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Cocktailing in Paris, by Barbara Redmond

Cocktailing in Paris, by Barbara Redmond

There are a few things I do only when I am in Paris. Cocktails at a bar by myself is one of them. For a womans traveling alone in Paris, cocktails at six-thirty or seven o’clock on a Thursday or Friday evening is a sublime experience and journey into a slower paced world of genteel manners and day-to-evening transformations.

Seated at your table, or taking a place at the bar, the length of your stay can be as long as you wish. You can engage with the waiter, or not. Depending on your mood, you might nod, smile or talk to the person at the table next to yours while you sip a French cocktail or a glass of Dom Pérignon Rosé. Pricy, yes, but less than a ticket to the opera or ballet and renting a piece of high-priced real estate for an hour or more is worth the extravagance. Take a mental note or make a quick little sketch of the clothing and accessories, and the style, of the Parisienne from across the room―it’s priceless.

Paris Fashion: Cocktail Dress

Where would we be without the little black dress originally brought into vogue by the Parisian designer Coco Chanel in 1926? The little black dress is the most adaptable piece of clothing in our closets, and our suitcases. For cocktails, the little black dress is de rigueur ― more elegant than daywear, less formal than black-tie and less serious than “le smoking,” the evening power suit of jacket and pant ensemble created in 1966 by the famous couturier Yves Saint-Laurent.

Over cocktails or pictured in the pages of fashion magazines, haven’t we seen the Parisienne who, for evening, acquires a more elegant look simply by changing accessories; she substitutes sexy shoes and costume jewelry, and replaces her daytime purse with an evening bag of sumptuous materials and unusual shapes.

Paris Fashion: All dressed up and somewhere to go

The Hemingway Bar, Hôtel Ritz is legendary and a lively place to hear tales about the famous American writer, Ernest Hemingway, a frequent patron of the bar. Hôtel Ritz is located on the Place Vendôme and takes its place on the square among many of the most prestigious jewelry stores of France, and from around the world.

Following a Friday afternoon introduction to Colin Peter Field, Head Bartender, during a research visit to Paris with my friend Philippa, we hastily returned to the apartment to freshen up, change in to our little black dresses and dash back to the Ritz and the Bar Hemingway. We eagerly anticipated the cocktails Mr. Field would suggest and serve to us. Philippa’s cocktail? “The Serendipity,” an all-evening cocktail, particularly in hot weather (Bar Hemingway, Ritz Paris, 1994). My cocktail? “The Benderitter,” the precursor of a new genre of cocktails, the ‘Perfect Cocktails’ (Bar Hemingway, Ritz Paris, 1995).

My drink was a cocktail of ginger essence poured into a fozen champagne coupe and filled with very cold champagne. A small zest of orange was dropped into the glass. This very personal signature cocktail was created by Field and named for his friend, Brigitte Benderitter. Madame Benderitter happened to stop by Field’s bar the afternoon he was working on a new cocktail utilizing the ginger root the restraunt’s chef had given him earlier that afternoon. According to his tale, the chef had too much ginger root in his kitchen and suggested to Field that he do something with it.

The cocktail was heavenly! If only I had brought to Paris my copy of The Cocktails of the Ritz Paris, by Field for a book signing and to press into its pages the perfect red rose that garnished my drink! Field is also the author of Ritz Paris: Die Cocktails.

Café Marly, Musée du Louvre is a place I adore because I’ve sketched and painted the views from its panorama entrance overlooking the wide public spaces of Cour Carrée, the interior square of the Musée du Louvre. In the center courtyard of the complex is the Louvre Pyramid designed by architect I.M. Pei.

As you approach the entrance, you see a long stone corridor punctuated by several richly carved ceiling arches and classic columns which border the courtyard. The long view of the corridor is framed at its entrance by two contemporary floor-to-ceiling vertical banners that simply announce, le Café Marly.

It is an extraordinary cocktail location for sitting back in comfortable chairs while watching tourists stroll by. During fashion week in Paris the café becomes an explosion of rail-thin models, photographers, editors, and fashionistas of all stripes ― and a fabulous place for gossip and spotting next seasons trends.

From the moment you arrive you will hear the sounds of French and many different languages spoken by visitors from around the world.

Bar 228, Le Meurice Hôtel is located on rue de Riviloi opposite the Tuileries Garden, and situated between the Place de la Concorde and the Musée du Louvre, and the place that I enjoy the most. After a day of visiting museums, sketching my way through Paris from one neighborhood to the next and stopping for whatever catches my attention, I look forward to Bar 228’s comfortable ambiance and hushed conversation. Le Meurice has been around for more than two centuries and at its present site overlooking the Tuileries Garden since 1935.

