The rentrée (post-summer season) is upon us, bringing cooler weather, crippling strikes, and a host of new openings. One that will surely generate a lot of buzz is the wine bar at Spring.
When chef Daniel Rose began to renovate a former skate shop on the rue Bailleul, he discovered a wealth of subterranean possibilities. His construction team unearthed not one but two sixteenth century cellars, complete with crumbling stone arches and stairs. This gift of historically classified atmosphere came with plenty of red strings attached. The renovation of Rose’s restaurant was delayed by more than a year.
That restaurant opened on July 14 (see reviews via Paris by Mouth) but work below ground continued throughout the summer. Finally (and very quietly), Spring Wine Bar opened in the basement last Friday night.
The vision for this wine bar has changed a lot over time. Never one to be short on ideas, Rose has promised everything from a late night Champagne bar with a separate entrance from the restaurant to a spot for gourmet hot dogs and Japanese whiskey. He settled on something that’s more familiar – a wine bar with food – but still very much needed in Paris today.
Those who can’t book a table at the restaurant upstairs or don’t want to shell out for the full €85 shebang can dip downstairs to share some wine, small plates, and a cozy informal experience. My friend and I sat on high stools at one of several long, communal tables. We ate and drank far more than necessary and left paying €60 per head.
That’s at least double what I usually spend at a wine bar, but I suppose that we ate and drank doubly well. To wit: a plate of “Pont Neuf aubergine” – slim logs of fried eggplant with a hint of tangy tonnato inside (€5), a plate of pommes dauphines – luscious puffs of whipped potato (€4), a plate of “pig bits Iberique” – Spanish chorizo and lomo with homemade pickles (€14), an elegant pair of squash blossoms stuffed with shrimp (€12), and a fig-spattered cheese board (we chose Langres, Cantal fermier, Cosne, and Roquefort) for €14. Bread came from a crusty Julien loaf (the same that is served in the restaurant upstairs). Among the 8 glasses of wine that we somehow managed to put away, six were priced at €6 and two were €12.
I can think of a dozen joints where I could drink for less, but Spring Wine Bar brings a few things that these other spots can’t match. For one, there is seating, something that I rarely find at Le Garde Robe or L’Avant Comptoir. For another, the food is unexpected, a nice change from basic cheese and charcuterie. The two servers, Fabien and Sofian, are both knowledgeable and kind. There’s also the historical charm of the cellar, the crumbling stones still visible beneath the new glass stairs.
Price-wise, this isn’t the sort of wine bar that provides a cheap alternative to dinner. Barring the development of some personal restraint (say, 2 glasses instead of 4?), I can’t afford to make this place a habit. Still, I’m glad that Spring Wine Bar is here and I’m sure I’ll be back to discover new bottles with some wine friends very soon.
Update May 2011: Spring is now seating guests for the full tasting menu downstairs and I’m told that it’s no longer possible, or at least dependable, to be able to walk in and nibble small plates.
Spring Wine Bar
6 rue Bailleul, 75001 (downstairs)
Closed Sunday & Monday