Solera, a luxurious den with a ragtag group of loyal, high-end patrons, thrives on its own genre of gimmicky, tiki cocktails.
On a pallid, mid-autumn night, I took a brisk walk down a large, dark boulevard past the dome-roofed Observatory tower of Denfert-Rochereau. Trees swayed, and animated the streets, even if I was near alone. Scooters zip by.
Crossing from the 14th arrondissement to the far edge of the 5th, one doesn’t notice much difference in the surroundings. Lamplit stone buildings and black windows fill your periphery.
Halfway down an ordinary street, overheads illuminate an entrance adorned by Stan Smith-ed Parisians.
Emerald green with gold accents–a rich, jungle theme permeates throughout the atmosphere of the bar. Plants fill the corners of the room. Prism-shaped lanterns dangle from the ceiling.
The layout is simple. A backroom, intimate in spacing, has plushy pillows and sofas. An open front room with raised tables hosts small groups. In the corner, there’s a small DJ setup, and next to the entrance, a lavish bar.
‘Outstanding’ is how an amateur to cocktails might label their drinks; ‘gimmicky’ is the label of a cynic. I believe ‘quirky’ is the fairest label, but gimmicky, at times isn’t far off.
Our first two cocktails are served in a hollowed out book and a receptacle resembling a water tower. Surprised, I tinker around with the water tower, realizing that you flip a switch to pour your own drink.
The drinks are both fruity, and sweet, but a slight tang offsets the sugar.
The scene shifts. People return from outside. They beeline to the backroom and their exclusive party. A small group of friends in bomber jackets stands near the DJ. A couple enters through the doors and waits at the bar. The man has long, shaggy hair, and an expensive looking, cascading black jacket. The woman is much older and elegantly dressed with her hair wrapped tight and thick, ovoid glasses. The relationship seems platonic, or business oriented. An artist and an agent? A musician and a band director?
The next round is served in emptied plastic egg shells and a traditional Japanese tea-kettle. These are also good cocktails, but indistinct, in juxtaposition with the first round.
Solera’s drinks certainly qualify as Tiki Cocktails… served in funky glassware. The owner clearly has a sense of humor, but the drinks and what the bar represents are no joke.
While planted in a residential wasteland, this bar has defined its own terrain. Normally, cocktails lie in the 3rd, 10th, 11th, or 18th, and only in the 6th on this side of the river. With its location and its glassware, Solera is subverting expectations on two separate occasions.
You might speculate about the glassware choice. They remark that it’s about the pairing of food with cocktails. I have a sneaky suspicion of the culprit: Instagram.
In my days, I’ve come across and traveled to shops that have Instagram allure. Whether it was the very mediocre Rainbow Bagels from the Bagel Store in Williamsburg, or Taiyaki’s fish shaped ice cream cones in China Town, people travel to have this moment of ‘Instagram fascination’ with material goods. You’re submerged in the state of ephemeral wonder because it truly lasts a moment; you consume it, and then the moments over.
The owners tried to conjure that magic with their glassware.
Maybe..Hold on…I’m skeptical of my own theory.
Their glassware, while unique, aren’t necessarily photogenic.
Subversion is the key element to Solera’s drinks. Familiar shapes, such as eggs, oysters, a hollowed book and a tea kettle, by design, bring a comfort to the drink. When the top is peeled back, and you discover alcohol in the engine, the drink is going to be different than any you’ve had before.
It plays with your head.
And by the time you’ve pulled together what you think of the drink, you’ve already tried it. I don’t know if it’s a good or bad thing, but I like it, and any open-minded person would as well.