Drinking in Paris: Harry's New York Bar

— by Caroline on Crack

Our day started out at 4am in Lausanne, Switzerland, and then after we arrived in Paris in the morning we spent the rest of the day executing the fastest tour of Parisian landmarks ever — Notre Dame, Luxembourg gardens, the Catacombs and the Eiffel Tower in six hours. Needless to say our group was exhausted by the end of the day.

But I had been going on and on about how the only thing I wanted to do in the City of Lights was go to New York Bar and Hemingway’s at the Ritz. As a cocktail enthusiast it was a must. So the gang rallied and we headed to the Opera house area where the two historic bars reside.

Unfortunately since the Metro in Paris closes at 1am (an incongruity considering bars close at 4am) and it was 11:30 by the time we finished dinner, we couldn’t go to Hemingway’s. Which was fine since the rest of the gang couldn’t justify spending $40 on a cocktail even though I could.

Harry’s Histoire
Harry’s has been around since the early 1900s and counts Hemingway and F. Scott as well as Coco Chanel as just some of its prestigious patrons. Legend has it that composer George Gershwin created “An American in Paris” on the piano there. Harry’s has a lot of history and even though Americans may find more significance in the stories than French (maybe I’m wrong) and American sports memorabilia decorate the walls, I preferred to visit this “New York” bar over, say, a new cocktail-serious saloon like Experimental Cocktail Club which opened in 2007 and took its inspiration from NYC bars like Death & Co. We already have places like that in LA.

The Cocktails
Not to say Harry’s isn’t cocktail-serious, it’s just old school cocktail-serious: they don’t have a specialty cocktail menu (but look on the mirror behind the bar for one drink special), don’t have wine or cider, carry only two beers, boast 300 whiskies (it’s 18.50 Euros for a 5cl of Macallan 12), but are known for their classic cocktails. Specifically they’re famous for inventing the Bloody Mary (created to soothe hangovers) and make a mean Sidecar as well.

Because of this, four of us ordered Sidecars while the remainder went with a Bloody Mary and a Manhattan. I’m more a Manhattan drinker but went for the cognac-based drink since that was supposedly the bar’s specialty and because I felt weird ordering a NY-inspired drink in a Parisian bar. Sorta like ordering a hamburger at a French restaurant, no?

But in the end I wished I went with my gut and got my favorite cocktail. My bf ordered it for himself and I eyed it enviously the rest of the night. Argh.

Which Was the Best Cocktail?
I didn’t get to see the white-coated server/bartender make it but the Vermouth was something other than Carpano. No one overpowering flavor, just smooth, potent, well-rounded. No sharp edges. Its color the right shade of mahogany, not too dark with too much Vermouth or too light with a heavy pour of rye. The speared cherry was not red but almost greenish where we initially mistook it for an olive. Its flavor nostril-flaring and eyebrow-raising. Stronnng!

As for the Sidecar, since I’m not a connoisseur of that cocktail, I was taken aback by its forward citrusy note. The cognac snuck up in the middle palate and smoothed out on the finish leaving you with a pleasant and growing warmth.

But the popular drink at the table was the Bloody Mary, served in a Collins glass over ice. “Where’s my celery?” its drinker exclaimed but he proceeded to fall in love with the cocktail claiming it was the best Bloody Mary he ever had.

And even though I’m not usually a fan of the drink I had to concur. It was so spicy and peppery but somehow not over the top. So drinkable. Here at Harry’s this Mary wasn’t something only to be ordered during brunch. Groups of dudes were clasping onto their Marys at the bar.

At our table the boys played keep away with the sole order of Bloody Mary. “Well it didn’t look like you were going to finish it so I was just trying to help you out,” explained one cocktail thief to the drink’s irked owner. The rest of the night he had to keep a firm grasp on his glass lest someone else in the party steal a gulp.

À Tout à L’Heure!
Since the Metro was closing shortly, sadly we had to call it a night early. But I made a promise to myself to return to Harry’s the next time I’m in Paris… which is actually next Tuesday. Then I’ll get to pair it with a visit to Hemingway’s. Huzzah!

The bar, even though world famous,
chock-full of history and located near the grandiose Paris Opera House surprisingly felt down to earth. Its formally dressed servers in crisp, white coats were friendly and non-condescending, answering our many questions and even smiling. And if you’re a tourist who packed a bit too light, Harry’s will welcome you in your casual attire even if the Ritz’s Hemingway’s doesn’t.