Never heard of empty shaker syndrome? It’s the mixologist’s version of writer’s block, and occurs when you’re seized by a desire to shake up an original cocktail but can’t decide where to begin. Fortunately, creativity is a muscle that can be strengthened. All you need is a regular dose of inspiration and a little bit of madness. Some tried-and-tested drinks will never go out of style, and you’ve got the Cosmopolitan, the Margarita, the White Lady down…. But sometimes, you’re in the mood to take a creative detour from the classics. Hot Cointreau Cider or a lavender and cacao concoction, anyone? But how exactly does one go about expressing creativity via cocktail making? It just so happens we know a bartender who’s an expert in creating daring, imaginative drinks.
Meet Aurelie Panhelleux
Somewhere by Paris’s Porte Saint-Martin, in the bustling and multicultural 10th arrondissement, Aurélie Panhelleux invited us into her airy, Mediterranean drinking spot to share a few of her tips for making creative cocktails.
The latest creation the CopperBay trio brewed up? A transalpine twist on the Margarita. Their aptly named Margerita cocktail was inspired by an olive and caper-topped Neapolitan pizza, and includes Aurélie’s own sundried tomato-infused Cointreau. Creativity and cocktails are always a good mix.
In 2014, Aurélie Panhelleux and her two business partners, Julien Lopez and Elfi Fabritius, dropped anchor in the heart of Paris’s thriving Porte Saint-Martin quarter. Halfway down the comparably peaceful Rue Bouchardon, the three of them opened a bar—or shall we say flagship—where creativity and conviviality would flourish. And they have. In under five years, CopperBay has become an essential stop on any Paris craft cocktail pilgrimage, and it’s easy to see why. The lighthearted, seaside ambiance, the inviting brass and wood interior, and a menu brimming with imagination have successfully wooed cocktail aficionados from all over, who stop by whenever they need a quick hit of sun, surf, or pastis.
“The line between ‘solid’ gastronomy and ‘liquid’ gastronomy is getting finer and finer.”
With a classic Margarita recipe as their starting point, Aurélie, Elfi, and Julien brainstorm, test, and taste until they find the perfect recipe for what will soon be baptized The Margerita. (Tip: It’s part of the bar’s secret menu, so to test it, you’ll have to ask.) It’s the perfect example of its makers’ mixo-gastronomic creativity. Powdered olives, caper liquid, and sundried tomato-infused Cointreau liqueur… Where does Madame Panhelleux get these ideas? From traveling, yes—but not just. For Aurélie Panhelleux, creativity is about exploring both foreign cultures and your inner self.
For Aurélie, meeting new people helps put her own life and work in perspective. Traveling alone, far from the spotlight of international bartending competitions (at which she’s a regular) and the joyful whirlwind that is her life, Panhelleux savors moments of introspection and restorative solitude.
Often, after closing time at CopperBay, she roams the surrounding streets, taking in the sounds and smells of restaurants; the colors and textures of old, decrepit buildings; and other sensory impressions that she’ll later turn into a moodboard at home. Her phone is full of images from fashion shows, screenshots of Pantone samples, and pieces of furniture she loves. “My camera roll is always full! I’m constantly capturing the movement of a certain fabric, an interesting color, the texture of wood…” These moments of solitary inspiration-sourcing are vital to her creative energy and help make her a better bartender. She’s also inspired by the work of her colleagues—in particular, Carina Soto Velàsquez of Quixotic Projects (the group behind Paris favorites like Candelaria, Le Mary Celeste, Hero, and more),and the team at London’s Mint Gun Club.
The team tends to shun overly complex recipes in favor of punchy, evocative flavors that pay tribute to their love of the profession. “If I want to put passion into what I do, I need my clients to understand what I’m doing.” She often takes the time to explain both her creative process and ingredient choices to customers. In fact, the bar is designed so that bar-goers can easily watch bartenders work—observe their movements, see the ingredients that go into their drinks. Unsurprisingly, Panhelleux’s communicative smile and nimble gestures have a way of winning over the crowds seated at the counter. “So,” she asks them, “what do we think of the Margerita?” Eyes close in pleasure or widen in delight, heads nod in approval, and the questions begin: “Amazing, how do you make it?”, “How on earth did you come up with this?!”, “I should be drinking this with pizza, right?”
Bartender, community maker, creator of liquid gastronomy: These are Aurélie Panhelleux’s three vocations, and we’ll happily hop onboard CopperBay’s ship at any time.