Willi’s Wine Bar, Mark Williamson, Paris, France, Wine Bar, Where to drink in Paris, Where to eat in Paris, Wine Bar Owner, Restaurateur, British, English, 1980, Anniversary, Recommendations, Best Wine Bars in Paris, Best Wine Stores in Paris


In October of 1980, Brit Mark Williamson opened up Willi’s Wine Bar in Paris. In 1983, Williamson began making posters or as he calls it Bottle Art, the first featuring the work of artist A.M. Cassandre. Since that year, Williamson has been commissioning artists annually, with the posters becoming collector’s item, spanning three decades.

Willi’s Wine Bar as described by owner Mark Williamson:

Willi’s Wine Bar is the proverbial hole in the wall, far bigger in the minds of the beholden than in its speck of cosmic dust like reality. Only last night a group of people called the bar no less than 4 times before locating the extremely well lit façade which they had passed with worrying repetitiveness.

The undercurrent is clearly about wine, a large part of the Willi’s persona. This place is as much about tastes, discovery, well-being, and shared ambience, as about any currently perceived correctness.

The Willi’s vinous offering, strongly pro French, but highly attuned to greatness and individuality from other pastures, frequently lands up on the side of the ‘underdogs’ of the wine world, not being a place of glittering trivia.

In short, at Willi’s, we just love diversity and individual, natural beauty.


Q. Please tell us about the poster collection:

A. The poster or ‘Bottle Art’ collection is quite simply a visual emotion of what we strive to put in your wine glass. Each individual artist’s expression of the love of wine.

There are now more of them than we can fit on the walls. They have found their way into wine lore across the globe as souvenirs of a moment sipping wine in a bar in Paris – for people who managed to find us – to corporate offices where people recall life beyond the desk, to the cellars of the passionate wine lover, as well as those of many talented, dedicated wine producers, not forgetting quite simply the sacred, timeless use of covering a crack in the paintwork.

Q. How do you curate your wine list? Is there any particular criteria that you have to pick your wines?

A. Value is a huge consideration. There is little room for ‘must have’ wines at Willi’s. Think ‘must have something to say.’

Originality is a major trigger in the selections. We are very taken with wines that show their uniqueness in a natural way.

Quality. Above all things. Balance, elegance, focus & inner energy. Yes. All from a simple wine.

The Rhone provides our list with its DNA.

Q. There’s a large natural wine movement that has taken hold in Paris and seems to be gaining ground across the Atlantic as well - any thoughts on this movement and has it impacted your wine selections?

A. Purity and taste integrity are at the heart of our wine selections. Natural wine, yes. But only if it is GOOD natural wine. The excuse for an approximative, lazily made product comes easily in a time of fashion, but only great winemakers seem to have the virtuoso capacity necessary for such tightrope walking.

Q. What’s your favorite off-the-beaten track wine?

A. Tripods are proven to be more stable, so here is today’s selection:

La Soula 2007 Cotes des Fenouilledes Blanc Sec [France].

Bodegas Bentomiz 2007 Naturellement Dulce from Malaga [Spain].

Chateau de Merande 2008 Arbin Mondeuse [Savoie, France].

[See details.]

Q. Favorite every day wine?

A. This depends on the time of day, the weather, who I am with and what I think I will enjoy - next.

Noon. Sunny and warm. Bees out? Pibarnon Rosé perhaps.

Late afternoon. In need of a reward? Francis Boulard Brut Nature.

Sunday. Work in progress. Cold sullen grey? An Oloroso from Bodegas Tradicion.

Friends over. Pintade with olives? Lots, but lots of juicy Saint Joseph, perhaps a Coursodon 2007 Silice.

[See details.]

Q. No expense spared wine?

A. Wine, to be great, does absolutely not have to be about expense, historical reference, and point scores. I cringe at the thought that a humble full time French worker (OK, I know, but that is not the point), on a basic wage scale, now has to work a full year to be able to pay for just 12 bottles of a First Growth Bordeaux.

Handbags, artworks, jewelry or even cars I can relate to in terms of not looking too closely at the price tag. Wine, ultimately, is like butter. It comes with a ‘enjoy by date’ and once it is gone, you have to start again.

Q. Favorite esoteric or lesser known grape variety / wine region?

A. Today? Furmint Sec, a complete trip. Or ripe, low yield Rousette. Why not a red variety from Spain called Bobal? Take established vineyards, get a good and caring gardener, a wine maker with intuition and some modesty and you can make amazing things happen.

Q. Preferred after dinner drink / digestif?

A. More wine. Because that is what I like, of course. Unless there’s a bottle of Chartreuse de Tarragona.

Q. What are some of the strangest pairing requests people have asked for?

A. Some thirty years ago, I came to realize that people all come to the table with their personal taste DNA’s.

Stay away. Do not interfere. Or correct.

Lead by example. Rejoice when you see the light appear between the clouds. So magical.

Pleasure is the fundamental cornerstone of taste. It is personal.

