The Best Bars in Paris
People-watch with a glass of wine at a sidewalk café, pop into a five-star hotel lounge for an aperitif, or savor innovative craft cocktails at a trendy late-night bar – and propose a toast to Paris, a city that knows how to tipple with style.
37 Rue Saint-Sauveur
The Experimental Cocktail Club was one of the first to bring the craft cocktail scene to Paris, landing here in a dark and moody room with stone walls. This once-simple bar has become the flagship of an international empire with satellites in Ibiza and London. But the scene here grooves on and on, much like the DJ tunes that spin until 2 a.m. Order a Bee’s Kiss (Jamaican rum, cream, organic honey, and crushed Indonesian pepper), or if you prefer wine, head to the sister establishment, La Compagnie des Vins Surnaturels, a natural-wine bar in St-Germain-des-Prés.
114 Rue Amelot, 75011 Paris, France
Clown Bar—its name inspired by the neighboring Cirque d’Hiver (winter circus)—has a decorative border from the 1920s depicting clowns at play along with green, yellow, and white tiled walls and a curving zinc bar. If the decor makes you smile, the friendly and professional service will too: You’ll get expert advice on the natural wines on offer and how best to pair them with the food. The waitstaff is also helpful with explaining the menu, which lists only three ingredients for each dish. With the historical surroundings as backdrop, diners savor modern cuisine that blends French classics with influences brought by the chef from his native Japan, like a foie gras en croûte enlivened with bright tones of yuzu. In temperate weather, opt for a table under the red awning.
13 Rue des Petits Champs, 75001 Paris, France
Opened in 1980, Willi’s, with its bright blue facade, is a fixture in the 1st arrondissement. This French wine bar, which is actually owned by an Englishman, is perhaps most famous for its wine-themed posters, which are commissioned each year and created by contemporary artists. A selection of them hang throughout the two-room space, which includes a long wood bar area with stools and an adjacent, larger dining room. The wine list specializes in the best Rhone vintages, but also includes a nice selection of White Burgundies. Affordable a la carte dishes and prix-fixe menus of French classics, as well as Spanish charcuterie, are also a draw.
45 Rue Oberkampf
When I first moved to the 11th arrondissement, rue Oberkampf hadn’t yet shaken off the vestiges of its grungy, working-class past and was lined mostly with dive bars, ethnic take-away joints and merchants (fishmongers, cheese-mongers, florists, etc.). Once a new bakery set up shop, the older one on the block underwent renovations to compete. From there, a chocolate shop settled in, then a couple of independent boutiques and wine shops. The area’s ascent from up-and-coming to wholly established and eminently cool was a rapid one. But my favorite transformation occurred at Aux Deux Amis, a dive bar that used to be a magnet for retired old men who camped out at the bar starting at 9 a.m. for a morning of drinking. Cigarette butts coated the tiled floor until the end of the day when the owner swept them into the trash. It has since been taken over by a young crew who maintained the throwback decor but evolved the concept into a natural wine bar with fresh small plates. My favorite time to go is around 6 p.m. for an apéro with a plate of whatever cheese they have on hand. Snag a spot out on the terrace if you can.
5 Rue Daunou, 75002 Paris, France
In 1911, American star jockey Tod Sloan took a bar in Manhattan, dismantled it, and shipped it to Paris. At the time, American tourists and members of the artistic and literary communities were beginning to visit the City of Light in ever-increasing numbers, and Sloan wanted to capitalize on his fame and make the place a spot where expats would feel at home. Over the years, Harry’s New York Bar has been frequented by a number of famous Americans and international celebrities, including Sinclair Lewis, Ernest Hemingway, Coco Chanel, Jack Dempsey, Rita Hayworth, Humphrey Bogart and the Duke of Windsor. Whether or not you have star status, you can still settle in on a stool with a drink and soak in the history.
6 Place Saint-Germain des Prés, 75006 Paris, France
One part tourist trap, one part beloved café, Les Deux Magots is a legendary spot that everyone should visit at least once when in Paris. Most famous as the place where the likes of Simone de Beauvoir, Jean-Paul Sartre and Ernest Hemingway spent their days writing at its tables, the café serves decent coffee and hot chocolate—but skip the spendy menu unless you’re really hungry. The best seats are on the terrace, under that iconic green awning, where you can just sit back and people-watch on this busy corner of Saint-Germain-des-Prés.
14 Rue Crespin du Gast, 75011 Paris, France
We admit, it’s not the easiest place to find—the entrance is through an unmarked door on a bland residential street in Menilmontant. But once you do (hint: look for the velvet rope) and take the elevator seven floors up, you’ll be rewarded with 360-degree views of Paris from the sprawling rooftop. You can sit at communal picnic tables or lounge on comfy sofas, but get there early (it opens at 6 p.m. weekdays) or late to ensure a seat. Beer and wine are your best bets. There is also a restaurant one floor below.
