The Guest Perspective →
Cristina is a product designer who’s working hard on making BevSpot easier to use and more intuitive for bar staff everywhere. You can see some of her work in our latest product redesign.
So, what is a memorable experience you’ve had at a restaurant or bar?
I went to Le Syndicat in Paris this past October. We were in Paris for 36 hours, so we had this very “The Layover with Anthony Bourdain” trip there. There were two things that I wanted to do. I wanted to get ice cream at this place called Berthillon, which was near Notre Dame, and I wanted to get really good drinks and dinner somewhere.
So, right before I went to Europe, The World’s 50 Best Bars list came out and Le Syndicat was on there. They also happen to be one of our customers, so I was like, “oh, I’ll go there.” Our Airbnb was about a ten minute walk from Le Syndicat too, so it worked out really well. I felt pretty motivated to check it out.
Did you make a reservation or did you just show up?
We just showed up. We were there on a Wednesday. In my experience, at least in the United States, Wednesday’s are a very chill day. But, in Paris, I think everyone goes out all the time. It was a Wednesday night and you could have sworn that it was a busy Friday or Saturday night.
I feel like that’s the European culture. People generally go out on a more regular basis. They get off work in the afternoon and just hang out afterwards.
That was very much what it was. In Paris, they just go to the café. I was like, “Oh my gosh!” It was so busy. I was actually really nervous. I thought maybe we should have made a reservation. We ended up just walking in and sitting at the bar. It totally worked out.
What was your impression when you arrived?
There’s not really any sign or anything denoting the bar. But, on that block, there was a laundromat, a convenience store, a very fancy restaurant, like four or five things that were clearly not the bar. We could also tell what it was, because people were sitting outside drinking. So, we thought, “This has to be it.”
We walked in and it was very moody and dark. The atmosphere was very Parisian-style cool.
I did see photos of the bar when I was looking it up earlier. It seemed like that prototypical trendy hole-in-the-wall where you have to know where it is.
It was actually a very approachable hole-in-the-wall. It was still very cool, don’t get me wrong. It might have been cool just because you’re in Paris. Everything is cool there.
I’m sure that played a part of it. Did you enjoy the decor and visual design of the bar?
Yeah, a little bit. I love Boston bars. They are very divey and very towny and I love that. But, when I travel, I try to find places that are outside of that norm. This was definitely one of them.
It didn’t feel pretentious. Sometimes you go to a cocktail bar and everyone’s so fancy and dressed up. Here, everyone was just out for a casual drink. I thought the decor was thoughtful and it was definitely different, but simple.
How was your interaction with the bartenders?
It was good! I’m definitely a typical American in the sense that I don’t speak any French. We walked in and said, “Bonjour.” They gave us menus as we sat down at the bar. Sitting at the bar was really cool because we got to see all the drinks being made.
Two girls were working the bar and they were flying through the drinks. It was awesome to watch. They had a bucket of shaved ice and all the drinks came in different kinds of glasses too. One that I saw a lot looked like an origami boat made out of ceramic. They attached a balloon to it.
There were a lot of themed drinks like that being made. We got to see all of it.
They handed us the menu and it was all in French except for the drink titles. So, we ended up picking our drinks just based on the names.
Not a bad way to do it. If you’re there for the experience of it, I feel like you shouldn’t be that picky about the drink you get.
I’m pretty adventurous too. I’m always down to try something weird. I’ve had cocktails with squid ink in them before.
I’m sure, because it was a little busy, you didn’t feel the need to have a full conversation with the bartender about what you should have either. I had a similar experience recently. I was interested to know more about what the deal was behind the beverage program at this bar, but I didn’t feel like I should bring it up, because of the busy atmosphere.
Exactly. Also, I didn’t know how to speak French. I was definitely intimidated by these Parisians.
Did they realize you were American?
They definitely did, because my boyfriend and I were talking to each other in English. They talked to us in English and they weren’t rude or mean about it.
I can’t imagine they would be.
