BarLifeUK were recently invited over to Paris to judge a Don Q cocktail competition and have a couple of nights out in the City of Love.
Over the past year or so there has been a steady stream of UK bar talent heading over to Paris and when one of them, in the form of ex-Trailer and Rum Kitchen’s Alexx Mouzouris, got in touch to invite us over we thought we’d best see what all the fuss is about.
Those of you who have been to RumFest over the past couple of years will be familiar with Don Q, as will anyone who has been to Puerto Rico where it remains the countries best selling rum. Whilst it launched in the US in 2009 Don Q has been biding its time before launching into Europe, this competition was its marker in the sand. Don Q is coming to Europe.
The night before the comp Alexx invited us down to see the venue for the next days fun and games as well as our host and fellow judge. In Paris Dirty Dick has a bit of a reputation, and being the cities leading Tiki Bar that is not only unsurprising, it is mandatory. Dirty Dick owner Scotty Schuder is the epitome of a Tiki Bar owner, simply ask anyone who knows him about a night out with him at his bar, watch them shiver as the memory washes over them, that is how it should be.
Our first inkling into how a night in Dirty Dick goes was following our tour of the ex-brothel, which has been turned into a fantastic polynesian themed bar that walks the fine line between cool tiki and tacky tiki with remarkable ease. As we admired the myriad of rums on the back bar Scotty suggested a Daiquiri (with Don Q of course), after a quick ‘Santé’ we were looking forward to sipping on our first drink of the evening only to discover that Scotty and Alexx treat daiquiri’s as shots!
After a quick word with ourselves in mirror in the tropical bird song filled bathrooms we were ready for action. As it turned out it wasn’t a such a big night, just a warm-up for the following day and a chance to get our ‘French on’ in the form of Snails and Steak Frites for dinner.
It was a pretty early start in competition world which gave us the chance to meet the fourth judge joining BarLifeUK, Scotty & Alexx in the form of Cyrille Hugon who produces an excellent rum magazine in France called Rumporter (we say excellent, it is unsurprisingly written in French which we understand less than English but it looked lovely and people tells us it’s a great read).
In the cold light of day Dirty Dick held up well (not always the case in Tiki Bar world) and as the competitors started to arrive and settle their nerves with a glass of Don Q punch we noticed some great little design touches in the bar we had missed the night before.
As more and more competitors filled the bar we realised that Don Q and Alexx had done a great job in capturing local bartenders attention. We also realised that it was going to be a long and reasonably boozy affair in the judges seats with each of these bartenders having to make three drinks.
The three drinks asked of each competitor were:
A refreshing Daiquiri-style drink using Don Q Crystal
Either a classic Tiki-esque drink using Don Q Gold or an apéro style drink using Don Q Añejo
A Don Q Gran Añejo drink using the rum, a french ingredient, a Puerto Rican/Latin American ingredient and one ingredient of their choosing
This was not only our first time judging a competition in France but also the first time we had been to Paris in a very long time. We soon realised that we had well over 30 drinks to judge that day and said a silent prayer to the gods of rum that all the rumours we’d heard about the talent of Paris bartenders was true, if not it was going to be a VERY long day.
As we settled down into our judges chair it didn’t take long for us to understand just what an enjoyable afternoon this was going to be. A procession of daiquiri twists were presented to us and two things quickly became apparent.
Firstly the rumours were true, the drinks were consistently well balanced, damned tasty and the presentations were highly entertaining. Secondly, and thankfully, Scotty didn’t insist on drinking his daiquiri’s when judging the same way he had the night before!
As the afternoon progressed we became more and more impressed with the bartenders who stepped behind the bar. The drinks were fantastic, the serves were imaginative, the chat was interesting and funny and the brief had been interpreted in a huge variety of ways.
However there was something else that impressed us more than what was happening in front of us, like Hugh Hefner’s limo driver, it was what was going on behind us that really got our attention.
The bar was filled not only with competitors but with dozens of supporters. They (along with the competitors themselves) weren’t supporting one person, they were supporting everyone who got up. The atmosphere was amazing and it reminded us of how comps should feel, something that is all too often lacking these days this side of the channel.
The atmosphere, the drinks, the entertainment, the superb food (served by Moulin Rouge dancer no less) and fellow judges helped the afternoon fly by. Due to the large number of competitors and even larger number of drinks we tried it would be unfair to single out single drinks and bartenders, everyone stepped up to the plate and deserves to be very proud of what they did.
However being a competition there has to be a winner, a winner by the way who will be enjoying a trip to Puerto Rico with a few days in Manhattan on route. That lucky and thoroughly well deserved winner was Joseph Boley from Red House (….Whose House???…).
At the end Alexx asked for a few words for the crowd. We’ll tell you what we told them ‘We’ve heard people say that the Paris bar scene is one to watch, that Paris bars and bartenders are going to be making some big waves in the worldwide bar scene soon. If this was a fair representation of what is happening in bars across the city that time isn’t in the future it is now.’
Paris is a city that anyone in the world who loves cocktails needs to visit sooner rather than later, the mix of great young local talent and some more experienced bodies from overseas has created a scene that deserves a lot more recognition than it is currently getting. In short get your arse over there now.
Unfortunately by the time the competition had finished and the bar had been cleared there wasn’t time to head out and see some of the other fine bars that Paris has to offer or pop in on BarLifeUK friends Amanda Boucher, Mark Scott and Mr & Mrs Lafond. A few beers were had and a promise was internally made to get back over very soon and really get a feel for this amazing cities nightlife.
A huge thank you to Don Q for giving us the opportunity to judge such an amazing competition. To Alexx and Scotty for being such great hosts and most importantly to everyone who came along to support and compete for making the day such a thoroughly enjoyable one.
Paris we’ll be back in you very soon and can’t wait.