THE BARTENDER KNOWS #18
The first time I went to Paris, I really wanted Paris to be exactly the Paris I had in my mind. You know what I mean. I wanted postcard Paris. I wanted artisanal liquor painting Paris. I wanted the ladies of the night Paris. I was looking for the American Writer Paris.
Well, friends, that Paris doesn’t exist. PARIS is Paris. It is its own entity, creature, spirit, behemoth, etc. It is not there for your dreams or your fantasies. Imagine talking to a beautiful animal, all regal and perfect in its own glory, and expecting it to talk your language, dance when you demand, and lick your hand when you extend it.
Nope. Not going to happen.
The best thing about Paris is that it IS Paris — and it’s been on the planet longer than you (and will be there when you are gone). Take New York City, for instance. It was a trading post for those sandal wearing Dutchmen in 1623, and even then it was called by a different name (New Amsterdam). It took a bit before the English in 1665 renamed the island: New York.
Paris, on the other hand, technically started in 56 BC. Yeah, I said it. BC, motherfuckers. There’s a difference. That’s before Christ, for Christ’s Sake.
But, dear readers, this column is not about history or foreign decorum (more to come on all of that later). This column is about drinking (not a surprise). This column is about bars (not a surprise).
I’m here to tell you that the bars that we love in America are not the same kind of bars they have in Paris, France. They just don’t roll like we do (or the Brits, the Scots, or the Irish). Interestingly enough, there’s really only three drinking options in Paris (or France, in general). NOTE: There’s actually two more — but we will discuss that at a later date.
- The Cafe.
Damn. Wouldn’t it be cool if we here in the States could go to a Starbucks and grab a bottle of wine? How about taking an espresso and a whiskey shot at the same time in your local coffee shop? I know that slowly (ever slowly) we here in America are trying to be cool…but still, if you can’t buy a beer at McDonald’s, is that really freedom?
But in Paris, yes. You can have a beer anywhere you see fit. Yes, it can be at 830 in the morning. Yes, no one cares. Cafe creme? Sure. Rum on the side? Have at it. Also, you can stay as long as you like. No one is going to say: “Excuse me sir, we need this seat for other customers.” In the French mind, you got there first, and fair is fair. That’s the French Cafe. And it’s better than ours.
2. The Bistro.
Ok. This place is for lunch, mainly. Can you still get a coffee and a drink? Absolutely. Can you sit there as long as you’d like? Not a problem. Generally, however, you are here to eat. Breakfast isn’t really a thing in France. Maybe a croissant. Maybe some fruit and cheese, sure. But the ‘big breakfast’ we Americans are accustomed to doesn’t exist. And if it does, it’s only catering to our touristic whims.
The bistro is a lovely place. They serve omelettes for lunch! How cool is that? And you can drink Absinthe at the same time? YES. It’s gross and not recommended, but if you want it, you can get it. Some one told me once that Europe as an entity is not as litigious as the United States. Here’s an example. From the cliffs of the Montmartre to a dirty fall into the Seine River — no matter what, there’s no guard rails. You fall — you fall. It’s your ass. Same thing with the omelette and the Absinthe pair. The French will let you hurt yourself in peace. Sometimes real freedom comes at a steep price (just ask your stomach afterwards).
3. The Brasserie.
This is THE happening joint. Ok. I’ll take back what I said about the French postcard and the nostalgia of a different time. If you find yourself at a legit brasserie at the right time of the evening in the right moment with the music singing and the waiters are strolling back and forth in black aproned glory, then yes, this, my friends, is a French moment. Is the food delicious? Yes (better than anything you’re going to eat back home). Is the atmosphere wild? 100%. Has anything really changed since that 1920’s Hemingway vibe you’ve crossed a whole ocean to see been altered? Nope.
Can you get any drink you want? Of course. You just might have to wait. Always remember, this service staff don’t work on tips. You, my fellow allies, are equal to them. It goes back to the French word ‘restaurant’. Yes, it started in Paris.
Here’s the skinny. The word ‘restaurant’ comes from the French verb restaurer, or “to restore oneself”. Before the great French Revolution when the peasant classes cut off the heads of their rulers (anyone up for some weekend fun?) — the majority of people being served was only a privilege of the Monarchy. But once the heads of the rich started to roll down the streets — restaurants became the place where the average person could eat, drink and be merry.
In surmise (don’t worry, there will be a bunch of columns on this topic in the future), the French don’t dine like us, drink like us, or really, do anything like us.
But hey, if they did, why the hell would we spend all that money to go there anyways? Until next time…