Words by Theodora Sutcliffe
For Sullivan Doh, co-owner of Paris’ Le Syndicat and La Commune, his inner child is never far from the surface. Which is why Le Petit Prince (The Little Prince), the classic children’s story by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, resonates so strongly – and why he chose 1944, the anniversary of Saint-Exupéry’s disappearance, to commemorate.
“They just found his plane 15 years ago,” says Doh. “He was taking photographs of the beaches for [D-Day]. He completed his photography and all of this, and then he was shot down by the Germans.”
The name of Doh’s cocktail, The Laughing Star, refers to a much-loved passage in the book. But the ingredients also reference the writer and aviator. Cognac, like the aristocratic Saint-Exupéry, is distinctively French and part of the nation’s elite. The almond milk relates to the book’s inspiration – when Saint-Exupéry crash-landed in the desert – as almond features in Moroccan and Arabic cuisine.
The round, gentle flavours of the drink with its subtle cherry reflect the sweetness and tenderness of the book it references, which remains important to Doh. “Everybody that knows me would agree that I’m a grown-up child,” he says. “I have this really childish mentality. I love to have fun, I don’t take things seriously, and the main things to remember from Le Petit Prince is him saying that adults forget to have fun and take everything too seriously.”
For someone who doesn’t take life too seriously, Doh has built an impressive empire. In 2016, Forbes highlighted him as one of its 30 Under 30 to watch for Europe for the influence he’s had on the Parisian cocktail scene; Le Syndicat is one of just three Parisian bars on the World’s 50 Best list, a cocktail bar serving only French ingredients, and La Commune, a punch-led bar, again serving only French ingredients.
The Francophile nature of Doh’s bars – Le Syndicat is taglined “Organisation de Défense de Spiritueux Français” (Organisation for the Defence of French Spirits) – was a forerunner of what’s now a distinct global trend, the locavore movement. “There is this kind of – I wouldn’t say nationalism but there is this kind of a worldwide interest in using and showcasing local ingredients,” Doh observes.
For all his patriotism, Doh, whose unusual first name originated because his parents liked it and whose surname is, like his father, from the West African country of Togo, always felt like travelling. “I spent like 19 years in the suburbs of Paris, moved to London then Sydney to come back to Paris in 2012 to take part in the opening of Sherry Butt,” he says.
Doh moved into bartending gradually, after abandoning an engineering degree in favour of catering studies. Doh started as a waiter, rapidly progressing to junior floor manager at London fine dining establishment Le Coq d’Argent. “I came back to Paris with a feeling that I always believed that I had a creative part of my mind: I loved waiting on people but I was missing creativity,” he says. He considered moving to the kitchen but decided on the bar. “Bartenders were doing the best because you do have a creativity aspect and you do have the customer exchange, so it was a perfect mix for me between creativity and hosting people.”
After a stint in a hotel bar, Doh worked at the hugely influential Experimental Cocktail Club, then Prescription Cocktail Club and Sherry Butt, before meeting his business partner Romain Le Mouëllic. “He’s young as well – he’s just two years older than me,” Doh says. “He could see that the industry of the bar was evolving and he was interested in it so that’s how he came to me and we started talking.”
Today, in between pursuing his passion for skydiving and enjoying his motorcycle, Doh is looking after his bars. “What I want to do is really popularise the cocktail and make affordable good cocktails with good products at a decent price for everyone,” he says. “That’s my dream goal.” Like Saint-Exupéry, he’s not afraid to shoot for the stars.
The Laughing Star
Glass: Nick & Nora
Garnish: Grated nutmeg
Method: Shaken, double strained and served up.
40ml cognac vs
15ml Peter Heering
30ml homemade almond milk (33%almond)
15ml simple syrup