14 February 2012

n.d.p. in burgundy: bar du square, beaune

Visits to picturesque winemaking regions often give rise to certain bland repetitive fantasies of actually living in said regions. In my case these visions usually dissipate in the duration of a train ride back to Paris. At this stage in life I can admit to being unable to sustain myself without certain urban comforts, such as bars, anonymity, girls, etc. Any attempt to pretend otherwise and embrace small-town life would invariably end in pitchforks and torches and hitchhiking back.

If I still entertain ideas about residing in Beaune someday, it's largely due to a very memorable nightcap my friend J and I shared with winemaker Axelle Machard de Gramont and her friend E at Bar du Square, an unassuming bar du coin that early last year came under the proprietorship of the lively and well-connected Romain Escoffier, son of the owners of nearby bistro-legend Ma Cuisine. Perhaps semi-inadvertently, he's created the most sophisticated bar concept I've ever encountered, an establishment that would be the toast of Paris or New York or London, were wine supply channels ever to change to allow its successful replication in those cities. 

The concept is simple: a killer, bargain-filled Burgundy list, without a restaurant attached. Instead, there's an electric guitar lashed to the bar taps, and the Kinks on the stereo. 

In Silver Lake, CA, where I used to live, there's a trashy bar called the Cha Cha Lounge, a bacchanal of flannel and cheap bear and attempted beards, where a friend and I were once ejected for having the temerity to point out that we'd been waiting twenty minutes for drinks, and the bartender was still air-guitaring. Bar du Square manages to capture the joyous rock'n'roll spirit of the Cha Cha Lounge, random straw hats and all, without, thankfully, the moronic service.

On a Tuesday night, pushing midnight, there were no less than three generations of locals enjoying the atmosphere. I'm sure I looked ridiculous snapping photos and basically jumping up and down with excitement at seeing all my indie rock / Burgundy fantasies unexpectedly united.

Upon seeing the taps there passed among our group that habitual reactionary suggestion of the tired wine geek - 'Let's just get a round of beers?' - but thankfully it wasn't acted upon, on this occasion. (I'm all for drinking whatever speaks to one's needs at a given moment, but for some reason this cheap beer urge seems to rear its head among my friends precisely on those occasions when fantastic wines are available at great prices.) We instead took a bottle of Domaine Thierry & Pascale Matrot's 2008 Monthélie, a wine from which we'd expected no more than keenness / brightness, something light to end the night with.

To our delight, it was showing remarkably well, all luminescent red cherry, savoury stem, and ferrous mineral. Upon much later consideration, J and I agreed it was among very few wines we tasted on that trip that were in an enjoyably drinkable stage of maturation. To describe the wine in terms of the evening's uninterrupted musical accompaniment, you could say we had expected the quick pleasant riffage of "Long Tall Sally," and got Something Else instead.*

Thierry & Pascale Matrot are a relatively large, third-generation Meursault-based estate, with 19ha of vineyard holdings spanning five villages. I haven't tasted their wines widely enough to form much of an opinion, but 2009 interview with Thierry Matrot presently up at the Bergman'sBourgogne blog expresses very encouraging, at least quasi-natural attitudes to winemaking. (Matrot points out that oenology, as a science, is barely fifty years old, and yet the reputation of Burgundy was established far further back, at a time when there was no perceived conflict between natural and conventional methods, there being only some version of the former in existence.) Their Monthélie derives from 55 year old vines, undergoes natural fermentation, and sees 11 months in oak, just 10-20% new.

J and I had a fairly high-profile appointment at the crack of dawn the next morning. But a hallmark of great bars is how nights passed inside them tend to slip their leashes... We installed ourselves outside at some deckware on the tiny square, and soon had struck up conversation with some other patrons Axelle knew, who brought their own bottles to the table.

Around the time Escoffier closed the deck, inviting us inside for another round afterhours, I gave up entirely the task of remembering the names we were drinking.

Escoffier gave us a tour of the bar's gem-laden cave, after which we posted at the bar for an unreasonably long time. Each time we attempted to leave, some newly proffered bottle from the bar fridge - a gulp of Pommard, a last splash of Morey-St.-Denis - tempted us to stay. We wound up watching early 90's music videos on YouTube on a projector screen until far too early in the morning.

To do a similarly random tour of Burgundy's great appellations in almost any other non-professional environment would cost something approaching college tuition. And it's not hard to imagine the experience being somehow blighted by its own expectations: there would be too much glassware, or there would be a sommelier hanging around, or someone would be presenting a portfolio in your ear... A place like Bar du Square, thanks to Romain Escoffier's generosity and inspiration, does something quietly revolutionary - it restores a sense of spontaneity and joyous insouciance to the world's most sanctified wines.

It's just a shame J and I were subsequently cripplingly hung-over for the rest of our time in Burgundy, a condition which prevented returning to Bar du Square. It is otherwise a place I could imagine spending a great deal of time.

* To be precise, a single contemporaneous with that album.

Bar du Square
26 Boulevard Maréchal Foch

A brief note on Bar du Square @ Divine-Comédie

A review of Domaine Matrot's 2007 Bougogne Blanc @ BrooklynGuy
A typically comprehensive and thoughtful interview with Thierry Matrot @ Bergman'sBourgogne


  1. I was just in Beaune a couple of weekends ago with a friend and we struggled to find a nice bar to have some wine after dinner on Saturday night. Am so bummed I missed this place!! Will make note of it for next time.

  2. Greatest Wine bar in beaune!

  3. Was there about 3 weeks ago. Both Romains are really cool guys. We returned 2 nights in a row. What a cool place.

  4. glad you liked ! can't wait to get down there again myself