Les Grands Verres in Paris: The Radically Sustainable New Bar from Carina Soto Velasquez
Les Grands Verres is the latest venue from Carina Soto Velasquez and her associates at Quixotic Projects. It’s a new bar and restaurant in the contemporary art museum, Le Palais de Tokyo. It’s a new and bold challenge for this bartender and businesswoman who confirms her creativity and her talent for mixology.
Paris, August, 7 pm. The team of Les Grands Verres receives the first customers of the evening. Carina Soto Velasquez, one of the founders of the venue, is present to ensure her new project runs smoothly. Who would have thought that this young woman who in 2004, at just 19 years old, came from Colombia to Paris, would become one of the most important figures in the world of French mixology?
The beginning of the cocktail adventure
A student in sociology, then in a catering management and marketing school, Carina Soto Velasquez combined jobs as waitress or bartender with an ambition to set up her own business. In 2007, a single meeting determined her career – it was with the three founders of a New York-style bar in Paris, the Experimental Cocktail Club (ECC). Despite her lack of experience, they choose her as their first bartender.
The opportunity introduced Carina to the new era of mixology. “Thanks to them, I learned all the Anglo-Saxon cocktail culture. I began to read all the books about this subject, discovered the work of personalities of this new American wave like Audrey Saunders or Julie Reiner. The rhythm was difficult because I was at school in the morning and in the bar until two o’clock every night,” she says. After a few months, the fearless Colombian took the plunge and stopped studying to become a full-time bartender. “I saw that there was real demand and the beginning of a cocktail explosion in the capital,” Carina says.
In the bourgeoning Parisian cocktail world, Carina quickly gained a reputation for her tenacity and rigor in a bar scene which was still very masculine. She also met two people who would go on influence her career: her future husband, Adam Tsou, a regular guest and a cooking student who gave her a taste for gastronomy, and the New Yorker Joshua Fontaine, who became a bartender at ECC.
Quixotic Projects: the company that changed the Parisian cocktail world
In 2010, the threesome decided to emancipate themselves: “I did not want to stay a bartender all my life. Cooking, service, and wine were also a passion and I saw that economically there were things to do around the cocktail. I also found Joshua’s intellectual and aesthetic universe very interesting for our association,” says Carina. Without delay, Carina, Adam and Joshua founded Quixotic Projects and, with their powerful and multicultural flair, they opened their first establishment in 2011. Candelaria is a taqueria and cocktail bar dedicated to Latin American spirits. In its first year, Candelaria ranked at number 45 in the list of the World’s 50 Best Bars, and just one year later, it was at number nine.
In 2012, their second venue, Glass, opened in Pigalle – the first cocktail bar in a street previously reserved for hostess bars, Rue Frochot. The new venue was more controversial than its predecessor: “People were expecting a second Candelaria, while we were trying to break away from the bars which take their concept too seriously. Glass does not take itself seriously. It’s a bar with no particular concept, just good cocktails, beers, hot dogs, music and parties at 5am With the development of Rue Frochot, this bar has become a benchmark in the industry,” says Carina.
But Quixotic Projects once again won the hearts of its customers with Le Mary Celeste in 2013. Based in Le Marais, this bar-restaurant looks like a hut, and was inspired by trips to Stockholm and New Orleans. It innovates by offering single oysters and fusion cuisine with small plates, while offering cocktails in an aperitif style. “Its success is also linked to the addition of a fourth person to our group, Carlos Madriz, who is very attached to the gastronomic culture. He’s indispensable to the philosophy of Le Mary Celeste! This is our most reproduced concept in Paris,” says Carina.
The projects of Carina and her associates don’t stop there, though. After a trip to Asia, the team decided to create Hero, its first restaurant riffing on Korean cuisine, decked out in an ultra-designer decor. “It is our first place with a strong brand image. We worked with a design and graphics agency. Of course, we have a cocktail program in line with Korean dishes such as soju and rice beer,” she says.
