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Paris is made up of more than just good wine. And locals here know not to ignore the other French cylindrical dandies of the drink world. Give us your liqueurs, your full-bodied bitters, your anisés and wild gentians! The mind reels with all the other possibilities.
Here’s a short list of apéritifs—along with a few daytime touring suggestions to go with your drinks— that’ll help you ease into the evening in harmonious style. So, during “l’heure de apéritif” (the gateway to dinner), you can kick back with a journal or sketchpad avec a cold beverage, and look and feel like a vrai local.
Something old in Montmartre
Hankering for a taste of the past? Order a Picon. Created by Gaétan Picon in 1837, this bittersweet blend of oranges and deep blue gentian flowers is typically served with a demi-pression (small draft beer), into which you pour the Picon-bière. Aromatic and richly colored, the orange-toffee flavored brew combines with the hops to pack a potent punch. Take caution! “Just one,” smartly advised local film editor Laurent, “otherwise you just might tumble down.”
Everything tastes better in context. So, if you’re in Montmartre, work up your thirst with a stroll by Van Gogh’s old digs at 54 rue Lepic, Picasso’s studio at the Bateau Lavoir (13 Rue Ravignan), or the Chat Noir at 84 Blvd. Rouchechouart (where Erik Satie tickled the ivories). If you still aren’t parched, check out the old zinc bar exhibited at the Musée Montmartre.
Something new (er) in St-Germain
After the 1915 ban on Absinthe, folks had to make do with Pastis, which tastes nearly the same but no longer induces appearances of la Fée Verte (the Green Fairy) as the hallucinogenic muse of artists and poets. Opalescent green in color with a distinctive anise taste, it’s usually mixed with water and ice. For a literary twist, add champagne instead of water for a concoction Ernest Hemingway lovingly called, “death in an afternoon.”
Promenading through St-Germain? Look for the former residence of Julia Child at 81 rue de l’Université (she had her own homemade absinthe recipe!), or the Closerie des Lilas, where a plaque embedded in the bar marks Hemingway’s favorite seat. Visit the Musée d’Orsay. Note those cloudy green glasses in the works of Degas, Lautrec or Van Gogh.
Something borrowed in the Marais
In 1885 Fernand Muraux found a recipe in Switzerland and introduced Suze (named for a Swiss river). Another gentian-based apéritif, this old-fashioned bar favorite is normally served on ice with equal parts water or orange juice. Make a conversation piece of it by challenging your drinking companions to describe its strange and peculiar flavor! Picasso once said, “I put all the things I like into my pictures—too bad for the things, they just have to put up with it.” Check out his 1912 collage “Verre et bouteille de Suze.”
Something blue in Montparnasse
Say “Kir” for a classic (and classy) refresher made of crème de cassis (a blackcurrant liqueur) in white wine. Originally called blanc-cassis, it was named for Canon Félix Kir, the Mayor of Dijon who popularized it when the good red Burgundy was confiscated during the German Occupation. As usual, brewmaster Hemingway made his own version with vermouth, called “Chambéry Cassis.”
Take a break from hobnobbing in Montparnasse with a visit to the Musée Montparnasse. Also hit up Hemingway’s house at 70 bis rue Notre Dame des Champs, or see where Gertrude Stein held court at 27 rue de Fleurus (where Papa was a frequent caller). For real café-culture ambience, try Le Select at 99, Boulevard Montparnasse.
Bon Voyage et Santé, Cheapos!