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Wednesday
Feb112015

Paris – 5th arrondissement 

The Latin Quarter of Paris is known for its student life, long streets full of tiny bistros, and its lovely open air market on the Rue Mouffetard, which Hemingway joyfully referred to in his memoir A Moveable Feast. We were definitely in the mood for a moveable feast ourselves, hoping to snack our way from the 5th back to our hotel.

Cheese please. And some Chablis. Actually, while you're at it, just bring us the bottle.

Getting old in Paris means you only get better looking. The older ladies on the streets of the 5th were bringing it, putting the young university kids to shame.

Bringing it. Furs, colors, shoes, baguette.

Time to refresh. From now on when I order Campari out I want my own private little ice bucket and my own canister of spritzer. A man could get absolutely spoiled here.

-David Driscoll

Wednesday
Feb112015

Paris – 9th arrondissement 

I have been to a lot of department stores in my life. San Francisco, Las Vegas, New York, Chicago, Miami, London, Berlin, Munich, Rome, Venice, Florence, Stockholm, Taipei, Tokyo, you name it. Because I love to shop, I've been to a mall in many a major city all over the world. That being said, there is no store I have ever visited that even comes close to the Galeries Lafayette on Haussmann Boulevard in Paris; not in sheer beauty, design, variety, selection, grace, elegance, price—not on any level. This is the great shopping experience the world has to offer, in my opinion, and the view of Paris from the roof is even better than from the Sacré-Cœur in Montmartre. Just look at it!! Are you kidding me?

Don't care about men's or women's fashion? Don't worry. Just go across the street to the Lafayette building dedicated almost entirely to food. I always thought the KaDeWe building in Berlin had a stunning selection of gourmet food, but the Galerie in Paris just destroys it. Three floors of nothing but food products from all over the world. Right when you walk in there's a Petrossian counter and mini-restaurant. I looked at my wife and said, "Why not?" When isn't it a good time for caviar?

Most of the producer counters have little tables set up along side so you can do a little dégustation while you're perusing the products. Considering a tin of the high-end Petrossian stuff runs a whopping 1200 Euros per canister, it's nice to have the option of ordering a small sampling. We both got the French caviar plate, served with picked veggies, romaine with dressing, bolied potatoes, crepes, and 12.5 grams of expensive fish eggs with your choice of Champagne or ice cold Russian vodka. My wife did the bubbly, but I did the vodka. That was a first-time combo for me. It does pair wonderfully.

Got an extra 930 Euros to spend on a jar of black truffles? They're here if you want them, just down from the row of hanging Spanish Iberico hams for 650 per leg. It's a veritable wonderland of haute nourriture.

-David Driscoll

Wednesday
Feb112015

Paris – 1st arrondissement 

Along with the Ritz, you might call Harry's the most iconic bar in all of Paris. There since 1911, it's hosted everyone from Ernest Hemingway to Coco Chanel, and Rita Hayworth to Humphrey Bogart. Even the fictional James Bond recalled having a drink at Harry's in Ian Fleming's 1960 story "A View to Kill".  It's said that the Bloody Mary, Sidecar, and French 75 were all invented at 15 Rue Daunou, as well. Simply put: you can't go to Paris and not have a cocktail at Harry's. Especially considering you can get a hotdog with mustard and relish while you sip your drink.

If the Bloody Mary and Sidecar were invented at Harry's, then—as a dedicated student of cocktail history—that's exactly what I was going to have. One of each, please. The bartenders at Harry's are also top notch. They're very relaxed, friendly, and reminiscent of something you'd expect in the 1940s. Our guy hummed a little tune as he casually made our drinks.

Don't like cocktails? Then don't get one, but please—for God's sake, please—order one of the several hundred shots of whisky available at Harry's. Not just current release stuff either, but old relics from the 50s, 60s, and 70s, too! The prices are more than reasonable. I had a large pour of ancient Ballantine's 17 year for about $18. If only most blended whisky still tasted that good.

If Harry's hot dogs aren't enough to soak up all that hooch in your stomach, then walk about half a kilometer down the Rue des Petit Champs and hit up Hokkaido: the best bang for your buck we have found anywhere inside the city limits. The ramen is more than legit; it's top notch and it comes with seven pieces of fried gyoza. Add in a bottle of rosé de Provance and make it a decadent experience. We paid forty euros for two steaming bowls plus fourteen savory gyoza and a large volume of wine. We were very happy with this place, as was everyone else because it was packed. 

-David Driscoll

Tuesday
Feb102015

Paris – Versailles

I've always wanted to go to Versailles. I just want to have a big, slammin' party right in the middle of the mirrored ballroom, invite all my friends, and hit the bottle all night long! So did Kim and Kanye apparently. The couple requested to have their wedding at the former Louis XIV home, but the French responded in turn by saying "Hell-to-the-NON!" After Kanye's behavior towards Beck at the Grammy's last night, it's clear the French were right in keeping their distance. I get why Mr. West wanted to use the grounds though. Versailles is the ultimate baller pad. Unfortunately for me, I wasn't able have a drink in the former bedroom of Marie Antoinette like I wanted too, but we had fun there nonetheless.

