Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Willi's Wine Bar (Paris, France): Monument to a party animal

So you are over at the Louvre and you are done for the day. You have had your fill of watching Monica Lewinsky -- or whatever her name is -- and being battered about by camera-toting terrorists. You want to get off your feet. You want to sit back with a nice bottle of wine, have some great reprise conversation in a nice, funky atmosphere. Maybe if the place is nice enough, and the food looks good, you may even order some. And you shouldn't have to go too far to access this retreat. Boy have I got the place for you.

Yes. Willi's Wine Bar. Located at 15 rue des Petits-Champs in Paris' First Arrondissement.  But hey. I am getting ahead of myself. Lets rewind.

During the course of our time in Burgundy (Yeah I know. I haven't gotten to that as yet), Raj had set up lunch for the six of us at Willi's Wine Bar for 1:00 pm on Saturday. This meant that we had to roll out of bed at an ungodly hour in order to get to Paris from Beaune. Raj said he would swing by our hotel at 8:00 am so that we could caravan in but he is no Swiss timepiece so we bailed at 8:30.

I had gotten us to our hotels and returned the car by noon and, after a short coffee in the hotel lobby, we got into a taxi and headed for Willi's. The taxi driver wended his way south along George V and then turned east along the bank of the Seine, north into Place du Carrousel through the heart of the Louvre (my only brush with culture on this trip), and then continued northward until he hit rue des Petits-Champs where he made a left turn. He said we had arrived. I looked around and got out. Not an especially crowded area. Large wooden doors across the street (found out later that this was the doorway of the Cour Tue-Boeuf of the Bibliotheque National) and a blue-colored storefront with oval arches marking our destination.

We stepped through the Willi's entrance and ran up hard against a bar which took up most of the left side of the two halves of the establishment (From our viewpoint, the right side seemed to provide the bulk of the establishment's seating capacity.). At the furthest end of the bar from where we entered, a waitress-cum-bartender was wrapping silverware into napkins while looking at us with an expectant smile. After seeing that we intended to stay, she came over, introduced herself, and took our orders. Arabella (that is her name) is a cheeky, half-French/half-English lass who, during and after taking care of our order, gave us some of the backstory of the bar. The bar was opened in 1980 and is still going strong. It was named after a dog, a dog who is no longer with us. And a dog, so said Mark later on, who had been a "party animal" (I had not asked for further clarification of that characterization.).

We spent some time at the bar chatting with Arabella and sipping on Chablis and went to our table when Ron and Bev showed up. We were all on a high because this had been a massive trip. For Ron, especially so, because DRC courses through his veins. And he had swung the DRC visit.

A short while after we sat, a lanky Englishman came over and introduced himself. He was Mark Williamson, the owner of the establishment. He asked after Raj with a smile on his face so we told him about the caravan idea. He laughed and said that Raj would show up as soon as he began to open a bottle of wine. He was not too far off.

While waiting for Arabella bring over the bottle, we asked him about the bar and how long he had been in the business. He had apparently been in Paris for a while so I asked if he had been here during the Steven Spurrier days. Yes. He had worked with Steven for three years at the Caves de Madeleine. As a matter of fact he had just recently had dinner with Steven back in the UK. Prior to coming to France, he had worked in the kitchen at the Connaught in London (not too shabby a place to have on your resume)

By this time the wine had arrived and Mark proceeded to open it. And in walks Raj. They welcomed each other warmly and that is when I discovered that they are both partners in Evening Land Enterprises. According to Mark, he was on a beach somewhere in the Caribbean and, after a long day of drinking, someone had convinced him that he had to become a partner in the venture. 

The Chablis we had was not as finely honed as I like them but provided classic notes of lime, mineral, stone and chalk; albeit on a wider base. Lengthy finish.

Raj and Mark Williamson

Based on his experience with the menu, we had Raj do the ordering which comprised, for the most part, of a first course of salads and a main course of chicken. Raj also ordered a 2000 Cornas and a 1999 Côte Rotie to accompany the main course and mentioned that the bar has a phenomenal aged-Rhone list.

This was a lovely afternoon filled with great food and great conversation about the experiences and initiatives of both Raj and Mark. During the time we were there, the patronage had filled out nicely and included a number of families. The venue was perfect for a Saturday afternoon brunch but I will visit it the next time I am in Paris to see what the evening vibe is like.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme


  1. Awesome trip....we were just talking about Paris..great city...I think I ate lamb at every retaurant! lol... Keith so you did not partake in the DRC action?

    Marc Frontario

    1. Yes I did. Will be covering that over the next couple of weeks.

  2. Incredible! Absolutely incredible!
    You gave so much detail. I felt as if I were there too. I enjoyed it so much. Quite a surprise to hear about the Steven S connection. Glad you inquired. Great pictures too. Excellent post.