Definitely not. Honestly, everyone we talked to in Paris was very friendly. People say that Parisians are so rude. But, they were very nice to us.
So how were the drinks you got?
They were awesome. One drink I got was called Tiki Dick. It was almost like a strawberry Daiquiri, but not so sweet. It was a blended drink and came in, not a tiki glass, but those big tall glasses that are funnily-shaped. It had a funny straw too.
Did it come with an umbrella?
It did come with an umbrella. Yeah, so that was really good. It was really big too. It was a lot for the price.
I kept seeing them make the boat drink that I mentioned. I was like, “I’m going to try and guess which one that one is.” And I can’t remember the name of it, but I ended up ordering it. I lucked out and I totally guessed right! I was so excited about it and I got to keep the balloon.
My boyfriend got a French variation on an Old Fashioned. Everything at the bar was made with all-French ingredients actually. All French liqueurs.
They have a solid selection there, so I’m sure there was no problem.
He actually got the same drink twice, because he liked it so much.
So you just got drinks there?
Yeah, just drinks. I don’t think they have food. I think it’s just a cocktail bar.
When you build your reputation around one thing, it can be tough to spread yourself out.
I think it’s nice to focus on one thing and do it really well, which they really do.
Did you interact with anyone else there?
Not really. There were two other people sitting next to us at the bar. The bar was pretty small. There were four or five, maybe six seats there. There were mostly tables behind us. There were two European-style picnic tables. Those were still outside, because it was really nice out. So, people were still sitting outside.
If you had to pinpoint one thing you remember the most about the experience, what would it be?
I would say, for me, it was the creativity and the care that was put into the drinks. Even though they were super busy and they were going through things fairly quickly, you could tell that they were experts in what they do and that there was a lot of care taken in making sure the drinks going out were really good.
Have you had a similar experience elsewhere?
I’ve been to a lot of cocktail bars and other places that are known for really good cocktails, but they also did dinner too. This was the first pure cocktail bar that I went to, where this was their pure focus.
I feel like a concept like that is so difficult to pull off here, because people’s expectations are so different. Even in the cocktail-focused places, they offer something for food. At Drink, for example, they still offer snacks whenever you come in. Obviously, their pure focus is their drinks as well. It can be hard to force people to just come in to drink.
Now that you remind me of Drink, the only other place that I’ve experienced something like that is a place in San Francisco that’s really similar to Drink. It’s a bar within a bar.
The bar is called Odd Job and the bar inside is called SRO. It’s a similar concept to Drink. They only have one bartender. (His name is Joe.) You tell him what you want, anything from an emotion to a flavor profile and he’ll just make you something fantastic. They only do drinks there too and it’s very one-on-one. A very intimate type of vibe. It’s a tiny place.
Those places are so rare. It must be challenging for people to commit to that one thing.
And focus on that one thing too. I think with most people’s attention spans, they want to do more than just one. So, it was nice to go to Le Syndicat and just enjoy that one aspect of it. You can tell that they really focus on it too. It shows.
If you go back, how do you think your experience would change?
If I were to go again, I would try to learn a little French and try and understand the ingredients more. What I would probably do is research French ingredients and what they use. I really enjoyed not knowing what I was going to get, but being able to really pinpoint something I would truly enjoy would be nice. Getting to talk to them more would be great too, so maybe going earlier in the day when it’s slower.
That’s always the ideal when you’re traveling, isn’t it? When you can find a time of the day where you can sit down and converse with people and get the full experience rather than just enjoy what’s in front of you.
Definitely. I do have one tidbit about being there that I didn’t mention earlier. The power went out while we were there. It was kind of funny. They had these little backup lights behind the bar and one in the corner by the bathroom. They felt really bad about it and gave everyone free shots of this French liqueur. They talked to everyone after to make sure everyone was okay.
That’s crazy. I’m sure they were freaking out, but I’m glad that it worked out well.
Yeah, we used the lights on our phones to help them make drinks. It was fun.
For more insight into the experiences of a guest, check out other entries in our The Guest Perspective series.