L’Herbarium Bar Has a Nose for Good Cocktails
L’Herbarium bar in Paris is the latest venue to bring together cocktails and perfume. It’s the brainchild of Oscar Quagliarini, who serves as both head bartender and master perfumer.
Opened this summer in the lively district of the third arrondissement in Paris, L’Hôtel National des Arts et Métiers is the handiwork of its Italian head bartender Oscar Quagliarini. In this place called L’Herbarium, this cocktail artist has launched his concept dedicated to perfume. It’s a work that blends the world of taste and smell.
L’Herbarium begins with an Italian in Paris
In this dark bar hidden behind the canopy of the trendy new hotel, L’Hôtel National des Arts et Métiers, head bartender Oscar Quagliarini plays perfumer with ingredient displaying aromas of rose, vetiver, bergamot, or ambrette. It’s a passion that this creative bartender has developed around his craft, the art of cocktails, for several years. At the bar L’Herbarium bar, his work is finally completed. And the cocktail lovers of Paris come to smell and taste its recipes.
Quagliarini’s return to the Paris bar scene was eagerly awaited. Six years ago, at the beginning of the French cocktail revival, Quagliarini appeared with his Italian spirits and his spices at the Pizzeria Grazie, and quickly intrigued Parisians. “Before I came to the capital, I crossed the world and its bars in Africa, Mexico, and Singapore. When I arrived at Grazie, I discovered that the Parisian bars all had the same style from the Experimental Cocktail Club group. I differed from other bartenders with my Japanese shaker, my Italian spirits, and my tikis that did not exist in Paris yet,” says Quagliarini.
The beginning of a passion for perfume
First at Grazie, then El Gocce – an English-style bar in an Italian restaurant – Quagliarini began to research herbalism and perfume, creating experimental cocktails. Thanks to his friend Julien Cohen, he met the great family of perfumers, Annick and Camille Goutal who took him to Grasse.
In 2013, he returned to Italy where he released his first book L’universo di Oscar Q and worked on his own range of vermouth, called Q Vermouth. “I always enjoyed studying. I have at least 250 books around spirits, cocktails, perfume, and herbalism,” Quagliarini proudly announces. “I’ve seen other concepts surfing on this wave, like the Ritz Carlton in Berlin, where you order a cocktail based on the smell of a famous perfume. That was not what I was trying to do,” he explains.
The birth of L’Herbarium bar
As Quagliarini’s knowledge of perfume grew, his bar concept came into focus. He began to create a trilogy of recipe booklets called L’Herbarium, the first volume of which would be on the theme of plants and botany. A year ago, Julien Cohen reminded Quagliarini of Paris – the pair found the ideal spot for Quagliarini’s perfume concept: the bar of the luxury hotel, L’Hôtel National des Arts et Métiers.
Quagliarini immediately finished his first booklet of illustrated recipes with his friend Sergio Gerasi, featuring 19 cocktails (and available at the bar for €19). “Each cocktail corresponds to an edible fragrance with notes belonging to one of the categories of the olfactory pyramid.” Two other sections will follow shortly. One on perfumery with a dozen “noses” and their best known fragrances, recreated through a new cocktail collection and the last scheduled for 2018, around the history of the tea road with a dozen cocktails based plants, spices, and teas.
Ordering cocktails and testing perfumes at L’Herbarium
How to taste cocktails at L’Herbarium bar? That’s a game for adults! First, guests study the cocktail menu, presented in the form of mouillettes, or perfume test cards. Each card details the name of the cocktail, the ingredients, and the perfume: “Tokyo Spring,” “The Grain of Beauty” – there are no classics in view here. Then guests head towards the bar to discover the range of perfumes, loaded with 19 bottles. They spray the test card with the perfume of their choice, smell it, and if the scent appeals, order the drink.
This concept demanded a different way of thinking for Oscar Quagliarini. “The construction of a perfume and a cocktail is different. When I develop a recipe, I do not know how my brain works. Sometimes, I start with the name as for ‘Eufleurage of Florence,’ inspired by a technique on the acidity and flowers of Jasmin. Or I work on contrasts between the smell and the taste like the ‘Dirty Gibson,’ sweet in the nose and slightly salty in the mouth. But also on a continuation of the smell with flavors like the ‘Sparkling Rose Velvet,’ both floral and sweet,” he says.
The menu of L’Herbarium requires double work on the perfume and on the cocktail. “For perfume, I use the head inspired by the olfactory pyramid of perfumery with natural materials that I find in herbalism. The perfume must be very volatile, and remained a few seconds in the air to avoid this heady side. For the cocktail, I use ingredients related to perfumery: the bitter, rose, bergamot or orange blossom in the syrups and infusions, being careful with the dosage as this can be toxic.” The result for the drinker is a playful sensory experience with well-balanced scents and flavors.
New projects in the continuity of perfume
Thanks to the success of L’Herbarium bar – it is the buzz cocktail of the autumn – Quagliarini already has his sights set on new projects, one of which will see him work as a perfumer rather than a bartender, developing a perfume collection in connection with cocktail bars. A collaboration with a fragrance company in Grasse, “this line of perfumes will be destined to the staff of the bar. I created three products, one for speakeasy on leather, wood and tobacco notes, another for techno clubs on vanilla and vetiver flavors, and the last one for gin bars where I play with the essence of the spirits,” says Quagliarini. Wherever the connection between perfume and cocktails goes next, Oscar Quagliarini is determined to be there.
Foto: Photo via Jérôme Galland