No trip to Paris is complete without stopping by a couple of their world-famous bars and Harry’s New York Bar was the first one on our list.
Advertised as The Oldest Cocktail Bar in Europe, this bar originally opened in 1911 as just “New York Bar”. In 1923 it was bought by Harry MacElhone who added his first name and popularized it among the growing numbers of American expatriates who were starting to flock to Paris. Some of their famous clientele included Sinclair Lewis, Coco Chanel, Rita Hayworth, and Ernest Hemingway (what famous bar didn’t he frequent?).
Note: Harry’s New York Bar in Paris is not to be confused with Harry’s Bar in Venice, Italy, another well known bar and the birthplace of the Bellini. I walked past this Venetian landmark when I visited Venice a few years back but, alas, didn’t go inside.
We went to Harry’s just as the after work crowd was beginning to show up. It’s a popular spot so we wanted to get in early enough to get a table and not have to fight for a bartender’s attention. No worries here, the bar was only half full when we entered through the swinging saloon doors and we got a good table and prompt attention, as the white coat-clad bartender walked over to bring us a dish of snack mix and take our order. We started out by ordering a round of Sidecars, which were served up in cocktail glasses, but without the sugared rim we sometimes get in the US. The origin of the Sidecar is unknown, but Harry McElhone, at least at one time, claimed he invented it himself so I thought it appropriate for my first drink of the evening. As we sipped our drinks, we took a look around to get a feel for the bar.
As the name implies, this is definitely an establishment for Americans and anyone else who likes an American-style cocktail bar. The walls were adorned with university pennants and there was even a flyer up reminding Americans to request their absentee ballots for the coming 2008 presidential election (no surprise that the French are eagerly awaiting a change of administration here). The crowd was mixed, with both English and French being spoken, and the English in both American and British accents. They even offer a pronunciation guide for non-French speakers: Ask your cab driver to take you to Sank Roo Doe Noo and you’ll find yourself at Harry’s.
My second drink was, fittingly enough, a Manhattan, while Sarai had an Old Fashioned. Both were well made and quite good. The Old Fashioned was made without orange, which I like, or club soda, which I detest in this drink.
I don’t know if the Sidecar was really invented at Harry’s Bar — the Stork Club Bar Book says otherwise — but they are commonly known as the creators of the Bloody Mary and also lay claim to the French 75, which is another favorite of mine. The origins of all these drinks are highly disputed though, with the Ritz Paris claiming the first two of these as their own.
This isn’t a cheap place to drink — our four drinks were 12€ apiece, around $18 USD at the time — but definitely worth checking out when you’re in Paris.