Parisian Dream

January 2022 View more

By Kelly Aiglon

Along the banks of the Seine, you’ll find plenty of alluring places to sip a cocktail in the company of fine art. In Aurora, a similar experience is waiting aside the Fox River at French 75.

“It’s a step back in time,” says owner Hope Ashworth of her new art gallery and cocktail lounge. Ashworth opened French 75 in partnership with her son, Braden Smith, who is the mixologist. Together, they’re bringing a bit of the City of Light to Aurora. The fact that Aurora has the same nickname as Paris is a dazzling coincidence.

Salon style

The space entices you to size up
and shop for gallery-worthy artworks while enjoying a drink inspired by the pieces themselves. 

“I’ve always been into the idea of combining concepts to create a unique experience,” says Ashworth. “It starts when you walk in the door—you immediately get this 1920s French vibe. It’s the way the paintings are hung, clustered together, salon-style. And it’s how we’ve designed the seating with antique furniture arranged in little individual vignettes. It’s really intimate.”

Most of the art is oil on canvas and ranges from landscapes to figurative works. The artists hail from across the U.S. Ashworth herself is an artist and does the curating, often favoring impressionist-style pieces.

The decor is as eye-catching as the art. “I lived in Paris for a while and there you see such an eclectic mix-and-match of furniture. It all looks so different, yet it all goes together,” says Ashworth. To wit: At French 75, you’ll find an antique tufted high-backed yellow chair residing next to a thrifted zebra-print settee. The effect is charming—and worthy of an Instagram backdrop.

Creative cocktails

Smith’s nuanced, spirit-forward drinks take cues from the artworks and the culture of Aurora. A drink called Glass Slipper nods to the Paramount Theatre’s winter production of Cinderella. In October, a Dia de los Muertos–inspired drink called Spirit of the Dead played into Aurora’s citywide celebration.

You can also opt for something artful, like a cocktail called Mundy’s Mood, inspired by a painting on the wall by artist Daniel Mundy. Featuring the same captivating marshy colors as the painting, it’s highlighted by Elijah Craig bourbon and is beautifully garnished with blackberries. 

“The menu has stirred up some interesting conversations,” says Ashworth. “Our East Meets West cocktail, for example, was named for its ingredients from across the globe. But we didn’t realize until our guests started talking about it, that there is a friendly East-meets-West high school rivalry in Aurora. Now there is this fun double meaning.”

A small menu of charcuterie, cheeses, and pâtés complements the cocktails.

Entrepreneurial vision

Ashworth is no stranger to creating hospitality experiences. She used to live in Northern California, where she opened a working art gallery and turned the upper level into a boutique hotel. When she moved to Warrenville several years ago, she spent time renovating a few old houses. All the while, she was casting her eye on Aurora, drawn to its diversity and vintage buildings.

When the French 75 space opened up, right off of Broadway and down the road from the Paramount Theatre, she knew she had to jump on it.

“I get so excited about the vision of the space,” says Ashworth. “It’s truly a place of art, cocktails, and conversation. So many people have told us they’ve never been to a place like this.” 

Photos courtesy French 75