Sunday, October 16, 2011

When is a wine bar not a wine bar?

One of the more mysterious aspects of this pilgrimage through Parisien natural wine haunts is how few of them are actually wine bars in the conventional sense - i.e. somewhere you can go for a glass of wine and, perhaps, a nibble. Most have turned themselves - for obvious commercial reasons, I guess - into bistros or restaurants. Many have a wine shop on the side.

The most obvious example was Le Verre Volé, one of the original band of Paris's natural wine bars where we hoped to stop for a drink before we ate at Philou, a neighbourhood restaurant on the Canal St Martin the other night.

The omens weren't good when we saw every table laid up for dinner but that had happened to us already at the Chapeau Melon so we weren't unduly deterred. We asked for a glass of wine. They said we couldn't have one, despite the fact that two people were already in the corner tucking into a bottle and a plate of sausage. All the tables - completely empty - were fully booked they said. We said we'd eat a course but it made no difference.

My husband who has spent the last three months researching the Parisien natural wine scene remarked that was odd since they made their reputation as a wine bar (in perfect French, I should add. They can't have thought we were tourists). No, they said, they'd never been a wine bar*. And that was the end of that.

At the Chapeau Melon by contrast they said they hadn't got any bottles open but asked what would we like to try. They opened a bottle of Puzelat's Touraine La Tesnière (a blend of Menu Pineau and Chenin Blanc), poured us a couple of glasses, expressed regret that we couldn't eat with them that night because they were full but would we like to come back on Sunday as they were one of the few restaurants in Paris to open on a Sunday night. Which, given the very appetising smells coming out of the kitchen we're going to do. Now that's the way to get a customer.

Moral: Eat at Le Chapeau Melon, avoid Le Verre Volé**. (Sadly this proves not to be the case. We had a really disappointing meal at Chapeau Melon last night. Very long wait. Poor food. Great wine list though - a good place to buy a bottle 17/10/11)

Incidentally you can have a very well priced glass at Inaki Aizpitarte's modern bistro and bar Le Dauphin which is next to his uber-famous Chateaubriand. A Mauzac pet nat from Domaine Plageoles in Gaillac and a Chez Charles 2009, a curious slightly botrytised sauvignon from Noella Morantin in Touraine, both for just 5€ a glass. Can't say I was crazy about the marble and mirrors decor which looked like a celebrity hairdressers but at least the natives were friendly. And we think we spotted Inaki although since almost all the servers sported beards or designer stubble it was hard to tell.

* Proof here on the Wine Terroirs blog which said back in 2004 you could have wine by the glass and charcuterie between 7 and 8 pm. (We were there just after 7). Also I'd forgotten that we ran into the guy who used to run the Verre Vole in Banyuls back in April (see here) who said he'd left Paris for exactly that reason: that wine bars had lost touch with their roots.

** Although I have to admit we're in a minority here. Most critics love it as you can see from this round up on Paris by Mouth.


  1. Le Verre Volé is the most frustrating business I have ever had the misfortune of visiting... sort of. I have attempted to dine or drink there on 3 occasions only to be turned away.

    The first was because we didn't want to eat.

    The second because .... they weren't open although it was 5 in teh afternoon and the staff were setting up for dinner (several customers at the end of their lunch) and I am certain serving us a bottle of wine would have had no impact.

    And the 3rd, supposedly no free tables although many free tables were in view and supposedly fully booked. I even volunteered to leave when the reservation arrived but was given a NO we don't do that.

    On each occasion I took my custom to which wlst small very accommodating and a fun cellar.

    NEVER again I will darken their door.

  2. Don't know whether to be glad or sorry it's not just us, Gregory. You wonder how they stay in business.

  3. Hi, I agree - I don't know how Le Verre Volé has the reputation it does... and I agree with Gregory that La Cave du Daron is good.

    Have you heard of Wine by One? It's worth a try, as is Le Baron Rouge next time you're in town. :)

  4. Missed La Cave du Daron this time but managed to take in Wine by One (nice idea but pricey, I thought) and Le Baron Rouge (wonderfully unreconstructed!)

  5. For the location and the experience I didn't think Wine by One was too bad - but there's also the Cave des Vins Surnaturels in the 6th, which is getting a lot of tongues wagging for the right reasons. I was there on Monday night and I'll definitely be back again soon. (It's a wine bar but practically at the prices of a caviste.)