The cocktail scene in Paris is mixed. For a gastronomic capital where great wine flows in every bistro, it can be tough to get even a basic drink. Order a martini and you’ll receive a small glass of vermouth on ice — with a slice of lemon, if you’re lucky. For exquisite cocktails, you have to go somewhere special, and these three spots are at the top of our list this winter.
Bar Hemingway at Ritz Paris
Tucked into the back of this Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star Parisian palace is a bar dedicated to Ernest Hemingway. It’s small, chic and crammed with mementos from the great writer’s life, including hunting trophies, letters and photographs.
The cocktail list leans heavily on martinis, a favorite of Hemingway’s. Legend says he drank 51 of them here over the course of one night in 1944. Try a Dirty Clean Martini, a twist on the classic that maintains that salty taste of brine but stays crystal clear. This is said to be the only place in the world that serves them.
For something lighter, the Last Train to Shanghai is a mix of gin with Madeira wine and a drop of burned orange bitters — again served exclusively at this storied watering hole.
Or, to warm you up on a winter’s evening, the Red Nichols Manhattan is a blend of rye, French vermouth and housemade cacao bitters. This signature sip is named after a 1920s jazz musician and served by head barman Colin Field in a wine glass.
Little Red Door
Where Bar Hemingway is luxuriously retro-chic, Little Red Door in the Marais district is mysterious and lively. A destination for serious cocktail lovers since opening in 2012, the trendy bar features just 11 drinks, each inspired by an architectural style.
Try the Art Deco for a cozy concoction of rye, cognac, fermented dates and violet tea.
If you’re not a whiskey drinker, plump for the Baroque, a blend of rum, fortified wine, orange liqueur and pomegranate flowers.
Everything is presented with eccentricity, topped with oversized ice that’s too large for the mouth of the glass and dressed with sprigs of foliage. The glassware is cheeky, too — the Art Deco comes lying on its side, as if already spilled, its contents lapping naughtily at its lip.
Note: this spot gets busy. Even on a Monday night visit, every stool was full.
The Library-Bar at Saint James Paris
For a majestically made cocktail away from the madding crowds, our final tip is to visit the sumptuous Library-Bar at Four-Star Saint James Paris. Housed inside a mansion out in the 16th arrondissement, the hotel particulier retains the feel of a 19th-century residence.
The Library-Bar is lined with tomes and a gallery that looks down on button-backed armchairs and oak paneling. Equally handsome is a deep and varied cocktail menu that features modern spins on traditional favorites.
For something spicy but with backbone, go for the Saint James Old Fashioned, which switches out bourbon for tequila and then balances it with herbal Bénédictine, thyme, rosemary and ginger syrup.
You also will be impressed by barbecue bitters in the bar’s unique bloody mary that offset the citrus notes of apricot liqueur, strawberry juice and cherry tomatoes.
But it’s the refined service and elegant décor that make everything at the Saint James feel like a treat. Sink into a leather armchair, stare out the mighty oak windows at the icy winter grounds and dream of the coming spring.