Bar 228 is a rendez-vous of Parisians. While Le Meurice reflects the splendors of the 18th century architecture, Bar 228 is contemporary in comfort and embodies the warmth of a British club of wood and leather, with warm-toned shades and the sparkle of crystal. Three restored paintings of Château de Fontainebleau representing a festive night scene hang on its richly paneled walls. Every evening two jazz musicians, a pianist accompanied by a guitarist or drummer, play from seven until midnight.

Paris Fashion: Cocktails at Le Meurice’s Bar 228

Walking on rue de Rivoli, within a few blocks of Le Meurice, I look for a side street. There I can tuck into a doorway or skirt around an arched column to slip out of my black flats and into my strappy heels, which I’ve packed in my good black tote for the occasion. Fingering through my evening bag, I quickly locate the velvet drawstring pouch which has been protecting my pendant earrings and cocktail ring purchased from my favorite costume jeweler in Paris, Philippe Ferrnandez. A change of accessories and I’m soon back on rue de Rivoli walking in stride to make my appearance at Le Meurice.

Bonsoir, madame, says the doorman holding the door open for me, as my heels click across the intricate mosaic crest on the sidewalk at the entrance to the hotel. Bonsoir, monsieur, I reply and smile. Merci beaucoup.

With an air of confidence, I walk in the direction of the women’s washroom. On my first visit several years ago, I was escorted by the conceirge. There, I freshen and reapply powder and lipstick, and dab perfume in all the right places. I unwrap a new package of sheer black hosiery and put them on. My usual travel outfit, a black pencil skirt and long-sleeved Calvin Klein black jersey top, need adjusting. I remove my Hermès scarf and give it a shake. Refolded as a triangle, the silk square reshapes itself around my neck as I tie a loose knot and fling the ends across my shoulder. Running fingers through my hair, I take one last look in the mirror to make sure I’ve drawn my lipstick inside the lines. A wink at myself, and out the door to the bar I go!

Before being asked if I will be expecting a guest, I request a place for one nodding in the direction of the table beneath the three paintings of Château de Fontainebleau. There, I have a view of the entire barroom and beyond, to the foyer, where they also serve cocktails in the evening and afternoon tea. The waiters always share a conversation as far as I can manage with my schoolgirl French. Then, we shift to English, and back again. It is a great way for us to try a little French in such a benevolent atmosphere!

As I approach my table, the waiter has already moved beside my lounge chair a small leather ottoman on which to place my tote. No handbag on the floor or table or squeezed between the leather chair and me. No lifting the bag or reaching deep down into its caverns to retrieve a necessity, of some sort or another.

There are classic and inventive cocktails to order, but I always ask for the same drink, champagne rosé. My waiter arrives with champagne, cocktail olives and allumettes Parmesan ― cheese straws made with puff pastry. Shortly, he returns with the day’s copy of the Financal Times and Le Figaro, the daily newspaper in Paris, and says, if you wish, madame. But of course, I wish!

It’s quiet. It’s French. It’s old Paris. Guests and waiters alike speak in hushed tones. No one hurries, not even me. I leave in the manner in which I arrived.

Au revoir, madame, I hear at each turn, from the waiter, the bartender, the concierge, and the doormen, à bientôt. Good-bye, madame. See you again, soon. Oui, merci beaucoup! Au revoir, messieurs et madame, I reply, à bientôt.

Cocktails Fashion: From the 1930s to the 1960s

For our mothers and grandmothers coming of age in the decades from the 1930s to the 1960s, to be in a bar unaccompanied would have been a faux pas in Paris, or in America. Cocktailing is an American phenomenon from the late 1920s when woman became more visible in the social world and readily embraced her newfound concepts of individuality as the “modern” woman in her rebuffing of matronly social customs.

As a modern woman, she attended private cocktail soirées and lounges, and the cocktail dress, (a short evening sheath) with matching hat, shoes, and gloves became her costume. The cocktailing equivalent in Paris was l’heure de l’apéritif.

American periodicals and department stores paid strict attention to line, cut, and length in promoting their l’heure de l’apéritif. Often the difference between daytime dress and the cocktail outfit was evening silk failles or satins and a stylish cocktail hat. French garments for the late afternoon, or “after-five,” including French beach pajamas ― silk top and palazzo pant outfits worn with a mid-calf-length wrap jacket ― gained widespread popularity with wealthy Americans as the demand for travel increased. French couturières Coco Chanel and Elsa Schiaparelli helped popularize the stylish cocktail suit as clothing acceptable to be worn from the afternoon tea to the evening affair.

In the 1920s hat styles favored the cloche shape, but cocktail and evening models were decorated with plumes, rhinestones, and beaded embroideries. Cartwheel hats and slouchy fedoras became equally popular for the cocktail hour.

Her evening parure, a collection of various items of matching jewelry, became the standard fashionable cocktail accessory. The cocktail ring, oversized and dramatic, became a jewelry essential in the 1940s, as it still is today.

