Paris. I was here last year in the beginning of October, and it has the same lovely weather. The problem is that this time I’m not here as a tourist, I am stuck in a subterranean meeting room for most of the day.
Still a few evening hours left after the official proceedings, though, so I find my way to O’Neil, the one brewpub in town that does not belong to the Frog chain I tried last year but did not enjoy much. And don’t worry. O’Neil might sound as fake Oirish as they come, but there is no need to worry about that. Just don’t go for the no, nay, never singalong if that’s your thing.
It’s not only the beer that appeals; they also have the Alsatian specialty Flammekueche.
I get out of my taxi and find the place heaving, the pavement is spilling over with smokers, but I am lucky to be allocated a vacant seat at a bistro-style table. I order a blond beer and a Flammekueche (should be an umlaut in there, I suppose, but in Paris they use the French, not the German spelling.) This Alsace speciality looks similar to a pizza, but is more of a thin and crispy pie, often without cheese – the original has, I believe, no cheese but just some onions and some unsmoked bacon as a garnish.
This is splendid pub food – it arrives within a few minutes, so does my blond beer, a Czech style pilsener. It has a fine hoppy aroma, probably Saaz, and it tastes of bread, grain and dusty hops. Not a great pilsener, perhaps, but a very decent one. The pie is excellent, warm, crisp and fresh.
The English of the staff is not more than adequate, but it is more than compensated by the sheer charm.
The interior of O’Neil is fairly typical brewpub – brick, glass, black painted iron and gleaming copper. The lagering tanks are prominently displayed by the entrance, the brewing itself can be spotted though a semi opaque window next to my seat.
The clientele is mixed, lots of bright young things sharing pitchers of beer, more adult people enjoying the food as much as the brew. I am informed that Thursday night is the big party night for students, as they go home for the weekend on Friday afternoon. They tend to sleep through their lectures on Friday. O’Neil is quite close to the Sorbonne, which seems to be excellent for business.
I sample their other beers as well, a wit, an amber and a brown ale. The amber is the best. Au malt grillé, says the menu. Sure, there are lots of roasted malts here. Chewy, bready cereals. Fine use of hops, too, giving a pumpernickel type of sour dryness. Caramel and a little yeast on the tongue.
What I enjoy here is what you find in some of the best brewpubs. Even when the beers don’t aspire to any elevated status, you get an unpasteurized freshness that lifts the beers and leaves a grin on your face. It is like the Czech beers – best consumed when fresh. This freshness cannot be transferred to a bottle.