We’d been in Nice a couple of days before we took the right combination of turns in the pleasingly confusing old town and stumbled across Au Fût et à Mesure.
Discreet as it is, we noticed it because it wasn’t a bistro a cafe or a Bar Tabac, being less formal than the first, boozier than the second and smarter than the last. Then we noticed the beer list on display outside:
Lots of places in Nice call themselves ‘Cave à Bières’ because they have Guinness and Kronenbourg, but this looked like a really decent range, and competitively priced at that (€3.90 for 250ml — cheaper than basic lager in many places we’d found ourselves). But we scratched our heads over ‘Nos bieres pression en self’ — was it a clever way of referring to bottles, or did they genuinely have all of these on tap? There was, of course, only one way to find out.
What we found inside felt quite ‘un-French’ — pumping music, chrome and stripped wood, and a youthful clientèle knocking back beers without food.
Attempting to order La Chouffe at the bar with schoolgirl French and keen expressions, we triggered the charming bar manager’s apparently well-practiced English spiel: she couldn’t serve us that one at the bar because it was on one of the self-service taps — did we want to put some credit on a free card and then explore the bar? Yes, we did.
How it works, in short, is that you buy a card, charge it at the bar, and get given a glass. You then go to one of several table-mounted taps around the premises where, laying your card on the ‘F’ marked on the table to activate the tap and screen, you serve yourself. The screen shows how much you’ve poured in centilitres and how much that drink is costing you (like a petrol pump); and you can push the tap back at the end to give yourself a foamier head if you want. Between rounds, you wash your glass at the bar using those push down fountain sprayers. (How hygienic is this? We’re not 100 per cent sure.)
When we struggled with the tap, someone rushed over from the bar to help, like at the self-service checkout in a supermarket. It didn’t take long to get the hang of, though, and, before long, we were merrily ferreting out semi-hidden taps (Tripel Karmeliet was in the back room lounge; another was in boozers’ corner at the bar, by the door) and trying every beer on offer.
As we have mismatched drinking paces, self-serve was perfect for us — 210 ml for her, 280 for him — and there was none of the usual stress over trying to attract the attention of a too-cool waiter while sitting with empty glasses. Pint glasses were also available for those who wanted them.
There are a few downsides to this set up, however. First, not all of the beers were in great condition, one tasting quite lifeless and another verging on sour. Perhaps eight beers is too many in this market?
Secondly, though it was generally friendly, there were a couple of times when accessing a tap required us to interrupt an intense conversation — filling a glass while two people, mid-break-up or whatever, sit silently staring at you, is really rather awkward.
The range, too, though interesting by the standards of the region, was weighted towards strong, pale, Belgian beers. (France, on the whole, seems to have agreed that Belgium does posh beer so well it’s not worth competing.) Yes, easier going beers were available at the bar, but where’s the enjoyment in that?
And, finally, queuing at the bar, or waiting for a waiter, slows us down, but self-service allowed us to go just a bit quicker than we really ought to have done. If someone tried this in Britain, quite apart from the legalities, it would be presented in the press as an ‘All You Can Eat Binge Bar’, wouldn’t it?
On the whole, we found the experience great fun and will certainly seek out other branches when we find ourselves in France.
This is the first in a series of short ‘what we did on our holiday’ pieces — just the kind of thing that started us blogging nearly 2000 posts back, though we’ve shied away from it in recent years.