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Willi's Wine Bar

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Food guides have written about Willi’s Wine Bar for years and years. And rightly so. Willi’s Wine Bar is a “legend” in Paris. Mark “Willi” Williamson is one of the early founders of Paris’ bar à vins. Prior to L’ecluse (1978) and Willi’s Wine Bar (1980), wine bars were called comptoirs (counters), which specialized in wines, from a particular region only. Comptoirs served nibble foods like charcuterie and cheeses. Willi took the relationship of food and wine seriously, and started the trend of “bar à vins” as we know today. French people were even using the English term “wine bar” because it was trendy then to say “On dîne ce soir au wine bar”.

Willi also founded Juvéniles which he later sold to Tim Johnstone. He currently owns Macéo, a more up-scale restaurant a few doors down from Willi’s. All three wine bars have wine pairings with food. So, is Willi’s Wine Bar a restaurant or a wine bar? The line is now very blurred for many wine bars. They serve three course meals and have an extensive wine list. I suppose it depends largely on casualness of the service and of course, the ability to order any wine by the glass. In a wine bar, we should be able to try as many Côte de Rhônes as we like without breaking the bank.

As we walked in, I couldn’t help but smile. Willi’s is NON-smoking. Everyone was standing at the wooden bar (not the typical zinc bar top in Paris) sipping their wines and the chitter chatter was mainly English or Franglais. Looks like I’ve found the watering hole for the English in Paris.

As you may know, the French government has placed a smoking ban beginning January 1, 2007. And as you’ve probably guessed, French people are protesting. Tabacs (cigarette stores) and bars are demanding that they be exempt from this ban and are settling for a smoke-free bar after la rentrée in 2007. I got a glimpse of what a Parisian smoke-free bar would be like. I’m no longer gasping for air when I get to dessert. The other diners remained glued to their tables by the time we left at midnight. People seem to stay longer, chattier and drink more wine in smoke-free wine bars… The biggest plus is that we don’t smell like an ashtray after dinner. I read in the IHT this morning that Italy has gone smoke-free for two years… and apparently love to be smoke-free. If Italy can do it…

Willi’s Wine Bar feels like it’s been in Paris depuis toujours (since forever). There are so many retro art posters on the wall commemorating the bar’s many years of existence. I enjoyed the art posters and think it’s a nice touch, but I also found it over-bearing to be surrounded by so many Willi’s Wine Bar posters in a small space. It was on every page of the menu and wine list as well. Take a look at the menu.

My dinner came up to EUR55, which was an appetizer of quail meat with rocket salad and a nectarine vinaigrette, a tuna steak with grilled peppers and a slice of chocolate terrine (like a cake) and 2 glasses of Cabadès 2001 10cl (EUR7.90), 15cl (EUR11.50).

Willi’s Wine Bar
13 rue des Petits Champs
75001, Paris
Tel : 01 42 61 05 09
Metro : Palais Royale, Pyramids

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