France may have missed the cocktail train a few years back, but Syndicat Cocktail Club’s head bartender and owner, Sullivan Doh, is hell-bent on getting the country on track. The aim of the bar he and Romain Le Mouëllic opened in the Saint-Denis area of Paris is to shake French cocktails to a West Coast soundtrack.
The bar only features French spirits, so customers have no choice but to delve into the rich drink legacy of the country. The fact that practically every foreign spirit, from tequila to pisco, was warmly welcomed at the bar, when 98 percent of cognac is exported, motivated Doh to create an all-French list. “In France, we don’t drink French while [our] legacy in terms of making alcohol is known worldwide!” he says.
The Modern Thyme cocktail
The cocktail list is divided into two sections: Saint-Denis Classic (named after the street where the bar is located), “where we twist classic cocktails with French spirits,” says Doh; and Insane Saint-Denis, a style that features unusual drinks such as the Saix en Provence, made with Armagnac, watermelon syrup, citrus and lavender foam. Both approaches, according to Doh, strive to wipe “the dust off the old-school bottle.”
The cocktails are created to offer guests an all-sensory experience, he says. It starts with hearing the drinks shaken or stirred, sight (taking in colorful ingredients such as beetroot or pineapple syrup), smell that transports a guest in one direction, and taste that veers off in another.
An example is the Modern Thyme, made with a Corsican myrtle liqueur, apricot liqueur, citrus and smoked thyme. Doh says he loves to see guests’ myriad reactions when they smell and then sip it. All the bar’s syrups are made in-house and include contrasting flavors such as mustard seed, pineapple, coffee and banana shrub.
The Le Sudiste cocktail features only Southern French flavors including eau-de-vie de cédrat (a Corsican lemon), orange and rosemary syrup, and lemon juice. It’s topped with Mauresque foam, made of pastis with almond syrup, as an ode to Marseille’s love of anise-flavored spirits.
The Le Sudiste, left, and Vieil Hexagone cocktails
The Vieil Hexagone is a twist on the classic Vieux Carré for which Sullivan substitutes different French products within each spirit family. It’s made Marc de Bourgogne brandy instead of cognac; a rye-based genever instead of rye whiskey; La Quintinye Vermouth Royal; a Pineau des Charentes base; and Izarra, a southwestern France herbal liqueur fortified with Armagnac instead of Bénédictine. It’s topped off with two dashes of absinthe instead of Peychaud’s bitters.
Doh and his partners also have a second project, La Commune, a punch-focused cocktail bar in the Belleville neighborhood. The drinks feature French spirits blended with herbs and spices from around the world.