Sipping Handmade Cocktails at Candelaria in Paris
With its demure, boxy green storefront entrance, Paris' Candelaria goes almost unnoticed from the outside. Practically hidden but for small, almost transparent text drawn on the window and a neon pink sign spelling out the word "tacos," Candelaria appears to be hidden in plain sight.
It first presents itself as a small Mexican restaurant and kitchen with enough seating for about eight people and a small, but extremely curated menu offering various combinations of tacos, tostadas, guacamole and frijoles. The main bar, which is Candelaria's main draw, opens at 7 pm and guests regularly line the wall inside the kitchen, awaiting entrance. Once the clock hits 7, the bar is open, but in order to enter, one must first embark on a journey through the kitchen small white door, walk through a tunnel-like hallway before reaching the main room of the bar.
The cave-like atmosphere of Candelaria is one of a kind, complete with stone walls adorned with shorn woolen fur and metallic wall hangings decorating the walls. Its cocktail menu is fitting of the unique environment. It is made up of nine distinct and curious concoctions and augmented with an alcoholic punch, champagne and a small selection of both French and Mexican beer. Well-respected bar show organization Cocktails Spirits recently ranked Candelaria in its selection of Europe's Top 25 bars. Not only did Candelaria make the list, but it came in at number eight.
Each cocktail is hand-made to an impressive extent, much more than a shake or a stir. To watch one's drink being made, is to watch a laborious task on part of the bartender, their fingertips heavily involved in the creation of it contents and presentation, even down to the most smallest unexpected detail. The ingredients determine the glass, type of ice cubes and so on, with each available cocktail wholly individual, but with a common motif carried throughout.
Highlights include Tanlines which is a combination of mezcal, agave, blackberry, mint and bitters. It's rich in pigment and taste, served in a cocktail glass, smooth and expertly blended. Each easy sip carries a hint of smokiness thanks to the mezcal. The cocktail La Guèpe Verte comes courtesy of New York bartender Toby Cecchini. Its ingredients include tequila infused with pepper, cucumber, coriander, agave and citrus. Served in a tumbler with a straw, the drink contains a full slice of cucumber floating alongside herbs and standard square ice cubes and tastes light and with a sweetest that's not too potent, but will have its drinker coming back for more. Carnaval De Primavera incorporates celery, citrus and cachaça (the same liquor that's key to caipirinha cocktails) and is served in a lowball/tumbler glass over a bed of small circular ice chips and with a curl of intact celery laid atop. Despite a number of complimentary ingredients, the celery taste prevails for an airy, yet potent flavoring.
Also on offer is Le Jardin De Mémé. Its ingredients include Chartreuse verge, St. Germain, basil, absinthe, and egg whites that create a half-inch tall bed of froth for a basil leaf to rest upon when served. Mountain Man an exercise in bourbon, Italian wine Cocchi Americano and bitters. The improvements upon the whiskey are subtle, but inspired.
Candelaria has a tendency to swell to capacity shortly after opening each evening with all seating taken and others happy to stand. A jovial, friendly atmosphere prevails, in which one is likely to strike up conversation with a neighboring patron or group. English seems to be the primary language spoken as American accents noticeably abound. It's upon exit that one can catch a glimpse of the other side of Candelaria, its giant picturesque windows framing a bubbling social scene and its name displayed in large lettering fitting of its reputation.
Images by Nilina Mason-Campbell