Running in parallel to Lyon’s coffee renaissance is a robust cocktail movement. France is traditionally a land of wine and Belgian beers (there’s nothing quite like a platter of meat and cheese with some sliced bread and French red to start an evening off right), but the last few years have seen an apparent uptick of interest in the art of the cocktail and microbrewery. I tend to be a bit particular about my liquor-based drinks, probably because I was spoiled by the scene in New York City (and rightly so, since cocktails there cost upwards of 18 bucks a pop and nobody wants to fork over that kind of cash for a disappointing treat), and until recently have been consistently disappointed by Lyon’s offerings in this category. But a rash of cocktail bar openings has given me new hope for this aspect of Lyonnais nightlife. Here are a few of my favorite spots, each with its own very distinct atmosphere (and, I must say, with utmost respect, bartenders who aren’t so hard on the eyes):
Of all the Lyonnais cocktail bars I’ve visited, Soda Bar has my favorite social ambiance. It gets crowded and bustling, but I’ve never seen it truly packed, and the varied seating areas provide rare opportunities for between-strangers interaction (no small thing where French nightlife is concerned). Its menu is creative: half the fun is seeing what your order actually looks like when it’s delivered to your table. Drinks tend to be sweet but strong, and if you really want a kick in the head you can order a Zombie (all of the alcohol mixed in a tall glass, basically) or something they’ve lit on fire. Drink suggestion: The Porn Star 2.0, a smooth fruity vodka-based cocktail served with a shot of champagne on the side.
This is the perfect place for a first date– it walks the line between cute-casual and nice-fancy, so you don’t feel out of place no matter what you wear. Lovely and quirky is the best way to describe the decor– the place feels like a cosy old saloon stitched to a sleek city bar. The huge menu offers delicious drinks for all tastes, from tangy cocktail to refined exotic whisky. To start a night (or day) out with friends, this place also does apéro, lunch, and brunch. Drink suggestion: either go for one of the berry-heavy concoctions or sample something from their extensive list of distinguished stiff drinks.
Black Forest Society
The theme here is Bavaria: the bartenders are clad in lederhosen and the decor includes framed snapshots of mullet-afflicted German soccer coaches and bizarre children’s toys. Until recently, a massive image of Angela Merkel graced the door of the ladies’ room, which gave me the opportunity to say “I’m going to go see Angela” at least once a visit. The cocktails tend to be strong, copious, and so very pretty, and the shortlist of German-themed munchies is tasty. Drink suggestion: Black Forest Old Fashioned, which is a heavily boozy dessert in a glass. If you’re not a sweet-drink person, they have several other whisky-based drinks that are a bit more no-nonsense.
Redwood is a beautiful space, its gleaming surfaces lit by soft mood lighting. Rum is the specialty here, but there’s plenty else on the menu if that’s not your thing. Most of the drinks hover around a relatively reasonable 10 euros and consist of smart, somewhat counter-intuitive flavor combinations put together by skilled, precise bartending that’s a show worth watching. Drink suggestion: try something that sounds a little too weird– you’ll be pleasantly surprised. Note: excellent second-date spot.
Moonshine seems to get less traffic than the others, and I have no idea why. This happens to be the perfect spot for nights out with larger groups of friends, or for impromptu late-night afterparties, or simply for a solid guarantee of a nice time. They’ve got a can’t-go-wrong menu (unless you’re completely averse to sweet drinks, in which case there will be fewer options for you). Everything is perfectly mixed and the only negative is the agony of choice. Drink suggestion: Singapore Sling.
Go to Mumbai Café for the food and stay for the cocktails. This place is run by a welcoming bunch of guys gifted in the culinary/libationary arts. Make sure to arrive early to snag one of the few coveted tables (no reservations on weekends), or stop by any time if you just want a beautiful, delicious cocktail or sake. Share a thali platter, which comes with bowls full of enough of the night’s specialties (curries, meatballs, purées, grilled or pickled veggies, seasoned fried mashes, yogurt sauce) to feed at least two extra people. Drink suggestion: one of the cocktails featuring whisky or sake. For dessert, go for the Coconut Dream (basically a strong piña colada).
Already tried those ones? Here are a few more I think are worth a visit: L’Antiquaire, Le Florian, and Bar du Passage (all three have a speakeasy vibe and a lush, luxurious ambiance). And if cocktails just aren’t your thing, check out a few of my wine and beer recommendations here.
Cocktail bar-hopping Lyon is definitely not the most cost-effective nightlife activity (for that, grab a 3-euro bottle of wine and head to the quais), but it’s a once-in-a-while luxury with a growing number of outlets. Don’t forget to meet the eyes of each of your companions in turn as you clink glasses (avoiding the crossing of any arms), say “santé,” then take that first sip without putting your glass down. French tradition dictates that neglecting to do so will result in seven years of bad sex. So, cheers!