Not too long ago, the words ‘Paris’ and ‘cocktails’ rarely appeared in the same sentence. Oh, how things have changed. There are now numerous superb bars to try. Harry’s Bar is one of the best at 5 rue Danou, Paris 75002. The street address is phonetically spelt out on the menu cover as “Sank Roo Doe Noo” for non-French speakers to tell their taxi driver.
As I push through the saloon-style swinging doors and step in, I have to smile.
Harry’s warm, cozy atmosphere dates back to 1923. You can sip a glass of wine or a cocktail in a setting that’s still pretty much the same since Hemingway used to drop in, and Gershwin tinkled the ivories composing ‘An American in Paris’ in the piano bar downstairs.
Meet the French in a New York bar
The décor is eclectic, to say the least. The wood paneling is hung with college pennants from top prep schools and universities, including my alma mater UCLA. I’m surprised that instead of Americans, I hear about 80 percent French, and only 20 percent English spoken around me.
I overhear a conversation in French and ask a group of four businessmen why they come to an ‘American Bar’. They tell me their office is on the rue Royale nearby. They come for the soft lighting and strong cocktails. I notice virtually no tourists here.
I’m told by one of them that it’s definitely off the tourist beat.
Are women attracted to Harry’s Bar, I wonder?
I take a seat at the mahogany bar shipped here from New York before Prohibition. There’s a cozy, old boy atmosphere, though I’m hardly an ‘old boy’.
Antoine, the barman, tells me with a chuckle that Harry MacElhone, the founder, published a pamphlet in 1932 entitled, ‘What I Know About Women’, with 100 pages completely blank. Female clientele, however, whether accompanied or alone, have never felt uneasy, he tells me.
During Paris Fashion Week cocktails are the thing and models drop in to say hello to their favorite bartenders. Fashion shoots often take place here with the sexy, insolite décor as background.
A chic woman sits next to me on a bar stool and chats with Antoine. She’s Iman, Moroccan-born French, who tells me she comes here daily after work.
Why do you come to Harry’s Bar, I ask curiously?
Women alone are no problem! We’re welcomed.” She tells me.
French cocktails with an American twist
She went on: “And you can even have a cocktail invented just for you.” One evening she dreamed up her own drink and named it The Green Monk, Le Moine Vert.
Because she went to school in Grenoble where the green liqueur Chartreuse was created by monks. She added some vodka and ginger ale and voilà.
For whom, the Bar stools?
What’s your most ordered drink? I ask Antoine. “The Bloody Mary” he says. “it was invented here.”
I’m a little sceptical.
It’s such a quintessentially American drink, how could it be that a French bartender at Harry’s Bar created it?
One sip reveals that it’s amazing. Turns out, if the legend is true, that it was invented in Paris at Harry’s Bar, but not by the French, by an American. None other than Ernest Hemingway.
Do you enjoy a cocktail or two? What’s your favourite Parisian cocktail bar? Share your recommendations with us in the comments below.
- Harry’s Bar Paris by Mitch Barrie, via Flickr
- Harry’s New York Bar by Brony1789, via Flickr
- Harry MacElhone, from Harry’s Bar menu by Debra Finerman
- Harry’s Cocktail glass by Kenn Wilson, via Flickr
- Ernest Hemingway & Marlene Dietrich outside Harry’s Bar 1938 by RV1864, via Flickr