08 February 2016

save this bar: jéroboam, 75011

Pity the lonely aficionado. Imagine being possessed of knowledge and good taste, in a given subject, and yet being condemned, for want of similarly-inclined fellowship, to forever share one's passion with ciphers, suits, and passers-by.

If you have imagined this, it gives you a good foretaste of the potential tragedy of 11ème wine shop and wine bar Jéroboam. Owner Vincent Fiorani made his career in manufacture of children's toys. Until opening Jéroboam last year, he indulged his passion for wine as a partner in 17ème arrondissement wine shop Coureurs de Terroirs. When that association ran its course, he decided to launch himself full-time in wine.

Jéroboam is the result. The establishment counts among its assets an excellent, Marais-adjacent location; a vast, well-priced selection of less-than-obvious wines, including many natural wines and impressive back vintages; and simple, good-value boards of charcuterie, cheese, and cured fish. All of this is, unfortunately, delivered with the earnest marketing blather of a Wall Street English program.

Most disastrously, the bar presently takes reservations. Wine bars that take reservations are like parents who lead young children on leashes. It might be more manageable in the short term, but it looks pathetic and causes developmental issues. I visited on two evenings, encountering mostly empty room both times. I only stayed the second time, because on both occasions I was told that all the tables were reserved. The room never got anything resembling lively.

The staff seemed astonished that I preferred to stand. My friends and I ordered a plate of cured fish and a bottle of Saint-Roman by Meursault-based natural winemaker Renaud Boyer.

Boyer, from what I understand, worked with his uncle Thierry Guyot at the latter's biodynamic domaine in Saint Romain until splitting off to work on his own in the mid-2000's, retaining some of Guyot's vineyards. I don't know much more about his work for the moment, save for that he sells some fruit to Sarnin & Berrux, and he appears to have recently made a much-needed change in label aesthetic.

The wine itself, a mealy granny-smith and lemon-drop profile with a slightly hot finish, succeeded only by the standards of natural Burgundy. But the category of natural Burgundy direly needs more winemakers like Renaud Boyer, who do the sulfur-free thing without necessarily growing dreadlocks, abandoning the appellation system, and ransoming everything to credulous Danes. The Saint-Romain was well-priced, around 25€ as I remember. The wine selection overall is fairly priced, and later I learned that Fiorani offers a truly impressive reserve list to anyone seeking grander pleasures.

By Paris standards, it's actually quite astonishing.

Our fish plate took about as long to arrive as the wine did to ferment. We stood a few feet away from Jéroboam's minuscule kitchen space where an older lady assembled it with great care.

Everything was forgiven when it arrived, however. Components were of pristine quality, and at 15€, it was a better deal than many more popular wine bars' mundane cheese plates.

Later I was dismayed to learn in conversation with Fiorani that he's entertaining the idea of doing away with the fish plate, and all other shareable plates, in favor of hiring a chef to make composed dishes. He says he's driven to this by a clientele who arrive ten-strong and chat for hours while consuming only a cheese plate and a single bottle, splitting the check at the end. Most Paris business owners know this clientele: the mousey circles of former lycée buddies, too timid ever to have attained familiarity with the city's restaurant and bar culture, still too parsimonious to partake in it, yet intensely keen to present the public appearance of doing so. In Paris this clientele functions as sort of a roving Lame Squad, against whom a business-owner's only defense is to enforce, at what might otherwise have become pleasant casual establishments, threateningly expensive prix fixe menus.

Why should this business-breaking clientele descend in particular on Jéroboam?

Perhaps they are enticed by the eager decals on the bar's windows offering tasting courses and business entertainment. Perhaps they are lured in by the pale glow of the bar's monstrous Enomatic machines, which occupy space that could otherwise contain at least 8 standing diners. Maybe they were tempted by the bar's over-animated website, which confusingly is registered to "jeroboams" with an S.

Perhaps they sense, in their own astute way, that Jéroboam, in its current iteration, is a wine bar that never would never make them feel worried or uneasy about their own lack of sophistication. It is pitched at just about their level of cool. There's no excess demand to chase them away if they sit around for hours with no place else to be.

But, hell, this isn't patty-cake, it's the restaurant business. To succeed one has to target the clients willing to pay for the services one offers. As it stands, Jéroboam is improbably presenting one of the best wine-bar wine lists in Paris to plebs and weeners too fearful to raise their eyes from the bottom shelf.

I suggest everyone go and insist on consuming a bottle of excellent wine without a reservation, standing up. When finished with the bottle, pay, leave, and continue on with your evening. With any luck this style of wine par patronage will become a trend at Jéroboam, as it has in the rest of east Paris, not to mention NYC, London, SF, etc.

10, rue Saint Sébastien
75011 PARIS
Métro: Saint Sébastien
Tel: 09 84 05 94 75

Related Links:

Wine By One, 75001 - a terrible wine bar solely reliant on Enomatic machines

Until now all the "positive" press coverage of Jéroboam has, alas, been of the sort liable to drive away educated drinkers, i.e. those who spend money on wine.

Here are some of the true howlers:

"...le Jéroboam est le spot idéal pour un apéro digne de ce nom, avec son système de distributeur de vins au verre qui n'a pas fini de faire parler de lui..." says Time Out.

"En effet, le Jeroboam est l’un des seuls bar à vin de Paris à posséder THE machine à déguster les vins : l’Enomatics," says Apero du Jeudi.

"Jéroboam est donc le parfait lieu de rendez-vous pour tous les amoureux du vin, tout simplement, tout divinement," says Le Bon Bon

"Jéroboam est un chic bar à vins qui vous attend dans le 11ème arrondissement de Paris.," says Swig.

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