Les Grands Verres: the result of six years of successful work
In July, the most ambitious project of the group – Les Grands Verres – was realized at the Palais de Tokyo, Paris’s historic and contemporary art center in the 16th arrondissement. Les Grands Verres was long awaited in hospitality and bar circles, and putting it together began in January 2016. “We had two months before the closing of registration to find an impactful and amazing concept. We have surrounded ourselves with experienced people like Les Graphiquants for the visual identity and Lina Ghotmeh for the architecture. The positive answer came very quickly in September. We had the keys in January 2017 and everything was built very quickly in six months,” says Carina.
And we can congratulate them, because their sense of creativity had to meet the requirements of the museum, first with a very innovative offer of restoration and by echoing the architecture with the contemporary spirit of the building. “We knew the place, of course, but not its mind. We carefully read its website and took into account several key words in the phrase ‘the Palais de Tokyo is not a museum but an anti-museum.’ We thought that we wanted to be the rebels of something that did not exist by supporting our concept of eco-responsibility at every level,” she says. Les Grands Verres is certainly a striking example of a sustainable bar.
An avant-garde decor
Quixotic Projects has taken up the challenge with this place in three spaces designed around raw and reworked materials. At the entrance, the cafeteria called Readymade is arranged by a platform as if the bar was a show, but also with resistant and recycled components making up the chairs.
Separated by a simple curtain, the enormous restaurant Les Grands Verres is inspired by desert and mineral landscapes. The walls honor a raw spirit, adorned with a bold set of mirrors. More than 200 LED suspensions gently illuminate the room and multiple benches, giving customers a sense of intimacy. The masterpiece fits perfectly into the décor: an 18-meter long bar made from compacted earth – a stunning effect and a first in Paris. Finally, the restaurant ends with a private room with a breathtaking view of the Eiffel Tower. Magic
Innovative and sustainable cocktails
To create an unusual cocktail offer, Carina and her associates chose Hyacinthe Lescoët as the head bartender. “We worked well with Hyacinthe at Le Mary Céleste because he has real creativity. He immediately hooked on the project and wanted to create something different,” says Carina. And Lescoët proves his creativity by working with various imposed environmentally sustainable constraints: there are no bottles at the bar (except for wine). “The big distributors were not equipped for this format. We had to reduce our range to medium-sized but very high-quality houses that could answer our requirements, such as Maison Ferrand, Damiani, Cocci, or Domaine des Hautes-Glaces,” says Carina.
The bar works with only seasonal ingredients, so there are no traditional citrus fruits, but products such as verjus provide acidity instead. There’s also house-made ice with reusable ice cubes for different cocktails, edible garnishes like borage flowers grown in the venue’s vegetable garden, beside its beehive and a close collaboration with American chef Preston Miller from Boston to achieve a high color and flavor cuisine with local produces.
The popular smoked eggplant cocktail
In a further complication, the cocktail lists are different in the two spaces. “At Readymade, cocktails are accessible both at the taste and price level for the art student. No drink is made with a shaker, we make aperitif cocktails like sangria, spritzes, or long drinks,” explains Carina. For Les Grands Verres, cocktails are more complex: “We offer a menu of 10 cocktails on tap and from the shaker, more wine, cider, vermouth on tap and our own lager beer created with the Deck and Donohue brewery. Our best-selling cocktail is made with a smoked eggplant baked in a Josper oven. We mix the smoked eggplant juice with aquafaba, rum, and verjus. It’s the most bizarre cocktail on the menu and yet it works best,” she says.
Finally, for the terrace that’s not quite ready to open yet, Carina and the team are working on “a mobile bar animated with ten creations inspired by the cocktails of the 80-90’s years, very colorful and with funny names.” Whatever the future holds for them, we can be sure Carina and Quixotic Projects won’t stop surprising us.
Foto: Photo via Danielle Rubi