171 Boulevard du Montparnasse, 75006 Paris, France
Stop here before—or after—a stroll in the nearby Luxembourg Gardens for a taste of classic 19th-century Paris. Expat writers Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald frequented the bar, as did legendary artists like Picasso (brass plaques indicate exactly where they sat). If you’re not in the mood for a dimly lit watering hole, the spacious terrace is an ideal spot for a coffee or glass of wine.
1 Rue Commines, 75003 Paris, France
Yes, this corner spot in Le Marais serves a fine mixed drink—not surprising since it’s from the same team that founded Glass, one of the city’s best cocktail joints. Order a refreshing Kolpa Kopul: cachaça, white vermouth and Falernum (a sweet/spicy Caribbean liqueur) served in a tall glass. But the vaguely nautical-themed bar is so much more than just its cocktail menu—try the excellent small plates, chiefly the soy-marinated “deviled” eggs.
54 Rue de Seine, 75006 Paris, France
This sliver of a wine bar and tapas joint is ideal for drinking solo or with a pal (larger groups will have a hard time finding a seat). Settle in at the wood bar or at one of the stools alongside the stone walls, and choose from the well-curated list of French wines. Charcuterie is sliced right in front of you at the bar; there is also a daily menu (on the chalkboard) with affordable, nicely turned-out small plates like grilled dorado, zucchini beignets, and lamb kebabs.
25 Rue de Douai, 75009 Paris, France
Late evening is the best time to experience buzzy South Pigalle, and it’s when you should plan to hit up this hipster favorite, which occupies a prime corner in the heart of the neighborhood. It delivers on the “terrasse” in its name, with a sprawling patio whose perpetually crowded tables spill out onto the street. Skip the mediocre California-inspired menu and stick with the drinks: a decent cocktail or even a Corona. Not to worry, there are seats inside in case of inclement weather, plus a DJ spinning groovy tunes at the bar.
6 Rue de l'Amiral de Coligny, 75001 Paris, France
If you’ve been to the Louvre, one of the city’s top attractions, you know that most of the restaurants and bars in the near vicinity are mediocre tourist traps. Fortunately, Le Fumoir is an exception, a restaurant-bar-café-tearoom that serves a good meal and a better martini in a sophisticated setting. Despite its name, you can no longer smoke inside this Art Deco spot, but it retains a clubby feel, with a majestic wood bar, leather seating and book-filled shelves at the back.
142 Rue Montmartre, 75002 Paris, France
Past the bouncer and down a black staircase 32 feet below ground is Paris‘s most buzzed-about semi-private club, Le Silencio. Housed where Molière was allegedly buried and Zola printed “J’accuse”, it’s of little surprise that the enigmatic director David Lynch would select the location for his louche lounge-cum-entertainment space, which he designed (expect gold-leaf walls, raw wood cladding, bespoke neo-1950’s furniture) - mere steps into the labyrinthine halls and you’ve entered the entrails of another world, one that evidently takes cues from Lynch’s art. Before midnight, it’s member’s only but once midnight strikes, a smartly dressed crowd of cocktail-crazed creatives floods inside, snatching up seats in the art library, loafing at the bar or lighting up in the mirrored smoking room that was conceived to resemble a forest. Killer cocktails and exclusivity aside, Le Silencio’s biggest draw is its broader offering. Presentations from the local artistic set are frequent as are culinary/cultural events, intimate concerts and private screenings. As the guest of a member, my first visit was not so much to explore the space (though there is plenty to unearth here) but for a private tasting of chef Flora Mikula’s work. A couple hours into the evening and I realized Le Silencio wasn’t about being seen but about discovery - of high culture and the utterly bizarre.
10 Rue Frochot
Another hot spot in Pigalle located in yet another former brothel. Dirty Dick, despite the name, isn’t a place of perdition but the city’s second tiki bar, where Polynesian folklore and the American fifties come to life in the details: lounge music that teeters between surf-rock and exotica, barmen in Hawaiian tops, bamboo stools, Maori sculptures, and a jungle-inspired smoking room. The cocktails, of course, are tropical and range from classic (mai tai) to homemade drinks like the Amazombie served for four people in a smoking crater. Should the bar be jammed, which is likely in the late hours of the night, head directly across the street to Glass, the other leading cocktail bar on the street.
51 Rue du Faubourg Saint-Denis, 75010 Paris, France
Oh god, I love this place. The co-owner and head bartender, Sullivan Doh, makes cocktails with classic French spirits such as cognac or armagnac, which have become popular outside of France, and yet French people know very little about them. Le Syndicat looks like a vacant space—the outside it’s deliberately covered with posters and advertisements—but then you go inside and the bar has this gilded, mysterious, semi-industrial vibe. I usually ask them to surprise me; most recently I tried a gin and tonic gussied up with bonal, a bitter fortified wine, instead of gin, and a house-made tonic. This appeared in the January/February 2017 issue.