Q. What have you learned about life in Paris?

A. Paris is a go out and look around place. That is what makes it so wonderful to live in and to come back to.

Q. And what do you miss most about England?

A. Bovril. There, I got you! The one word answer.


Q. As a former foreigner-turned-local, what are your tips for visitors not to stand out as the “ugly American” in Paris?

A. Rediscover you inner humility, observe local interaction, allow osmosis. Communism may be bad, but ignorance is too. Remember that the French, who can also be very noisy and extremely ugly en masse, do their ugliness differently. Catch this subtle nuance and you have it made.

Q. What would you say are the iconic French dishes that people visiting Paris should eat and where should they go to eat them?

A. Good eating in Paris, and anywhere else for that matter, should be about fresh, invigorating, seasonal ingredients and simple culinary transformation. People who trawl the city year round looking for frog’s legs, soup à l’oignon and snails are missing the point. The best French food is to be found, with little doubt, in places that are inspired and that are willing to create from their huge classical culinary knowledge base. The first bistrots of young French chefs are very good places to start.


Q. As an Paris insider, what restaurants could you take us to where only the locals hang out and what should we order... so, we don’t look like outsiders?

A. The very nature of Paris, being an extremely cosmopolitan place, means that you will have considerable difficulty avoiding other ‘outsiders.’ Completely. Short of going off to the sticks. Avoid areas of town that scream ‘tourist destination.’

I believe taste is personal, so no ‘picks’ of dishes. Live dangerously. Discover. This is very best disguise you can acquire:


Restaurant du Palais Royal. It is good. It is on the gardens. What more can you possibly need, mon ami?

Pierre at the Fontaine Gaillon is an obvious choice for dinner. Cosy, good lighting and relatively intimate, the cuisine is unfussy, pure and generally top notch. Wine list most satisfactory. Owned by Gerard Depardieu, who also has the very cute 'Ecailler' just the other side of the place, Pierre can draw the 'in crowd.' Lovely terrace in front of the fountain for the Summer.

La Fable de la Fontaine in the 7th is minuscule, but unlike most French bistrots du genre, has avoided the temptation to pack in an extra 3 couverts. Decorated in chocolate and orange tones, la Fable offers some beautifully prepared, mainly fish based dishes with cutting edge appeal. The wine list is generous and well chosen.

[See details.]

Q. Is there a restaurant that you are constantly returning to and what do you order?

A. Kunitorya: for udon.

Fish La Boissonerie Bistro: well, this is ‘Willi’s on the left bank.’

Pharamond: for andouilette.

[See details.]

Q. What other places have great wine lists and what do you love about them?

A. La Buvette at Spring. In the basement. Walk in. The wine list is inspired and modern, full of tempting things.

Les Itineraires: For the same reasons but Sylvain, like Daniel can cook your socks off.

[See details.]

Q. Where do you go for great cocktails?

A. Fumoir: Cheap, great ambience.

Hyatt Vendome: not so cheat, mais....

[See details.]

Q. Can you recommend a wallet-friendly restaurant and what can we order to save a few euros?

A. Les Ronchons on les Quais behind Notre Dame. Very democratically priced. Order what you will enjoy from the daily menu.

[See details.]

Q. Are there wine stores in Paris or around the world that you love?

A. La Derniere Goûtte: a personal, uninhibited selection of great wines. Free tastings on Saturdays.

Legrand: home to some of the finest wines France has to offer. An orfèvre.

Cave du Château in Vincennes: the best wine shop in Paris – that is not in Paris.

[See details.]

Q. Favorite wine bars?

A. Fish in the rue de Seine: what could one fault in a place that deserves to be ones own?

L’Avant Comptoir for the great tapas and the fact that you get squeezed out by the crowd before you can get seriously into things. Consolation? Grom is just across the road.

La Buvette at Spring: the plat du jour de Marie Aude, the fabulous cheeses…

Le Severo: Great everything, but the range of Vin de Pays is amazing.

Les Tontons in Beaune: Pepita can really cook. Burgundy, nothing but....

[See details.]

Q. Any great vineyards you think are worth visiting and why?

A. Avoid Bordeaux and Champagne. Too boringly stereotyped. Discover the Jura, the Loire around Angers, the South of Alsace, Bandol, Châteauneuf du Pape, Condrieu and Côte Rôtie, Hermitage and Saint Joseph, not forgetting the Maconais and the Beaujolais in the fall. Chablis is rewarding in the late Spring. They are all awesomely beautiful in their diverse ways and when you have finished, head to Beaune.

Q. Thanks!

A. A pleasure !





Details Mark Williamson’s recommendations on where to eat, drink, and shop in and around Paris.



Louvre / Tuileries / 1st Arrondissement


13 Rue des Petits-Champs

75001 Paris, France

T:  +33/(0)





Mon - Sat: 12pm - 2:30pm; 7pm - 11pm


Mon - Sat: 12pm - 12am


Louvre / Tuileries / 1st Arrondissement


15, Rue des Petits Champs

75001 Paris, France

T: +33/(0)




Mon - Sat: 9am - 12am

Sun: 9am - 5pm




Fornalutx, Mallorca, Spain





Chef Jimmy Bradley chef / owner of The Harrison and The Red Cat in New York.


Mark Williamson’s recommendations on where to eat, drink, and shop in and around Paris.

Q & A
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