The Parisian cocktail revolution continues unabated, with bars dedicated to imaginative mixed drinks emerging as the city’s new social foci. In addition to newcomers in once-seedy neighborhoods like Pigalle, members of the old guard have also benefitted from the craze, reemerging with fresh looks. The latest is La Belle Armée, a decadent jewel box in the 16th Arrondissement.
Despite having built an empire of high-profile establishments—Hôtel Costes, Café Marly, and Georges, to name a few—Gilbert Costes still felt like he’d left something behind. So he returned to a bistro he opened with his brother Jean-Louis back in the 1990s, and sought to restore it to its former glory. The bar, located in the shadow of the Arc de Triomphe, had seen its prestige diminish in recent years, but not beyond repair. Now, an overhaul by designer Charles Tassin has primed it for a comeback.
The Arc is often reduced to a mere synecdoche for Paris, but in Tassin’s mind, it takes on historical specificity. For him, it’s the “symbol of Napoleon-era power.” At La Belle Armée, references to that rich and troubled period abound, but they are subtle to the uninformed.
Paintings and soldiers’ uniforms on view at Paris’s Army Museum became Tassin’s primary source material, inspiring the militaristic motifs of La Belle Armée’s interiors. With an added dash of 1970s glamour, the main room’s aesthetic sidesteps the heavy themes of war in favor seductive walls and columns covered in blue-gray velvet, red coffered ceilings, and a gilded sheet-metal fireplace that functions as a sinuous centerpiece.
In an adjacent space sits a green-and-black lacquer bar, topped with colored glass. From behind the clean-lined counter, Gabriel Ouehen, former head bartender at one of the city’s top cocktail bars, Hôtel Particulier Montmartre, whips up house specials like the Asian Mule, which is a mix of lemongrass-infused vodka and yuzu liqueur, and the Coronashi, an imaginative mash-up of rum, soursop nectar, applewood, and Chinese pear, served with dry-ice fog emitting from its eyeball-shaped glass. The drinks are perfectly in sync with the current moment, but the space is a reminder that in Paris, the past is always present.