One thing that's nice about France in winter is that you really don't have to fight your way through the tourist traps. It's not peak season. For example, take our ride to Versailles today. We were the only two people on the entire tour bus! We basically had our own gigantic, private VIP bus drive us to the palace, drop us off at the front door, and take us home when we were done. What a feeling! The funny part was when we decided to meet the driver back at the bus earlier than he asked us to be there. We had finished our tour and still had an hour to kill, so I figured we could leave a bit ahead of time. "We're the only ones!" I said to my wife. "Why can't we leave when we're done?"

So we got to the bus and we saw the driver sitting in the upper deck through the window, but we couldn't tell if he was asleep or awake. After a few shouts and waves, we finally got his attention and he opened the door for us to come in. I asked if it was OK to go back to Paris now and he said, "Sure, if you want to." He let us in and we went up to the upper deck to take our seats, while we waited for him to start the bus. After about five minutes we still didn't hear an engine, but we did hear a repetitive air-generated sound that I thought may have been the hydrolic system. We ignored it, but after about ten minutes we still hadn't heard the bus start up. Instead we heard the same gust of wind, followed by a repetative computer beep. After about fifteen minutes I finally got up and walked downstairs to see what the deal was. When I saw what was happening I wasn't sure whether to laugh out loud or run for my life. 

I decended the stairs to find our tour driver blowing repeatedly into a breathalyzer machine hooked up to the engine, which he apparently needed to clear in order to start the bus. By this point he had blown into it at least thirty times with the same negative result. That's what we had been hearing before—his repeated breaths, gusts, and attempts to somehow convince the computerized system he was sober. It seems that while we were out touring the royal palace, our driver was getting his drink on—having a few extra glasses of wine with his lunch. When we came back earlier than expected it was clear he wasn't quite ready to get behind the wheel. "C'est bon?" I asked him. "Oui, c'est bon," he replied. 

"C'est pour l'alcool?" I then said.

"Oui," he answered without feeling the need to explain. Eventually he got it going. If at first you don't succeed...

-David Driscoll

Tuesday
Feb102015

Paris – 3rd arrondissement 

Imagine Soho, the East Village, the West Village, the Meatpacking District, and everything else you love about shopping in New York in one overwhelmingly-large, winding, and ever-expanding entity. That's the Marais district in Paris's 3rd arrondissement. While the Champs Élysée and St. Germain have their own impressive selection of super-stores, most of it is couture. That means you won't be buying your wife anything less than a $3000 purse or an $800 pair of shoes should you want to do something nice for her. All the artisan boutiques, kooky designers, affordable accessories, and Parisian hipsters are in the Marais; to the extent that you could spend your entire time in Paris just combing through all the alleyways you might have missed. It took us two days just to scratch the surface. There's so much to do there it almost induces a panic attack.

There are a number of iconic bars in Paris; many of them long established and frequented by famous literary figures of the century or so. That being said, there are also a number of bars moving beyond Parisian tradition and into their own representation of what a French lounge should be, and they're mostly located in the Marais. The Little Red Door is one of these places (NOTE: if you go, don't be an idiot like me and try to actually open the little red door. The entrance is actually the door to the left of it).

Go early, and you can spend some time talking to bar manager Remy Savage. His customer service skills are impeccible, showcasing that oft-overlooked craft that seems to allude many a mixologist these days. I've had such wonderful service in Paris these last few days and that's really forced me to think about stepping up my own game. Any location—be it a bar or a retail outlet—needs to consider the fact that, when you're a serious destination, people are coming from all over the world to see what you're about. No matter how busy you are, or how many irrational customers you've dealt with that day, we all need to remember that we're not simply providing a service; we're ultimately playing ambassador. I only chatted with Remy for about twenty minutes, but it was clear in that short amount of time that he completely understands what it means to run a world-class bar. 

And he knows not only how to make a delicious and intriguing cocktail, he can do it with flare. The guy was mixing liquids from shaker to shaker, pouring between one container high over his head and another about four feet beneath it. Never once did he spill a drop. Go to the Little Red Door if you're in Paris. It's worth searching out.

Not far down the street is Candelaria, the La Esquina of Paris. If you've never been to New York's amazing La Esquina, I'll sum it up quickly for you: it's a world class taco bar that looks like a hole in the wall, until you realize that there's a secret and glamorous nightclub underneath it, the stairs leading down behind what looks like an ordinary door. Candelaria is attempting literally the exact same concept, but in Paris. Ordinary hole in the wall taco bar, but super fancy lounge in the back behind an unassuming white door. If you don't mind waiting a lifetime to get in, you might want to check it out as it's just a few blocks from the Little Red Door. 

-David Driscoll