Eat + Drink

This Paris Dive Bar is Bringing Serious Cocktails to a Neighborhood Better Known for Sex Shops

The team at Glass brings a twisted dive bar to nightlife in Paris. (Illustrations: Kemi Mai; Photos: Ella Riley-Adams)

The two neon signs glimmer teal and red in the early evening drizzle, causing the casual passer-by to do a double-take. “LOVE”? Isn’t that a bit of a euphemism? And “VIDEOS”? In 2015? The brick-and-mortar porn business must really be in trouble if it’s still relying on VHS.

Anyway, we’re not looking for love — not the kind that’s available here, at any rate— and we’re certainly not in the market for magnetic tape. We’re seeking a different kind of sexy/edgy combination, and we find it next door, through a door under a glowing pink sign that reads GLASS.

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Inside, candlelight reflects on the stained-glass floor as guests perch on wooden stools, sipping drinks with names like “Black Panties” and “Oliver Stoned.” At one table, a girl prepares to swallow her “Patti & Robert,” a boilermaker of Brooklyn Lager and Jim Beam.

Just as we remind ourselves that we’re in Paris — more specifically in Pigalle, on the Rue Frochot — a server emerges from what looks like a closet at the back of the room, carrying… hot dogs. These are not your average ball game dogs, though: they’re organic and over-sized, and served with pickles made by San Francisco-born “gypsy chef” operation Emperor Norton.

Welcome to Glass, a kind of twisted dive bar on a mission to bring great cocktails to an area better known for sex shops. The three founders are card-carrying members of the young, international generation reshaping the Paris nightlife scene. Josh Fontaine moved here from New York and worked at the first of the city’s new wave of upscale bars, Experimental Cocktail Club. There, he met Carina Soto Velasquez Tsou (a manager at the time) and her husband, Adam Tsou; the trio then collaborated on Candelaria, a taco spot in the Marais with a speakeasy in back.

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Bringing tortillas to the city of baguettes might sound like an act of hubris. But, says Fontaine, the team was actually driven by a humbler imperative: “We’re not French, and we wouldn’t presume to be able to do a French place better than a French person could. Our angle has been to identify things we think are missing in the market and bring those there.”

The team certainly filled a gap with Glass, which opened in September 2012. They cannily found an old bar which had office space above it (so no complaining neighbors), converted it, and started booking late-night DJs. While many Parisian joints close at 2 a.m. on weekends, Glass parties till 5, with DJs spinning everything from post-punk to mainstream hip-hop and dancers squeezed into every square inch of available space.

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When it first opened, Glass was a lonely beacon of cool among the the strip clubs and tawdry tape purveyors. But now, South Pigalle could host a high-quality club hop all its own. Displaced Los Angeleno Scotty Schuder opened tiki bar Dirty Dick (try saying it in a French accent) across the street, while New Orleans-inspired Lulu White is a few doors down. And the guys from Experimental are opening a hotel. Fontaine sees it all in a spirit of camaraderie rather than competition: “It just brings more traffic in general to the area,” he says.

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Not that his team’s ambitions are confined to this neighborhood: After opening Le Mary Celeste, an oyster bar in the Marais, the trio has now taken over three floors on Rue St. Denis for Hero, a restaurant with a menu centered on Korean fried chicken.

So in April, Parisians — and savvy visitors — will be able to celebrate spring with a cocktail-fueled Velib ride from Hero, to Mary Celeste, to Candelaria, saving Glass for last.

This story first appeared on Medium.com as part of Gone – a collection of smart, surprising and compulsively readable travel stories, launched in partnership with the Marriott portfolio of brands.