In the past, if you had heard of the Clown Bar at all, it was likely in the context of its wonderful Belle Epoque clown decor, which is so iconic that is often shows up in architecture books on cafes of Paris. The design pays homage to the Clown Bars history as a hangout for performers and audience members from the nearby Cirque d’Hiver, long home to Paris’ circus. Paris legend has it that Toulouse-Lautrec, among others, used to spend time bellied up to its zinc bar.
A few years ago, however, the team behind popular 2nd arrondissement restaurant a vin Saturne bought the Clown bar, washed away more than a century of tobacco stains from its hand-painted glass clown murals and re-purposed it as a bistro specializing in clean, thoughtful, modern French cooking. For those of you who might jump to the conclusion that “modern” is a pejorative term for me in the context of French cooking, let me assure you that, in this case, it is not. The food is simple and well prepared, the ideas and flavors direct and delicious, all while still subtly evoking traditional french bistro fare. In other words, modern in the best sense. The foie gras terrine smothered with shaved raw champignon de Paris and the beignets of sea snails with aioli were both perfect examples of the kitchen’s style: surprising updates on traditional dishes that seem both new and intuitive at the same time.
The wine list skews decidedly natural, at least that is what I have heard. When we were there, the young man running the dining room made lovely wine recommendations after discussing our menu choices with us, so I never had to look at a wine list. All his choices seemed well considered and showed a real affection for the rapport between simple food and simple country wines (which is code for nice wines that went will with the food and didn’t break the bank).
Lots has already been written about the young Japanese chef and French sommelier who are in charge, so I wont add to the œuvre. Suffice it so say that is is always a pleasure to find a new spot in Paris doing good food at a fair price.
The Clown Bar
Address: 114 Rue Amelot, 75011 Paris
Tel: 01 43 55 87 35
Reservations: Always a good idea in Paris, especially in a small space such as this.