Wine will always be the official drink of France, but over the last decade, the Paris cocktail scene has become one of the most vibrant and innovative in the world.
Bar owners in the city of light are pushing the boundaries on what was taken for granted, using local, seasonal ingredients, and intriguing marketing tactics to bolster the industry and set the city apart.
Are you thinking of opening a bar? In this article, we will cover the following 6 takeaways from the Paris Cocktail Scene:
- Collaboration Over Competition
- Building Star Bartenders
- Creating Networks of Bars
- Local Sourcing and Global Thinking
- Fine-Tune and Outsource Details
- Creativity in Floor Plans
This guide is split into two sections. The first covers personnel, brand, and how to leverage these for greater success. The second covers the conception of the bar, and how different choices can lead to customer retention.
This is part of a comprehensive guide that provides strategies from Paris, the world’s leading city in the service industry, to help new bar owners start their businesses.
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So, here are 6 lessons from the Paris cocktail scene for those thinking about opening a bar.
1. Cocktail Groups, Agencies and More
In Paris, because cocktail bars are still somewhat niche to the masses, there is a strong sense of camaraderie among the bartenders who work at the top bars.
This community didn’t appear out of thin air.
There is a not-so-secret pipeline in the Paris industry, where many bartenders get their start. Throughout the city of love, you’ll find groups such as Les Animaux, Experimental Cocktail Group, Quixotic Projects, or le Domaine Syndicat.
These groups provide bartenders with a space to flourish, and share ideas. They often lead to some of the brightest stars in the industry.
A Closer Look: Les Animaux
Les Animaux Group, for example, has created a tight-knit franchise of three bars, each with different animal names that serve creative, fun cocktails at a reasonable price. Each bar has signature drinks, which correspond to the animal and the brand.
They also have a training program. pulling new talent into their network.
Collaboration and facilitation of talent, it’s about buy-in. Can you team with like-minded bars, and like-minded people from the outset? What sort of system can you put in place to help your employees succeed and flourish on their own?
2. Rock Star Bartenders
In the land of celebrated chefs and hoteliers, bartenders are also treated like rock stars. They represent the brand and the vision of the bar, and play the perfect yin to a chef’s yang. Whether working the home bar, booking an event, or a bar swap, they bring their brand and creativity with them.
In Paris, the bartender’s style serves as a huge asset to bars.
A Closer Look: Combat and CopperBay
Margot Lecarpentier, the head bartender and owner of Combat, one of my 16 essential cocktail bars in Paris, is an icon in her own right. Interviews with culinary magazines, mixing at fashion week, wherever she goes, Combat goes with her.
The head bartender and co-owner of Copperbay, Aurélie Panhelleux, is one of the nicest bartenders I’ve had the chance to meet.
However, her craft and story make her remarkable.
Aurélie brings her Britannic roots to Copperbay, infusing a maritime flair into the bar’s vision. Recognized as one of the top 100 bars, Aurélie herself is also celebrated as one of the best bartenders in France. Breaking into the male-dominated industry, she’s one of the first women to make a name for herself in this field.
Having bartenders extend the brand through their own star power can double the reach of your brand. Combat Bar has around 17k, while Margot has over 20k followers on Instagram.
Many bars treat their story as the only story to be told. It should be approached more as a backdrop with characters inside. Like in a film scenario, the setting and actors work in unison to create a great oeuvre. Leveraging their careers can multiply your bar’s reach.
3. Teamwork, Fraternité
It was a late aperitif on a typical Paris Friday, and I struck up a conversation with this Polish rapper. He told me that he mixed at Candelaria. One of the details I remember from our conversation is the sense of camaraderie among bars and bartenders throughout the city.
A secret language, a code, an understanding binds them.
Instead of viewing other cocktail bars as competition, in Paris, they’ve built a vibrant network.
More concretely, this collaborative spirit takes form in events, pop-ups, and guest shifts in Paris and worldwide.
For example, the Little Red Door travels and hosts bartenders from other countries to come and share their cocktails with the Parisian public.
This kind of teamwork has helped them become one of the most recognizable bar brands in the world.
This also happens at a much smaller scale. Try to use this tactic within your city with like-minded bars. Not only does this build up your bartenders, it spreads your bar’s vision in creativity. Both your home bar and the visiting bar will be appreciative.
4. Start Local, Think Worldwide
Paris and France are celebrated for their food culture, however, less is known about their strong food supply chain and breadth of local products.
Not only do France’s artisans create great luxury products, the country does an excellent job of promoting their brands.
I first noticed this in the drink realm at a massive, Paris-based event called Cocktail Street. With dozens of stalls set up around a giant hall to highlight different cocktail products, Suze was put forth as the event’s star.
