July 11, 2011
In La Ville-Lumière, where the wine can be cheaper than the water, there are times when we forget that there is something other to drink than the humble grape: I refer you to the classic cocktail. Paris is full to the brim of kitsch cocktail bars popular with les bobos, über-cool joints where the process of whipping together a cocktail has more oomph than the finale of the Cirque du Soleil. But sometimes nothing beats going back to basics. And where better to enjoy the perfect Bloody Mary than under the very roof where it, along with other classic favorites, were invented and have been drunk for 100 years.
Harry’s New York Bar is the oldest cocktail bar in Europe, and first opened minus the ‘Harry’s’ prefix in 1911. It’s since become the darling of Parisians and expats alike, celebrated for its extensive cocktail list, beautifully prepared drinks and excellent service. It sits just five minutes walk from the hustle and bustle of Opéra and, in tribute to their loyal expat clientele, a sign outside reads ‘Sank roo doe noo’ – a phonetic transcription of the bar’s address to help lost and thirsty compatriots find there way there.
A warm greeting from the sweetly smiling hostess and a push through the swinging saloon doors, and I feel like I’ve tumbled into New York in the days before prohibition, when the men wore top hats and women feathers and fur. There’s not such stylish attire now, alas – more button down shirts and loosened ties, but the décor and atmosphere still shimmer of debonair early 20th Century days: smartly adorned bar staff, beautiful dark reddish oak panelling, walls plastered with triangular American state flags and rows upon rows of glittering bottles of all shapes and sizes — alcohols, mixers and syrups, all ready to be whipped up into a perfect cocktail creation. Even the old style hot dog stand on the bar counter pays tribute.
I’d missed lunch, which is the only time they serve anything other than New York style hot dogs; so instead, I sipped mojitos – I’m still une bobo at heart – in the piano bar downstairs and listened blissfully to the jazz pianist work his magic on an upright piano into the small hours.