Do you have a label that feels like your little secret? Mine is the French brand Sézane. Or, at least, it was Sézane until I turned up at its Paris boutique in the 2nd arrondissement not long ago to find – sacré bleu! – two-dozen identikit Sézane girls in skinny jeans, cross-body bags and kinky little ankle boots queuing out the door. Clearly this label was not as secret as I thought. The bouncer offered me a plate of madeleines and assured me that the wait would only be “quelques minutes”. But it was too late: the dream was over. I slunk back to my hotel in search of a drink.
As luck would have it, the place I was staying, The Hoxton, was just around the corner. What’s more, it had two very nice bars. Fashioned from a disorientating labyrinth of 18th-century architecture, courtyards and contemporary glass atriums, The Hoxton Paris is the new French cousin of The Hoxton Shoreditch, a Great Eastern Street hotspot that’s been rammed with tech and media types ever since it opened in 2006.
The Hoxton Paris attracts a similar crowd, but it feels more cosy. We started with a craft beer in the ground-floor Rivié bar, a brasserie-style affair with aquamarine velvet bar stools, parquet and squashy sofas (and a gorgeous courtyard for summer). It was lively and welcoming, but there were a few too many Mac Books open at cocktail hour for my liking. So we soon scooted upstairs to Jacques Bar, a low-lit hideaway with a whiff of the Moroccan souk about it. I had a tangy Camanito cocktail with tequila, lime zest, Angostura bitters, Amontillado and coffee-cumin syrup; my other half had the house Bloody Mary, made with gin and a dab of harissa. I’ll always put harissa in my Bloody Marys from now on.
The Hoxton is just one example of the investment that’s now pouring into the 2nd arrondissement, a former garment district that’s reinvented itself as a tech hub (much like Shoreditch). Facebook, Twitter, and Airbnb all have HQs around here. And where startups go, cocktails tend to follow. Just a stone’s throw from The Hoxton is another new hotel with a great bar, Les Grands Boulevards, the latest venture from stylish French hospitality group the Experimental Cocktail Club.
The crimson-and-brass bar here looks decadent, but the cocktails are decidedly healthy – only five of them are full-strength, all the rest are either low-alcohol or booze free. I drank an astonishingly nice glass of banana, coconut water, spinach and citrus laced with something frightening like spirulina. Then, I must admit, I cracked and had an Armagnac Old Fashioned. The bar is only small so get that reservation in now – or be prepared to join the queue.