Pub/Bar of the Month January 2011: O'Neil, Paris
There are myriad reasons for visiting Paris, but drinking beer is not one of them. For a start, this is a grossly over-priced city and beer does not escape lightly.
Expect to pay €6, €7 or even more for a half-litre, unless you stumble upon a ‘happy hour’ (which may last half a day) when you might just get away with a beer under the equivalent of £5 a pint.
The other reason not to place beer high on your list of Parisian attractions is the lack of variety. In a sea of Kronenbourg, Heineken and Leffe, it’s not easy to find a beer with real character.
Exceptions are Breton-style creperies, where perhaps an ale from Brittany such as Duchesse Anne or Lancelot may be on sale, and the small collection of Belgian-style bars, such as Au Trappiste (near Notre Dame), the long-established Académie de la Bière (near Montparnasse) and branches of Falstaff, where the ranges offer a choice of abbeys, Trappists, bières de garde, weizens and more (but at quite a cost).
There are brew pubs, too, most notably the Frog chain, which now has five outlets. These are British-style boozers with top-fermented beers brewed on the premises – but again beware of steep prices, and not just for the beer (a Coke in the original Frog & Rosbif, near the Pompidou Centre, will set you back €5).
This month’s Pub/Bar of the Month would perhaps not stand out against a more vibrant beer backdrop, but in Paris it’s well worth a visit. It goes by the name of O’Neil, which, I’m sure, deters many beer buffs fearing another branch of the fake Irish pub chain.
There’s no connection, as you’ll quickly realise once you cross the threshold and admire the polished brewing vessels to your left.
First in France
‘The first place in France to brew unpasteurised, top-fermented beers in house from pure malt’ is the rough translation of the proud boast that tops each newspaper-style menu, and that should say enough to convince anyone still in doubt as to its credentials.
The pub itself is long and narrow, with a serving counter along the right side and a raised seating area at the rear, above the fermentation room, which can just be glimpsed through frosted glass. The antiquity of the building is obvious in the heavy beams and stone walls, with red ceilings adding a modern brightness.
O’Neil – part of the 3 Brasseurs group – is as much a restaurant as a pub and the menu specialises in flammekueches, a kind of paper-thin pizza topped with anything from onions and lardons to chorizo, goat’s cheese and mushrooms. They’re extremely tasty and not too stodgy, which ensures room for more of the very good beer.
There are four varieties of ale on offer and all have a distinctive, earthy yeast note. That’s not a quality I particularly savour in a brew, but here it’s part of the house character and slots in harmoniously with the other attributes of the beer.
It works best in the Ambrée, which is crisp and spicy with a hint of liquorice. It reminded me of Jenlain. The Blonde is enjoyably fruity, the Blanche bounces with fragrant citrus notes, and the final beer, the Brune, is a bittersweet creation with pleasant flavours of liquorice and toffee.
All taste wonderfully fresh and are complex enough to entertain you for a few hours, with carry kegs available should you be tempted to bring some home.
As elsewhere, O’Neil is not cheap, but at least there’s better value here (well, until the evening when prices go up). You’ll find it in a sidestreet between the Boulevard St Germain, with its upmarket cafés once haunted by the great philosophers, and the mighty church of Saint-Sulpice, now a magnet for fans of The Da Vinci Code.
20 rue des Canettes, 75006 Paris
Tel. (01) 46 33 36 66
Opening Hours: 12 noon–2am