Le Syndicat, the 100% French bar
Can you introduce yourself?
My name is Sullivan Doh. After having practiced my scales at the Ferrandi school (French school of Gastronomy) where I discovered the pleasures of taste and quality, I was Maître d’Hôtel for 3 years in fine restaurants and I spent some time behind the bar 5 years ago for the creative side of taste combined with the bar atmosphere of which I never tire.
At the same time, ‘L’Experimental’ started, the bar that has revived the art of the cocktail and also making them more accessible to everyone instead of just in the great bars in luxury hotels. After a time in Sydney, I came back to open the Sherry Butt that was voted best cocktail bar in 2013.
It was in 2013 that Romain Le Mouellic, my future partner, came to get me to open a cocktail bar. It was tempting but I think the concept was only going to work if we were able to make it stand out among the crowd of cocktail bars that had opened in Paris over the previous 10 years. In terms of cocktails, over 10 years, we did in Paris what the others had done in 30 years. Except they started 20 years before us.
What is the concept of your bar?
Our bar exclusively uses French products and thus puts the exceptional variety of spirits that abound in our country under the spotlight.
This concept was the keystone of our project, from the moment that Roman made his proposal and the moment that I started with him, ten months passed : the necessary time to find the idea. But once he had the idea, a second later we were underway !
Where is your bar?
At 51 rue du Faubourg Saint-Denis. In fact, you have to know the exact address as we didn’t want to stand out in this road, therefore we have left the front as we found it, that’s to say, boarded up with posters. So, as it happens, Le Syndicat has beome a speakeasy, a hidden bar, even if that was not our intention at the beginning.
What do people look for when they come?
They come to discover or rediscover French spirits with a rich history, that they don’t necessarily know. Though we reinterpret according to current drinking habits. It is not a trip back in time, more like a rediscovery of spirits that deserve to be known.
Our role is to educate. Our customers often struggle to believe that all of the spirits on our shelves are French. Before coming in, they couldn’t even imagine a tenth of what France produces in terms of spirits. We open their eyes. When they hear ‘Armagnac’ or ‘mirabelle’, they think of a gut twisting alcohol from their grandmother’s cellar. What they don’t know is that it is no stronger than vodka or tequilla and very often, it is better!
What are your reasons for choosing to do this ?
We want to revitalise the historical French products and reinvent them. We show that what others do with vodka or gin suits just as well these little known or former spirits. Who today makes cocktails with Rinquinquin or Pontiane? Nobody apart from us. That doesn’t stop us hoping that in ten years, all bars will offer these products.
We renew these products by preserving their identity; they are worth it. We are a cocktail bar and our speciality is mixology which is our approach, though what we are looking for above all is to make people discover the French eaux-de-vie either in cocktails or pure which gives me just as much pleasure. I didn’t know these products before but I have worked hard and today, they amaze me. We must keep this wealth in mind; today 98% of Cognac is exported and our name, Le Syndicat (Union), clearly indicates our philosophy; to defend this richness and with pride.
YOU AND L’ARMAGNAC
What is Armagnac for you?
Armagnac was a product that I knew, having already come across it in other bars or where I worked but it always escaped me a little as it is a difficult product to tame. My favourite product was more Cognac. Now that I have taken the time to look into it, I can’t get enough of it. I love its more rustic side, more outspoken, hands full of earth from the winemaker. It is different from Cognac and today by just smelling it, I can tell the difference between the two.
What is it to taste Armagnac in 2015 ?
Drinking Armagnac in 2015 is to engage in change. Certain people still have an old fashioned idea about Armagnac in their mind. I am fighting against this. The goal is that they come into our bar with this vision of Armagnac and leave with having changed their mind. As it is, when customers order a shot here, we serve them Armagnac. They are always bitten, curious, when they don’t know and they show interest straight away. Then I take them on a more sophisticated route with an Hors d’Age for example. Armagnac is a very delicate spirit that is so unique depending on the year and the producer. You can really feel the man behind it.
There were several producers at the beginning of our project that were excited and started with us. Whilst others were a little more reticent, struggling to see Armagnac other than a product for drinking on its own. Certain producers really want to give a new dynamic to this product and to their house.
Then there is the Bureau National Interprofessionnel de l’Armagnac and when they heard of us, they felt in synch with us and came up to Paris where we held a little tasting and now it is always a pleasure to work hand in hand with them.
Before saying goodbye, what is the next step for you ?
Romain my partner is a former HEC (Haute école de commerce) and former HECs never sleep! Therefore we don’t count on stopping there. No… more seriously, nothing has been clearly defined, though we want to make Le Syndicat a brand and from there, no matter what, as long as we stay faithful to our concept: only French products.