Yesterday evening, after butchering a night shift at the IHT, I decided it was time to appreciate what Paris has to offer re: booze. I’ve been here almost a week and not even a trace of alcohol has entered my bloodstream. Although this isn’t entirely surprising given that I’m not a massive fan of drinking alone. I needed to make at least one friend before I could venture into the Parisian night-time stratosphere for beverages and that is exactly what I did. Say hello to Dmitry - my new English-speaking Russian friend who always wears sunglasses, is never seen not wearing a suit and has a tattoo of a fish on one arm. He also likes to frequent 50s-style bars by himself to engage in la vie de luxe. Perfect. So at 9.30pm on a Thursday evening, Dmitry invited me into the previously exclusive realms of bona fide glamour in the 1er arrondissement. Harry’s New York Bar. And the moment I walked in, the film reel began to turn and I had just entered cinematic paradise.
We went downstairs and the waitress took my faux-fur jacket before seating us at a table in the underground area known simply as The Piano Bar, enclosed by a grand velvet curtain. There were red velvet chairs and benches too and vintage black and white photographs were framed on the walls beneath overhanging lights. I only could have imagined the days when cigarette smoke was allowed to create hazy clouds which hung and sifted through the air, infiltrating the liquor and clogging up the ash trays. The pianist was harmonising with the saxophone player to our left with breath-taking musicality. I breathed in the ambiance until my lungs were overfilled with the flavour of musical notes and the scent of rum. I had gone back 60 years and I wanted nothing more than to encapsulate this fleeting moment, enjoying the pleasantly plaintive mood in a room filled with strangers.
The story of Harry’s New York Bar dates back to 1911 when a former US jockey persuaded his friend who owned a bar in New York to dismantle it and transfer it to Rue Danunou in central Paris. Little would Harry MacElhone have known that just over a century later, his brilliant pioneering would have brought the likes of moi, into its clientele. It hardly surprised me that authors like Hemingway would come here to experience the mythical grandeur of Parisian New York and to sip their famous cocktails. Some of the most famous cocktails in the world were created at this very bar, such as the Bloody Mary and the White Lady. The Bloody Mary, for example, was born at the same time as canned tomato juice appeared in the market. Add Vodka, a drop of tabasco, a dash of Worcestershire sauce, and you’re good to go. I’d avoid adding horseradish, celery, olives, cayenne pepper, lemon juice and celery salt. Seems all a little too unnecessary.
My first drink of choice was a G&T; boring I know when I’m sat in a world famous cocktail bar. Although incidentally a wise decision. I then asked Dmitry to surprise me with a cocktail and he proceeded to entice me with what appeared to be the most alcoholic one on the menu. I forget the name, but it was truly lethal. I watched my friend who sipped his whiskey with utter elegance. He’d definitely been practising.
It was gone midnight and after enjoying only two (albeit rather large) drinks, I departed with €30 and was reunited with my faux-fur friend. It’s at places like this that you don’t complain about drinks costing you €15. 1) You ask for a G&T and they practically give you the whole bottle. 2) The pianist and saxophone player. Need I say more?
I waltzed out of the bar, mesmerised. The night was lit up with the city’s skyscrapers in the distance. I smiled.
Watch this space.