While craft cocktails and speakeasy-style cocktail bars are a big part of American drinking culture, the phenomenon hasn’t quite taken over Europe yet. In places like Ireland and England, “cocktails” are sugary sweet concoctions, usually sold to young people who haven’t developed a more refined palate or can’t drink straight beer or whiskey. In France, people drink unadulterated wine or the occasional aperitif, which is usually something simple like a Ricard with water. The speakeasy theme that so many American cocktail bars have taken on doesn’t make sense in Europe, as Prohibition never existed there. You can find great cocktails at old bastions of the original cocktail like Harry’s and the Ritz, but they don’t offer the same ambiance that bars in the speakeasy cocktail world do.
The speakeasy-style mixology craze is starting to show up more and more in Europe, as drinks become more of a craft, similar to culinary arts. At the same time, exclusivity and a hidden element give modern bars a certain pastiche, even among tourists. In cosmopolitan cities like Paris, you can find a number of hip, cozy, or interesting spots to get mixed drinks of the artisan type (as opposed to the sticky-sweet type), as long as you know where to look.
The comfortable space: Sherry Butt
20 Rue Beautreillis
Just to clarify: A “butt” is a measurement of wine, equivalent to two hogsheads, or 126 gallons, to be precise. So the Sherry Butt would be 126 gallons of sherry. You won’t have to drink that much to enjoy this comfortable space, where there’s plenty of room to sit on a couch and sip a curated cocktail and have a quiet chat.
The bar is easy to find, halfway between Place des Vosges and the River Seine, and not far from la Place de la Bastille. It’s a great place to stop after dinner at a French cafe, or late at night if you’re ready for a nightcap. The music is quieter than some of the other bars on this list, making it ideal for a tete-a-tete with an intimate group of friends.
The true speakeasy: Moonshiner
5 Rue Sedaine
Possibly the most difficult of all the bars on our list to find, Moonshiner is a vibrant, hip spot for Parisians and tourists alike. To find the bar, you have to go through a kitchen and a freezer door in the Italian restaurant visible under the “5” address, which can be a bit unnerving if you’re unsure of yourself.
Once inside you’ll find a vivacious, if dark, scene. The bartenders are extremely knowledgeable and friendly, and even if you don’t see something on their list that you’d like, they can help you find the perfect cocktail for your mood. The place gets crowded later in the night, with people from around the world drinking and dancing, so be prepared to be jostled if you go during peak hours. Unlike many of these cocktail bars, there isn’t a doorman to help you find a seat or space, but that’s a great excuse to make new friends.
The hippest spot: Le Syndicat
51 Rue du Faubourg Saint-Denis
Hailed as “the best cocktail bar in Paris” by several publications, this little spot on the Rue du Fauboug Saint-Denis can be difficult to find if you don’t know what you’re looking for. There’s no sign on the outside, and the storefront is actually papered over, but once you find the address, you just have to go through the usually open door to find this chic bar.
The place runs like a machine, with a single bartender acting like a train operator, calling the shots for the servers and bar backs while mixing up insane cocktails like Explosive, which includes an actual sparkler attached around the glass. The menu changes every season, but is very thoughtful and fun, and well worth it.
The most artsy menu: The Little Red Door
60 rue Charlot
The Little Red Door is relatively easy to find, due to its signature little red door. However, there’s also a doorman outside who can help you get inside and situated. As with many of the bars on this list, the bartenders all speak perfect English, and many hail from other nations than France.
They’re also ready to sit down and chat about their cocktail list, which is made up of untranslatable words from other languages, interpreted into spirits, each accompanied by their own paintings. If that’s too artsy for you, simply tell them the kind of cocktail you usually like, and they’ll make you their own version to suit your tastes.
The industrial feel: UC-61
4 Rue de l’Arc de Triomphe
Designed to look like the interior of a real wrecked submarine from World War I from which it gets its name, the tiny UC-61 errs on the side of “cozy” rather than “bright”. The bar isn’t hidden per se; there’s a menu posted outside the bar’s metal door, and a doorbell to ring to get in.
But don’t be fooled – the industrial feel is a foil to the high-end, perfectly-detailed cocktails served within. The mixologists have curated a menu that experiments with flavors and unexpected elements, like eucalyptus, green tea, and even soy sauce, to deliver delightful surprises in a glass. And, of course, the friendly Bretons who founded the place will mix you up something less adventurous if you’re not inclined to try something new.
The dance party: Divine
61 rue d’Hauteville
The giant disco ball in the corner is a perfect detail to this fun bar, where you’re as sure to dance along with the bartenders to the soundtrack as you are to have a drink. While it may look like the kind of bar college kids go to, the knowledgeable mixologists and fine selection of liquors denote something with a bit more panache.
The cocktail menu is a great starting place, with surprising notes like umami, but what makes this bar truly great is the attention to detail to the clientele’s needs. For instance, if you leave to have a cigarette or use the toilet, the bartenders will put your cocktail in the fridge to keep it cool until you return. And unlike many of the other bars listed here, they also have a food menu, which matches the somewhat tacky decor by offering nachos and chicken wings.
If you’re looking for something more than a great glass of wine, these cocktail bars will certainly deliver. If you get lost, there are always helpful people ready to point the way, thanks to the popularity of these spaces among Parisians and tourists alike.
Ravi Coutinho is Founder and Lead Golf Travel Expert at Worldwide Golf Adventures. Worldwide Golf Adventures is a luxury golf tour operator that arranges custom golf vacations for clients around the world.