Now, Suze is French. And, honestly, I didn’t like Suze. I found its astringent taste too overpowering. Yet, at this event, it was everywhere. This effort to promote a French liqueur and it’s versatility was impressive–and at the end of the night, I found myself convinced.
Their conviction to promote local products strengthens the entire industry.
A Closer Look: Le Syndicat and The Little Red Door
Le Syndicat, a speakeasy-style bar in the 10th arrondissement, which frequents the top 100 bars in the world, restricts its menu to French products. Calvados, Cognac, Dolin Vermouth, and Lillet. This strategy, while daring, has three clear advantages:
- More sustainable. Voila, this is self-explanatory but underlines the bar and industry’s commitment to being eco-friendly.
- Promotes small brands. It creates a local network, and a unique supply chain as well as favorable trade conditions.
- Forces creativity and a refined vision. By restricting their ingredients, their bartenders have to hone in on each taste and ingredient. Complemented with French rap in the background, Le Syndicat’s ethos is one of the strongest elements of their bar and brand.
The Little Red Door, an icon more than a speakeasy, number 6 on this year’s top 100 bars, has for years created captivating menus that draw on influences from around the world. One menu from years passed really captivated me. Each drink was crafted around a sensation, particular to a specific culture.
So, when creating the concept, think about how you can incorporate local products. What are your region’s specialties, liquors, or produce? How can you use or remix these into an original drink?
On the other end of the spectrum, this global influence comes with a diverse consumption of literature, media, and culture, but more importantly a diverse cast of personnel.
5. Every Detail Counts
Attention to detail. It sounds simple. But the details are often the first items to get chopped from the budget.
The ice, the glassware, the napkins, wallpaper–is the decor unique? Each of these small factors plays an impression on the customer. What will they take away from the experience?
In Paris, this attention to detail is evident in each of the top bars. I could cite the number of details from different bars, but instead I’ll focus on one.
A Closer Look: The Nice Company
Gravity bar, located near Canal St. Martin, exceeded expectations each visit. Golden Era Rap, an amazing ambiance and great shared plates, leaving the bar, more than anything, the ice always stuck with me. I know, weird takeaway.
Embellished with insignias, custom shapes, and as clear as Lake Cuomo–on one visit, with the risk of looking like a joke, I got up the nerve to ask them about their ice.
To my surprise, they were thrilled that I noticed. The barman pointed me to their supplier The Nice Company. It all made sense. They outsourced this vital detail to a local company that specializes in it.
The best restaurants in Paris make their own bread, but the great restaurants buy bread from the best, local boulangerie. Ice is the same concept. Not settling for market-bought, Gravity Bar sourced their ice from experts, passionate about the craft.
How can you outsource parts of your business with local products?
6. Diversify and Section Small Spaces
Bars in Paris are notoriously cramped. This reflects the density of the city, the lack of space in general, and the fact that Parisians love to go out.
Because of this problem, bar owners in Paris are consistently needing to find creative solutions.
Spacing goes a long way when leaving an imprint on the customer’s mind. But it also determines the maximum number of entries per night.
The gap between a well-space bar and a cramped, awkward hang is a difference-maker in determining a place that I and many others would recommend.
A Closer Look: The Cambridge Public House
The Cambridge Public House, number 38 on 2023’s World Top 50 Bars list, has an impressive use of space. The bar is comfortable and sectioned off so that it feels intimate yet lively at the same time. And never packed.
Let’s examine in detail.
The bar space is divided into four sections of seating arrangements–2 raised sections and two lowered sections.
The lowered sections rest to the right and left of the door. The first, to the left, is a cozy couch area for a group of four or more, and to the right, two isolated tables, perfect for dates.
Then, they have an elevated area. On the far right wall, a long bench and two to four-person tables adapt for larger parties. To the left, a long curving bar serves the solo imbiber or a group okay with standing.
There is flow, variety, and direction in the bar. The team can react throughout the night depending on the party.
In many bars, I’ve seen bars settle for one or two seated areas. And they think standing tables are enough. How can you push your seating further? Standing tables are the easy solution, but really, does anyone like to stand, hunched over, while talking to a date?
The Paris cocktail scene is a vibrant and innovative one. Bar owners are constantly pushing the boundaries of what’s possible while using new ideas to expand their influence. By collaborating, and creating groups and associations, they continue to innovate and promote their vision.
These lessons can help you in the creation of the idea and planning of your bar.
If you enjoyed this article, but aren’t looking to open a bar just yet, you might enjoy my guide on how to host a cocktail party.
Other bartenders and cocktail enthusiasts can learn a lot from the Paris cocktail scene. By taking inspiration from the six takeaways above, bartenders and cocktail enthusiasts all over the world can help to create a more vibrant and innovative cocktail scene.
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