There's something about a classic hotel bar that oozes old-world glamour — and that's especially true in the French capital. Sure, when you're a student and you're of legal drinking age in France or in your twenties, the allure of newer, hipper spots for a night out is generally stronger than the pull of more historic establishments. But for travelers (young or old) who've come to value the tried and true, enjoying a drink or two at one of Paris' esteemed addresses can feel like a portal back in time, transporting you to a bygone Parisian era. These hotel bars are full of history, sumptuous design details, ambiance or charm — and in many cases all of the above. Settle into a stool or a plush velvet armchair, nurse your drink slowly, and bask in the history and inimitable style of these places.
Routinely cited in both English and French guides as the most legendary of hotel watering holes in the capital, the Bar Hemingway at the Ritz emanates so much style that it would make Mad Men's Don Draper feel a bit uncool. The bar, which recently reopened after a $400 million renovation of the hotel, is also brimming with history. Named after Ernest Hemingway, who haunted the place and is reputed to have driven the German Gestapo out of the Ritz at the end of World War II by guzzling over 50 dry martinis in a single sitting, the bar is as muscley and masculine as the writer's prose aspired to be. Wood, deep green leather and old-fashioned lamps abound; the place is decorated with portraits of famous patrons including Ernest and his friend F. Scott Fitzgerald. The bar was eventually featured in the former's 1926 novel, The Sun Also Rises.
As you might expect, drinks here aren't cheap: the truth is that Hemingway himself wouldn't have been able to afford the prices of today. As for what to order, you can go for the dry martini if you want to emulate the American writer; or try the Serendipity, the bar's most popular drink, concocted by head barman Colin Peter Field in 1994. It's a cocktail that blends champagne, sugar, apple juice, Calvados, and fresh mint leaves.
- Metro: Pyramides, Quatre-Septembre or Tuileries
Far less famous than the Hemingway Bar but arguably just as worth a visit, the Hotel du Nord bar whirls visitors back to the silent-screen era, then adds a good dusting of fresh modernity. French filmmaker Marcel Carne made the place a site of local legend with his eponymous film of 1938 — and in the Parisian imagination, this is a spot that's bursting with cinematic romance.
While there's technically no longer a hotel onsite here, the zinc bar, walls lined with film and art memorabilia, and heavy velvet curtains around the door are decidedly old-world hotel. At the same time, the bar-restaurant situated right on the Canal St-Martin is at the epicenter of one of the city's most vibrant nightlife districts and is beloved by boho professionals and even young revelers looking for the elegance of old Paris.
- Metro: République or Louis Blanc
Book lovers will be particularly drawn to this prestigious site: a classic bar where you can nurse your drink surrounded by some 12,000 handsome old tomes and rare editions. This little-known "library bar" at the Saint-James Paris palace hotel in the chic west part of the city is a gem that few tourists ever see, but it's well worth the slight detour. In the spring and summer, the outdoor terrace and lush garden are also lovely.
The head barman Judicaël Noël mixes signature house cocktails that are likely to please even those with fussy tastes. Ask for the Southern bird, a drink composed of botanist's gin, bitter lavender, "Fathers Chartreux elixir", and maple syrup. Noël is especially acclaimed for his subtle use of botanicals in his drinks — in fact, he refers to himself as an "herbalist" owing to his love for botanical and vegetable essences and ingredients.
- Metro: Victor Hugo
Situated in the midst of the St-Honoré fashion district, the 5-star Hotel Costes is beloved by local fashionistas and global celebrities. A drink at the hotel bar here, decorated in an elegant Florentine style that somehow manages not to feel too pretentious, may even earn you an occasional celebrity sighting. The music here can be on the loud side-- this isn't the best spot for a quiet drink, especially on weekends when acclaimed DJs spin here. The service is also reputed as a bit surly at times-- and the price tags are steep. Still, if you'd like to place yourself at the center of the action during Paris Fashion Week, and you enjoy being a fly on the wall, this is an ideal spot to do it, trendy cocktail in hand.
- Metro: Concorde
Moving over to the rive gauche (left bank) for a change of pace, Le Bar at the sumptuous 5-star establishment simply known as L'Hotel offers a combination of intimacy and chic. L'Hotel is famous for having lodged Irish writer and wit Oscar Wilde in the last months of his life and until his death; he claimed to live "above his means" as a lodger there. Later, the hotel near St-Germain-des-Prés became a preferred address for countless celebrities, from Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor to the French crooner Serge Gainsbourg. The bar, decorated in tones of pale green, soft grey and deep pinkish red, evokes the traditionally arty character of the left bank.
The drinks menu, designed by barman Jonathan Mirval, includes a range of signature cocktails focused around fresh fruit, sharp citrus, and botanical notes. Favorites among patrons include the Aphrodite Martini (Crystal Head vodka, rose syrup, and Aphrodite bitters) and the So Wilde, a tribute to the beloved Irish writer that blends champagne, St-Germain liqueur, cognac, and lime juice.
- Metro: Rue du Bac
The decadent, velvet-heavy bar at the hotel-spa La Reserve near the Avenue des Champs-Elysées is well-known among luxury-seeking locals for being one of the chicest (and most romantic) spots in town for before-dinner drinks. This one is especially recommended for visitors with a casual or connoisseur-level interest in wines since it boasts an impressive menu that includes dozens of varieties. Sip a rare vintage or enjoy a signature or bespoke cocktail in one of the plush red velvet chairs, surrounded by antique mirrors, paintings, and soft lamplight.
The menu includes numerous wines from La Reserve's own domains (Cos d'Estournel and Domaine Tokaj Hétszõlõ), wine by the glass or bottle from some of France's most prized winemakers, as well as a large variety of cocktails. If you're more in the mood for the latter, try the Fizzy Travel, combining Grey Goose Black Cherry vodka, Lillet rose wine, lemon juice, house syrup, and Michel Reybier champagne. For something less sweet, the Reserve Sling brings together gin, Creole bitters, Peter Heering cherry liqueur, and white pepper from Penja.
For those interested in stretching their knowledge of wine further, Le Bar hosts a special wine evening on the first Thursday of every month, which includes extensive tastings of wines and champagnes.
- 42 avenue Gabriel, 8th arrondissement
- Metro: Franklin D. Roosevelt
Last but certainly not least, this wine bar at one of the nicest hotels in Paris' historically seedy Pigalle district offers something a bit more on the bohemian-chic side of the equation. This Italian-style newcomer is drawing in foodies and curious travelers for its cozy yet modern decor and its extensive list of wines from around the world. You can also enjoy a casual Italian lunch or dinner alongside your drinks, with dishes from chef Giovanni Passerini. Dishes and small bites include smoked burrata cheese, fresh pasta, and antipasti platters.
- Address: 129, rue Victor Massé, 9th arrondissement
- Metro: Pigalle