Christmas in Paris – Champagne at Le Bar du Bristol
Since it’s Christmas and we are in Paris, I wanted to make sure we had a memorable experience to take away. For me memorable has to include good food. Many of the restaurants are closed for the holiday and I didn’t want to spend much time on the phone or online trying to find a place that was open.
The next best solution was of course the hotels. I love hotels, especially the 5 star ones and the only one I can think of that loves hotels more than I is my virtual friend (not an imaginary one, we met in person once) Annie Fitzsimmons of the very successful travel blog Hotel Belle. Annie recently got married in NYC and had a honeymoon in Paris (yes, life is good). She and her husband spent part of their honeymoon at Le Bristol and she wrote a post about it. I have been to Le Bristol before (did I mention I love 5 star hotels?) and thought that Christmas dinner at Le Bristol would provide the memorable experience I was trying to create.
Their three Michelin stars restaurant Epicure has a dress code (jacket required) and I discovered that my husband did not bring a dinner jacket along on the trip. Lucky for him as I noticed that the Bress chicken (special chickens from the Bress region of France) on their menu for example, was listed at €260 for two. The next choice was their 114 Faubourg restaurant that recently acquired its first Michelin star and is accessible from the hotel lobby or from the street next to the hotel entrance. I called and booked a table (7:00 or 8:30 were still available) and we were looking forward to a lovely evening, wonderful food and beautiful, historical surrounding.
The hotel is situated on rue du Faubourg Saint Honoré. This is one of the most luxurious streets in Paris (Avenue Montaigne is another) and has a long and gilted history. After the extravagant Louis the XIV died at Versaille the aristocracy he lured out of Paris and into Versaille (to keep an eye on them) returned to Paris and begun to build mansions in what previously was the countryside and mostly marshlands. Mansion after magnificent mansion went up in the area, creating the Saint Honore street, making it into the aristocratic “digs” of the era. During his subsequent rein, King Louis the XV bought the most beautiful mansion on the street, the Palais Elysée, for his favourite mistress the Marquise de Pompadour. The Elysee Palace, still standing at 55 Rue Faubourg Saint Honore, is now the official residence of the President of the French Republic. The Canadian Embassy is also on this street occupying a mansion at No.135 as is the US embassy at No.41. Makes you want to go into politics?
Today the street is lined with many of the very high end names in fashion: Lanvin, Saint Lauren,Cartier, Hermes, Prada, Dolce and Gabana, Gucci, Chanel, Moncler, Loro Piana and more. It is “a little” inaccessible price-wise but fun to walk through and poke into some of the stores. There are not many restaurants or cafes on that street for some reason. If you want to sit down for an espresso or cafe crème look for something on a side street or in Place de la Madeleine (Fauchon is one option) or Place de Ternes on the other end. Or, certainement, go into Le Bristol for lunch or afternoon tea or the trendy La Costes Hotel for lunch (#241).
We arrived at 7:00 on Christmas day to have a drink at the bar before dinner (they dine late here in Paris). When we walked into the lobby we were greeted by a young woman who welcomed us to the hotel and introduced herself as the hotel manager (!). With her was the food and beverage manager. Where else do you find hotel manager and food and beverage manager greeting you in the lobby? no where I have been.
The food and beverage manager took our coats and led us to the bar behind the lobby. The bar is not particularly large but is cosy and luxurious and from wherever you sit you can have a good perspective of the surroundings. People watching is part of the fun, is it not?
We settled in two comfortable chairs along the wall at the back of the room and the server arrived with two complimentary non-alcoholic small drinks and a couple of bowls with savoury appetizers. We enjoyed a few sips before we ordered a glass of champagne and leaned back to enjoy the ambiance. I always wonder what is the story of the people I am watching.
Le Bar du Bristol is not an ordinary place. It is part of recent renovations at the hotel that opened in 2012, reflecting the timeless elegance of the renowned French architect and hotel designer Pierre Eves Rochon. The Peninsula, Ritz Carlton, Sofitel and the Fairmont are but a few of the more than 60 hotels he designed. Enveloped in golden tones the bar is warm and comfortable with sophistication and elegance that make it truly luxurious. Aubusson tapestry on the wall, book cases on another wall, smoked mirror behind the bar and a long golden granite bar counter frame the room beautifully. A marble fireplace sits between the bookcases. The furniture are a mix of leather and fabrics in ochre, leopard print, duck egg blue and golden tones. The wood floors are reminiscent of Versaille. Golden chandeliers are providing soft illumination and the room glows with warm ambiance.
Behind the bar mixologist and Meilleur Ouvrier de France Maxime Hoerth, the first mixologist to be awarded that prestigious title, mixes special cocktails for those in the know, served with tapas prepared under the supervision of three star chef Eric Frechon. I should have taken notes on the menu and drinks but didn’t. From what I remember they offer a few different champagnes and some interesting cocktails. There was the Heartbreaker with Granny smith and lime. Jasmine Side Car with cognac, cointreau and jasmine tea. These are two I still recall. Drinks are expensive (€30 average), you are at Le Bristol, don’t forget. Were you expecting something else?
We didn’t order food but I did take a look at the menu (of course) and remember seeing Maki rolls, foie gras, tempura and comte cheese straws. Our champagne was good, my only reservation is that the it was not chilled enough to my liking. I am sure that had I mentioned it they would have offered another glass, properly chilled. The guests lounging over drinks and food were a mixture of young and not-so-young, elegant and more casual, singles, couples and groups of 5-6. Several languages could be heard in hushed tones and definitely there was an air of sophistication and “in my element” feel around the place.
We enjoyed sitting there sipping champagne and taking in the scene. It was a nice prelude to dinner and we were looking forward to the rest of the evening. Next time I would allow more time and come a little hungry, so that we can enjoy the tapas with out drinks.
To be continued.
Featured title image of the bar interior from Le Bristol website.