Bar Les Frères was never supposed to be a restaurant. When Zoë Robinson opened the Paris-inspired bar on Wydown in Clayton in 2012, she really only envisioned it as a cozy waiting area for patrons itching to get into her popular Italian restaurant, I Fratellini, across the street. But the bid for a liquor license required food, and Robinson is not one to do food halfway.
“We didn’t mean to do a full menu, but people were having hors d’ouerves, and we thought, ‘Well, let’s do a full menu,” she says. “The kitchen is small, so we wanted to go with very classic dishes and just do them well.”
Robinson expanded the original bar into the neighboring space in 2013, adding a contrasting chartreuse to the walls in the new room. The combined 1,500-square-foot space gets its warmth both from the sunny hues and from classic marble and dark wood tables and fixtures, upholstered chairs and modern and classic art that evokes the intimate and welcoming parlor of a hospitable Parisian.
“I like people to think of it as a romantic space, but it’s also very lively and festive,” says Robinson. “It’s a nice mix of masculine and feminine with taxidermy, leather, skins and oil paintings. It’s all candlelit, so it’s nice and warm.”
Executive Chef Ny Vongsaly, who also helms the kitchens of I Fratellini and Robinson’s Bobo Noodle House on Skinker Boulevard, keeps Bar Les Frères’ menu rustic and traditional. Robinson swears customers would revolt if French comfort foods like lobster bisque, potato blinis, gruyere soufflé and Vongsaly’s bouillabaisse (brimming with lobster, scallops, monkfish, clams and mussels in a roasted tomato broth) ever dropped off the menu. Still, Vongsaly experiments when he can, offering his own handmade Toulouse Sausage and a rotation of desserts that includes variations on French classics: Pot de Crème au Café, chocolate Grand Marnier mousse, crème brûlée and the floating island, to name a few.