama Shelter packs them in with carefully curated décor and cocktails. It has become a destination spot for European travelers, and they plan on striking the same cool combination in Brooklyn’s Bushwick area (a veritable round two for hot destinations).
Both of the teams have been operating in Paris for a few years and are confident that their transplants will be successful and that the New York mixology scene will accept vodka cocktails and ….djs.
Drinks from the Experimental Cocktail Club team:
The Experience 1. This drink has been on the ECC Menu since day 1 in 2007 and is one of their most popular original creations. Made with Wyborowa Exquisite Vodka with fresh lemon juice, smashed fresh basil and lemongrass, served shaken in a martini glass and garnished with a small stick of lemongrass, the vodka can equally be replaced by a fine gin.
The Curiosity. A Curio Parlor favorite features Hendrick’s gin, elderflower cordial, fresh lemon juice shaken with smashed mint, cucumber, and fresh ginger, served in a martini glass and garnished with a sprig of mint and a wafer-thin slice of cucumber.
The English Garden. Another Curio Parlor favorite is a mix of Hendrick’s gin, Crème de Violette, home-made lavender syrup, and fresh lemon juice. It is shaken and served in a martini glass, garnished with a wafer-thin slice of cucumber, a sprig of a mint, and a small branch of lavender.