At Club RaYé, black and white stripes decorate both the street-level jazz piano-cum-cocktail bar and the private club in the 13th century basement of the building on Rue Dussoubs. This monochromatic masterpiece is finished with idiosyncratic touches: an antique lantern from Cocteau’s La Belle et la Bête burns in a corner, while silhouettes of famous figures from French history accompany private partygoers as they descend to Club Kafka, where a triptych illustration of The Metamorphosis hangs behind the whisky bar. Bar owner Kein chatted to Expatriates Magazine about his Parisian venture.
What made you keen to open a business in France?
I’ve always been the number one Francophile. When I was a kid my father bought my mother a Citroën sports car with three wheels; I was struck by this exoticism, so maybe that’s how it started. I remember coming home from nursery school with a ‘How to Speak French’ book but my parents weren’t having any of it. I still hate them for it!
What made you decide to open a bar?
I’d always had this dream to live in France. A friend who was exactly the same age as me died suddenly of a blood clot, so I immediately started looking for flats in Paris. I noticed that there was nowhere to go to chill, listen to music, and have a chat after a tiring day’s shopping, because the New York afternoon cocktail hour of 5 to 6 doesn’t exist in France. So I thought I’d open a bar and teach the Parisians how to do cocktail hour, and now by eight every table is filled. We have a wonderful English chef. Did you know all the best chefs come from England? He came up with the idea of black and white bow tie pasta, served on black and white striped plates, because black and white is delicious.
How did the idea for the decor come about?
My grandmother, a real Southern Belle, was a dressmaker, and when I was five I begged her to make me a black and white striped suit and matching hat. Black and white stripes have always been in my life, in every business I’ve had. For ten years I was a couture clothing designer, then I spent ten years doing product design. After about ten years, I felt it was time to move on. My friend said I’m the best person at reinventing myself. Black and white stripes have been the one constant thing in my life. I hate greyness: I like things to be black and white, in life as well as design.
Tell me more about Club RaYé’s cocktails. Is there a signature drink?
Our head bartender, Marco, is Sicilian. In New York you trip over good bartenders but in Paris they’re almost impossible to find. Then one day this guy comes in as if sent by God. Marco makes a lot of striped cocktails in an unbelievable range and combination of flavours, and comes up with his own creation everyday. He also designs ‘couture cocktails’ by asking customers which flavours they like. We callhim Maestro Marco because he brings all the flavours together like a symphony. So I’d say that our signature drink is that you can get whatever you want – and in black and white.
I have the best staff, a great, hard-working manager, and the most amazing waiters. The people working here love the bar as much as I do so we all want it to succeed. People are greeted with style; it’s our job to make you feel good, to find you the best table, to make you feel as if you’re listening to music and enjoying cocktails in your own living room. The decor is sophisticated because that’s the style I like, but the atmosphere is very relaxed: people come in jeans, t-shirts, tennis shoes.
What is your clientèle like?
We have an amazing mix of people, and that’s exactly what I wanted. We have everyone, of every race, any age, from street sweepers to couturiers. We hold private parties for fashion magazines and designers and had some booked for the Paris Fashion Week. I’d say about sixty percent of our clientèle is Parisian. And we have over sixty five-star reviews on TripAdvisor, and not a single negative review.
What is the future for Club Rayé?you see yourself opening other venues?
I’d like to put another bar in upstairs where my flat currently is; at the moment the stairs come up beneath my bed. It’d be more masculine and earthy, with a sipping-alcohol and cigar-bar. I’d then move to the floor above that, so I can stay close to the bar and check on the noise level. I spent a fortune on soundproofing the doors because I want to be a part of the neighbourhood, and we’re the quietest bar in the Montorgueil area. I’d also like to open a terrasse opposite the bar.