The Glory of the Kir Royale - OZY | A Modern Media Company

The Glory of the Kir Royale

The Glory of the Kir Royale

By Eugene S. Robinson

Bottoms up!


Because you are what you drink.

By Eugene S. Robinson

Going out to drink? Nice. In the same way that spending time with an escort might make more sense than sallying forth with an amateur. But if you’re not in the mood for the whole pro experience and are looking for something entirely different? Well, you might decamp to Marseille, a port city in southern France with all of the wildness that might imply.

“I have something special for you,” announces Philippe Petit (not the tightrope walker, but the genius musician whose processed acoustic, field recording and collaborative stuff kills [total disclosure: I’m one of Petit’s collaborators]). We’re in his fifth-floor apartment in Marseille, and he starts putting bottles out on an end table. “Now, sit down.”

Its bubbly, fruity, medium-strength charms and the fact that it’s a pretty perfect any-time-of-the-day drink makes it an apex drink for drinking a lot of.

Petit places the bottles in front of me with all of the care and pomp reserved for the most important of rituals. He’s got black currant and black raspberry liqueurs, crème de cassis, Champagne and Champagne glasses, and lemons. Nine parts Champage (about 3 ounces) to one part crème de cassis or black currant or black raspberry liqueur. The difference between Kir and Kir Royale? Kir swaps out the Champagne with white wine. 

Petit swirls the drink gently and then stands back. As aperitifs go, this would be a fine ramp-up to a dinner of some of the best Moroccan food not in Morocco, a Marseille specialty. Take a sip, and you realize there’s a strong possibility of your never getting to dinner. 

“Why the hell do you keep torturing me with all of these fruit drinks?” asks detractor Richard Sterling, a travel and food writer whom The New York Times once called the Indiana Jones of gastronomy. “A helluva waste of good Champagne. Of course, you could float a cheap Champagne on top of your cloyingly sweet blackberry liqueur. But life is too short for cheap Champagne.” Sterling’s take is one with a time and a place, but Petit’s Marseille couch in May was neither the time nor the place. Though many a wiseass posits the Kir Royale as the perfect drink for Mother’s Day, its bubbly, fruity, medium-strength charms and the fact that it’s a pretty perfect any-time-of-the-day drink makes it an apex drink for drinking a lot of, despite its obvious lack of Hemingway tough-guy appeal. 

“I like it because it doesn’t fight the alcohol,” Petit says, puffing on a Marlboro. “It works with it. Can you walk?” The right question asked at exactly the right time as I stand up and into a plan to walk to dinner. “Sure,” he says. “You can walk.” And he’s right — with a belly full of crème de cassis and Champagne, all three Kir Royales as ballast, I do. Twenty minutes later, at Restaurant Fémina, hands down the best place for Moroccan food in Marseille, the waiter asks the only question for which there is a perfect answer: “And what do you want to drink?”

The lightest of delights without a doubt: The Kir Royale, monsieur. 

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