Cocktails in the Time of Corona: Paris’ Experimental Cocktail Club
We recently caught up with two of the founders of the acclaimed Experimental Group, which operates bars, restaurants and hotels in Paris and around the world.
“We’ll always have Paris.”
Since spring, many Parisian came to doubt the veracity of that famed Casablanca promise, and for good reason.
Under complete lockdown for weeks, the city just didn’t feel like itself. Fortunately, it all changed mid-June when cafés and restaurants reopened. Seeing Parisians sipping coffee, munching on croissants and gazing and contemplating life, makes all the difference. I almost forgot I’m wearing a mask.
And it helps that the so-called terrasses (patios with outdoor tables) are now spread out on the sidewalks much more liberally than before thanks to special governmental measures aimed at helping restaurateurs and café owners reopen safely.
Finally, Paris feels like itself again. I should never have doubted Humphrey Bogart!
Pierre-Charles Cros and Olivier Bon, two of the three childhood friends (with Romée de Goriainoff) who head up the Experimental Group, could not agree more.
After opening the acclaimed Experimental Cocktail Club on a quaint street in the second arrondissement in 2007—the city’s first taste of the neo-speakeasy culture—the trio quickly expanded their business into a veritable empire. They now have hotels, bars and restaurants in six countries, including in New York, Ibiza, Venice and London.
“June finally gave us a light at the end of the tunnel,” explained Cros, who is based in London but recently came back to his native Paris to watch over the reopening of the group’s establishments. “Only outdoors spaces were allowed at first, so we started with reopening The Shed, our rooftop bar at the Hotel Grands Boulevards.” They also built patio seating for the Compagnie des Vins Surnaturels, a lovely wine bar in the ritzy Saint-Germain-des-Près neighborhood.
Now that indoor spaces are now also slowly reopening, they’re planning on bringing back the Experimental Cocktail Club. You’ll soon find connoisseurs relaxing in the acclaimed watering hole—complete with exposed brick and equally trendy cocktails, such as the cheekily named Maudit Français (the Damned Frenchman).
“What’s good is that the phones keep ringing,” says Bon. “Clearly, people want to have fun and get out of their apartments.”
Once again Paris’ café culture is alive and well. “People here love going out for drinks and eating outside,” says Bon. “It’s all part of a certain lifestyle and a sense of freedom. It is in the Parisian DNA. The same thing happened after the terrorist attacks in 2015.”
“I see it as a fundamental human appetite,” Cros adds, “and I’m sure when New York City fully emerges from this crisis, it will be the same.” The American outpost of the Compagnie des Vins Surnaturels on Centre Street in Manhattan is now in fact open, Wednesday through Sunday.
Obviously, the economic uncertainties of the pandemic can obfuscate the merriness. “It is unlike anything else on a business level,” according to Cros. “It’s starting from scratch really. Even if we don’t have to invent a new model, but instead adjust to the new sanitary requirements and hope for the best. So, we keep our waiting staff masked and guarantee a safe distance between customers and provide them with hydroalcoholic gel—all the stuff that has become part of our daily lives.”
When it’s all over, Cros likes to picture himself at his group’s Palazzo Experimental in Venice, Italy. “Can you imagine? Summer in Venice, the perfect time… and this year without any of those giant cruise ships that are so bad for the city. I would go to the bar and order a Negroni with an order of shrimp, fresh from the Lagoon.”
A small slice of post-lockdown bliss, which can’t come soon enough.