Paris Fashion: The Little Black Dress

The origin of little black dress (LBD), simply cut and often short, dates to the 1920s and the creations of Coco Chanel. Chanel designed this simple sheath to be versatile, affordable and readily accessible for women of all social classes. Wallis Warfield Simpson, Duchess of Windsor once said: When the little black dress is right, there is nothing else to wear in its place.

Paris Fashion: Christian Dior’s “The New Look”

Christian Dior’s New Look collection in 1947 brought romanticism back to women’s dressing, imposing a feminine aesthetic with his cinched waists and full, mid-calf length clothing. Dior was the first to name the evening ensemble a “cocktail” dress in the late 1940s and as a result, magazines and departments stores, and rival Parisian and American designers seized on the opportunity to promote fashion with cocktail-distinct expressions and strict rules of etiquette. For example, guests were required to wear gloves, but for the hostess it was forbidden; also guests traveled to an event in a cocktail hat, but once indoors, they were required to remove their hat.

Cocktail Fashion: Women looking good

In a relaxed and beautiful setting, on the occasion of this journey into a slower paced world of genteel manners and hushed tones all around, I am convinced that women look good. A simple or flamboyant look, whatever is her style, a woman achieves a radiant glow and that noticeable something the French call, l’art de vivre, the art of living. And, she hears: Bonjour, madam, when she arrives and, à bientôt! as she departs. Paris is like that.

French Apéritif: Recipe for the “French Kiss”

The Pernod French Kiss*

– 1 part Pernod®
– 4 parts orange juice
– 1 dash grenadine

Mix Pernod® and orange juice in a cocktail shaker with ice. Strain into a martini glass. Add grenadine and allow it to settle at the bottom.

*From The Wine Enthusiast Magazine, by Alexis Korman published on July 14, 2010.

Vocabulary: French to English translations

À bienôt: See you soon
Allumettes: Cut into matchstick sizes and shapes
Au revoir: Good-bye
Bonjour: Hello
Bonsoir: Good evening
Cloche: Close-fitting woman’s hat with a bell-like shape
Couturièr/couturière: Person in the fashion industry who makes original garments for private clients (male/female)
De rigueur: Prescribed or required by fashion, etiquette, or custom
Failles: Slightly ribbed, woven fabric
Faux pas: Socially awkward or tactless act
L’art de vivre: Art of living
L’heure de l’apéritif: Cocktail hour
Madame/Mesdames: Title used for a woman (singular/plural)
Mademoiselle/Mesdemoiselles: Title used for a girl or unmarried woman (singular/plural)
Merci beaucoup: Thank you very much
Monsieur/Messieurs: Title used for a man (singular/plural)
Parisienne: Female native or resident of Paris
Parure: Set of various items of matching jewelry
Sheath: Dress designed to tightly fit the body

Barbara Redmond, publisher of A Woman’s Paris® (AWP), is a long-time Francophile and travels to Paris every chance she gets — and has learned a lot along the way. Her stories about Paris and France have been published in AWP® and republished, with permission, by other blogs and publications. Barbara has presented programs on French fashion and food, and has been a guest speaker for students planning their study abroad. She serves as an advisory board member at the University of Minnesota College of Design and is an active student mentor. Barbara has been recognized for excellence in art by international and national organizations and publications. Prints of her fine are paintings are in collections in Europe and North America and are available for purchase.

You may also enjoy A Woman’s Paris® post, The Veuve Barbe-Nicole Clicquot and other Widowed women entrepreneurs, by Canadian writer Philippa Campsie who tells about the fast track to business independence — or indeed, any kind of independence — two hundred years ago or so, for many women, seems to have been widowhood. The story of Barbe-Nicole Clicquot, better known as Veuve (Widow) Clicquot; a story that also happened to Louise Pommery, Lily Bollinger, and Mathilde Laurent-Perrier, and a few others. 

French White Wines: Sauternes, by Barbara Redmond with Jo-Ann Ross, French Wine Scholar and Certified Specialist of Wine, who share their conversation about which French white wines to pair with foie gras during lunch at a café outside of Boston. Including Jo-Ann’s French white wine selections for French Sauternes Wines: expensive, less expensive, and something different.

Breakfast at the Ritz, Paris, by Canadian writer Philippa Campsie who writes about The Ritz, an icon that looms larger than life with its stories and associations. As with breakfast, she starts at the beginning with the hotel that was created from a former private house on the Place Vendôme in 1898, and the Swiss hotelier César Ritz and his French chef Auguste Escoffier.

Smell and Taste, Sensation and Pleasure, by French writer Laurence Haxaire who explains the “smart” education of the French child who is taught to recognize and describe the flavours, the feeling of taste, and most importantly, why they liked it or disliked it. Her introduction to the world of flavour is all about sensations and pleasure. She urges to “tell what you feel.”

Text copyright ©2010 Barbara Redmond. All rights reserved.
Illustrations copyright ©Barbara Redmond. All rights reserved.
barbara@awomansparis.com

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