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Paris Tip: Local aperitifs and the locales to match them

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A typical Parisian afternoon, drinks in the park.
A typical Parisian afternoon, drinks in the park.

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.

Drink specials

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

Local Laurent demonstrates the art of the Picon.

Local Laurent demonstrates the art of the Picon.

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.

What's your pleasure?

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.”

While meandering through the Marais, visit the Musée Picasso or Musée Carnavalet (where you’ll spot Steinlen’s original Chat Noir sign!).

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.”

Afternoon aperitifs near Picasso's old haunt.

Afternoon aperitifs near Picasso’s old haunt.

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!

About the author

Theadora Brack

About the author: Theadora Brack is a writer working in Paris. Her fiction has appeared in more than 30 literary publications, including 3AM International, The Smoking Poet, Beloit Fiction Journal, Mid-American Review, and the Haight-Ashbury Literary Journal.

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7 Responses to “Paris Tip: Local aperitifs and the locales to match them”

diane megargel says:

The next bride I meet and shes wondering where she will get something old, new, borrowed and blue I will tell flat out and after reading Theadoros witty, original and informative piece the bride will have a happier wedding and the guests will have a ball. Follow Theadoros list and the bride will be better off than wearing grannys pearls. Off to find Suze now .

Alan says:

Absinthe IS now available in Paris again.

http://tinyurl.com/mrvsuf

You wouldn’t have got hallucinations from absinthe in the 19th century in Paris – and you won’t now. Just enjoy it for its taste!

Christina says:

Love the article! I am excited to try something besides wine (which I will still try), when I visit Paris! Thank you for the wonderful insight. I am excited to try the Picon and Suze!

vicki says:

Please give me the route from Gare d’est to Gare Montparnasse and the time involved..thanks

Martin says:

Despite Alan said, there certainly were an awful lot of poets, artists and writers who insisted that absinthe made them hallucinate. Baudelaire, Manet, Oscar Wilde, Degas, Van Gogh, Picasso, Rimbaud–they all attributed vivid inspirations to the Green Fairy. I don’t think modern absinthe still does this, though. I read that they changed the old recipe, so it tastes the same but doesn’t wig out your brain any more. I try it and see! At least YOU know the difference between a Kir and a Cassis Royale. I heard NPR cooking show host Lynne Rossetto Kasper giving the wrong recipe for a Cassis Royale the other day, when she was obviously talking about a Kir. Anyway, I really enjoyed your piece–I hope you’ll let us in on your favorite Paris bars sometime!

Eric Gravboat says:

This is my kind of travel article… drinks to accompany the sites!

Wendy says:

I really need to start expanding from my world of Kolsh beer. Thank you for the education.

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