After Paris, the Lyon bar scene is the most exciting in France. Now, La Première Plantation, Lyon’s latest cocktail hotspot, is making a buzz before its opening this summer. MIXOLOGY was lucky enough to get a preview of the bar’s exotic concept and meet its owners, Gabriel Desvallees and Matthieu Henry, two rising stars of the French bar world.
In the 6th arrondissement, a neighborhood at the top of the town, better known for its champagne bars than cocktails bars, a fine pair of barmen are working, wearing hats and coveralls to put together the pieces of their new bar, named La Première Plantation. Under the burning sun of June, the bar is still under construction, but its soul is already present: friendly, exotic, and in the colors of rum.
The Young Guns Behind La Première Plantation
These two young founders, both 27 years old, are far from being novices in the dynamic Lyon market of cocktails. The creative Gabriel Desvallees, a native of the district of Haute-Savoie who did his bartending apprenticeship in the south-west of France, learned the new codes of mixology in London before moving to Lyon in 2012. The adventurous Matthieu Henry made his way in the bar world by moving between the south of France and Corsica, before receiving his formal bar training at Tain l’Hermitage, and discovering a strong interest in cocktails and spirits. His passion saw him end up at the famous Lyon nightclub, Docks 40, in 2013.
The path of these two cocktail talents crossed at the back bar of the Café Juliette in 2014, a chic brasserie renowned for its aperitif cocktails, in the festive and historic Brotteaux district of Lyon. Fast friendships can be created quickly around the shaker. A year later, Henry was hired by Le Comptoir de la Bourse, another famous Lyon cocktail bar, which was in the process of restructuring. With a new boss, and a new impetus, Desvallees joined him a few months later for this new adventure. The idea of a common project began slowly.
Inspiration from Berlin
In 2016, Henry was the French representative at Bacardi Legacy; Desvallees came with him to Berlin, where Henry was to highlight his cocktail “The Epicurean.” They discovered the Monkey Bar at the 25hours Hotel, looking out over the Zoo, which would be the starting point of their inspiration for the new bar.
Today, Desvallees and Henry have taken leave from Comptoir de la Bourse to devote themselves to their new bar baby for a year: La Première Plantation. The bar is a tribute to their common passion, rum, and a demonstration of their skills and prowess in a classical bar scene largely dominated by two personalities: Marc Bonneton, winner of Bacardi Legacy in 2011, and owner of L’Antiquaire and Redwood, and Arnaud Gosset, the musician barman, owner of Soda Bar, Monkey Club and Casa Jaguar.
Shaking Things Up In Lyon
“This year, the world of the bar in Lyon is being revitalised, especially in the 6th arrondissement, with Casa Jaguar and its mixed tequila and mezcal cocktails, and also Groom, a club with well-made mixed drinks based in the 1st arrondissement,” Desvallees and Henry explain. They say the decision to open their bar in Lyon was an easy one: “We both are in love with this city which has a huge potential and cocktail customers like in Paris. That’s why we decided to stay in Lyon and set up our first business.” But it hasn’t all been easy. They’ve had their fair share of hurdles so far, too: “We had to be tenacious to get the funding of our bar because we take the place of a hostess bar. A sulphurous reputation that must now be forgotten.” Such an unseemly beginning could be a sign of greater things to come – after all, the now successful Tiki bar Dirty Dick opened in an old brothel on rue Frochot, in the infamous Paris district of Pigalle.
La Première Plantation will be the second Lyon bar specializing in rum after Redwood. The bar is marked by the identity of these audacious owners but also by the new codes of the French bar today: entrepreneurship, creativity, freedom, audacity and aestheticism. The duo says, “the concept of La Première Plantation is based on rum specialty, mixing signature cocktails with other spirits such as gin and vodka.” And the menu will have some contemporary flourishes, too, “with original service rituals such as bottled cocktails and punch bowls.” As Desvallees and Henry put it, “the idea is to create experiences different from the cocktail bars in Paris and Lyon.”
A Sneak Preview of La Première Plantation
Just like good magicians, the two will of course not reveal all the secrets of their menu. They give only a few crisp details: there will be 16 cocktails, a focus on spices and plants, and a use of local products and seasonal fruit infusions. One of their cocktails, the “Rum Jungle District,” will feature Plantation Original Dark rum, coffee and banana. Now that’s a beverage with unusual flavors.
It’s still a bit difficult to imagine the décor of this “street bar” with immaculate walls, but the architectural plans show a creative combination. Like a highly exotic trip without the kitsch side of the tiki bar: a real indoor jungle mixing palm trees and hanging succulent plants will contrast with rough walls and exposed beams, giving an industrial feel. “Here, the jungle takes precedence over the city in a colonial spirit of the eighteenth century,” the pair explain. The design is being overseen by Desvallees’s father, an architect. All in all, it’s a totally new concept and atmosphere, which reflects the creativity of a new generation of bartenders operating outside the Parisian landscape.
La Première Plantation
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