Herbarium – A Perfume Bar at Hôtel National des Arts et Métiers
Recently, I travelled home to celebrate the first school day of my niece in the Palatinate region. The trip from Berlin takes around five hours by train. Instead of going home I decided spontaneously to take the train to Paris. A three and a half hour train ride sounded more attractive to me and the idea of visiting some of my favourite bars sounded even better. Paris is always a good idea.
In August, many bars in Paris are on holiday. Fortunately, Bonhomie was open and I had a nice chat with the bartenders about some new openings. They told me about an interesting bar concept in the freshly-opened Hôtel National des Arts & Métiers located between Marais and Montorgueil. A classic facade, but inside an innovative design. I would describe it as industrial chic in an urban jungle. A huge patio and a lush garden welcome you at the hotel. On the right hand side you will find an Italian restaurant, on the left, the hotel reception, and straight ahead, the stylish hotel bar called Herbarium. A dark and intimate room with a sophisticated design and a nicely illuminated back bar. Herbarium: the name is already the program. A bar hidden behind a lush botanical garden serving sensorial drinks.
I was there with a friend, which is alway a good opportunity to taste some more drinks. We came very early, so we found our seats at my preferred place, the bar counter. One thing about being the first guests is that you can watch the bartenders doing their preparation. I quickly scanned the back bar and was surprised by the very well appointed selection of spirits. You will find, for example, Compass Box Whiskies, Clairin and many mezcals.
What really caught my eye was a massive wooden rack on the bar counter where an assortment of pharmacist’s bottles had been lined up. There were two of them but more on this later. First, about the concept.
Herbarium is a bar where taste and smell are so inextricably linked that they enable the synaesthesia of both senses: A Perfume Bar
The personality or heart note behind it is none other than the renowned mixologist Oscar Quagliarini. I had already noticed a tall man at the corner of the bar counter and I had also noticed his sharp nose. I did not mean to offend him with this remark but I realised when we talked to each other, that he was wearing a necklace with a silver copy of his nose as a pendant. His nose plays a key role, together with his love of fragrances, spices and flowers.
Let me come back to the pharmacist’s bottles on the bar counter. They are part of the menu. After Oscar explained the idea behind this place, I expected an extensive menu like a heavy book. Instead, he handed me a small range of perfume test cards, small and handy. Each card lists the name of the drink, the ingredients and the price. If you have no idea about the taste, the lined up bottles come into play. Just as in a perfume shop, you spray the scent of your selected drink on a tester card and decide. Simple and very interactive. Your nose decides your cocktail.
Vetiver is one of my favourite scents in perfumes. It has something earthy, slightly musty but also an exotic sweetness. This is what I told Oscar and he recommended Le Grain de Beauté, which means beauty spot in English. I opted for the gin based version with sweet woodruff lime cordial, lime juice, ginger liqueur foam and some chocolate bitters. The drink comes shaken and strained into a Spiegelau double Martini glass, garnished with dried lime and two drops of the bitters. Oscar created the heart of the drink by blending vetiver and vanilla. What a wonderful well-balanced concoction and what a peaceful atmosphere to enjoy the drinks. The Negroni version of a perfume drink is made with Beefeater gin, Q bitter bianco, Q white vermouth. Aged in a 15l glass jar with cloth tea bag filled with jasmine flowers. I would highly recommend ordering this drink named Enfleurage de Florence. I am a big fan of liquorice. So, I couldn’t resist taking the Fût de Réglisse. It isn’t a barrel full of liquorice as the name translated into English might suggest, but it is bourbon based with sugar, lemon juice, orange flower water, liquorice velvet and some drops of Modena balsamic vinegar. Delicious!
Oscar Quagliarini has passion and his knowledge seems infinite. Is he a mixologist or a perfumer? He is both, and with this new bar concept he blends the world of taste and smell together.
The interaction between guest and bartender is an important part of this experience. Ask for the little menu pocket book “Herbarium Volume one” if you want to know more details. Everything is listed: the nineteen cocktails with their recipes, more information about plants examined from both a herbalist’s and a perfumer’s point of view. After volume one, there will definitely be numbers two and three to follow in this and next year.
Now, Oscar is more into perfumery than bartending. In the future he is planning to seduce our senses with his own perfume collection. Perfumes for bars of course! I’ m really curious about that. Thank you for this sensuous adventure.