Christopher Louis Salvador has the daunting task of pairing Old World-inspired cocktails to New World palates. Salvador, who is the son of a French immigrant and a frequent world traveler, is keenly qualified for the task. On a recent visit, the sommelier was preparing Parisien silverware and white linen tables for the late afternoon guests of Paris 7th, the posh two-year-old French fine-dining spot located just north of the Cultural District.
The opening of Paris 7th (which is owned by Saint-Emilion founder/chef Bernard Tronche) gave Salvador the opportunity to expand his cocktail offerings. The venerable Saint-Emilion simply lacked space for a proper bar area, he said. As we chatted in the lounge area near the main entrance, Salvador pointed toward nearby bottles of cognac, absinthe, Mirabelle liqueur, and other spirits that he has painstakingly compiled for the guests of Paris 7th.
“When Americans think of France, cocktails aren’t something they typically think about,” he said. “That’s a misconception. Right now, Aperol Spritz, negronis, rosé spritz, and [absinthe-based cocktails] are popular in France.”
Paris 7th is known for its authentic Parisian fare, and Salvador is tasked with bringing much of that French sensibility to the restaurant’s cocktail menu. French food and wine are still the main draws at Paris 7th, but a growing number of regulars and visitors are ordering classic French cocktails like the French Gimlet, French 75, Sazerac, and Sidecar.
Now in his mid-30s, Salvador has reached his 10th year in the service industry. Financial success in his early 20s left him feeling empty, he said, so at age 24 he quit his job working for United States Customs Service and started working for his father at Caillou’s in Dallas. He never planned on following his father into the restaurant business, but he soon realized that he loved the work.
“I was able to interact with people,” he said. “Whether it’s through wine, libations, or food, I get enjoyment from seeing people enjoy what I’ve put work into.”
Salvador’s encyclopedic knowledge of cocktail recipes and the history behind them places him somewhere between cocktail maven and savant. Salvador said he is self-taught. His late-night readings include poring over centuries-old newspaper clippings for clues about cocktails that were made in the United States, Europe, and elsewhere over the years. Sometimes those descriptions lack details (like specific ingredients) that Salvador then has to fill in using his knowledge of the spices and spirits that would have been readily available in the area at the time. It’s a complex process that allows Salvador to take customers to other times and places.
“There are a thousand bottles of wine,” he said, explaining the reasoning behind his research. “They are all fabulous. The difference is their story.”
I’ve experienced Salvador’s service and impassioned descriptions of early 20th-century French cocktails firsthand. He’s just as ready to whip up an obscure mixed drink as he is to offer a more refined take on mainstream favorites like Manhattans and Martinis. If customers do request an ostensibly American cocktail, he tries to imbue the drink with European characteristics. He may replace the bourbon with cognac, for example. He’s currently developing a French-inspired Bloody Mary that uses niçoise olives, white anchovies, provincial tomatoes, peppercorn, and other traditional French ingredients.
As fall is belatedly felt across North Texas, Salvador is revamping his cocktail menu. Visitors to Paris 7th can expect “heavier drinks that give warmth and spice,” Salvador said. When it’s cold, you want something a little heartier. The drinks will focus on bourbons, cognac, Scotch, and rum while having spices that “clear the nose.”
As we were wrapping up our chat, Salvador disappeared behind the kitchen doors to offer a “surprise.” He returned with a tumbler that held a ball of ice and burnt-orange garnish. He handed me one of his favorite creations, Chris’ 120-day-barrel-aged Manhattan. The sensory blend of citrus and warm, spiced bourbon left me contemplating the nuances of what I was sipping.
“I try to make [cocktails] that leave a lingering question,” he said. “You take a sip, put it down, and ask yourself, ‘What is that?’ It’s thought-provoking.”
Crafting cocktails is just one of several important roles Salvador performs at Paris 7th. Fort Worth is still a margarita/vodka/whiskey and Coke kind of town, but the city’s rapid growth is creating space for patrons to seek out refined and nuanced mixed drinks. Food and wine may always be the main draw at Paris 7th, but Salvador’s efforts are creating space for new topics of conversations over those white linen tables.
“My cocktails are an accent and not the focus,” he said, referring to Paris 7th’s dining experience. “When I hear people say, ‘You have to try this [cocktail],’ and the conversation turns toward this or that drink — when a customer gets lost in that little glass — that’s fun.”