The Bar Hemingway is probably one of the most important bars in the world today. Forbes Digital Tool
Internet magazine cited it as 'The World's Greatest Bar, 1998' and its Head Bartender as 'The World's Greatest Bartender'. The author was to be cited in 2001 again by Forbes
as the Greatest Bartender in the World. In 1983 I had obtained the title of No.2 in the world (Martini Grand Prix World Cocktail Competition) for my knowledge in cocktails and alcohols, and had coveted the premier position ever since. Le Figaro
newspaper cited the Head Bartender as one of the 20 most creative people in France, comparing him with architects, dancers, chefs and writers. The Times
called the Bar Hemingway the best kept secret in Paris, and compliments for our service have been bestowed upon us from all over the world. In 2001 Le Figaro
stated that the Hemingway produced the best Dry Martini there is.
The story of the Bar Hemingway begins in 1921, when it was decided to create a room for alcoholic refreshment in the Cambon Wing. Le Café Parisien was designed in the art deco style of the period by Picot. The Head Bartender was to be Frank Meier, and he would receive the world's elite: Sir Winston Churchill, President Theodore Roosevelt, Noël Coward, Scott Fitzgerald and Cole Porter, to name but a few. It was at this time, incidentally, that Frank Meier invented the Royal Highball (a marvellously refreshing drink made with cognac, strawberries and champagne) for the King of Spain.
Just opposite the bar was a very small 'salon de correspondance' with lovely wooden walls. This became the ladies' waiting room, where ladies waiting for their husbands would while away the 'minutes'. (Ladies, at this time, were not allowed in the bars.) In 1936 the principal bar was transformed to receive both sexes, and at the same time a second bar was created. This was 'Le Petit Bar', over which Bernard 'Bertin' Azimont was to preside until his retirement in 1975. The little bar was to become Ernest Hemingway's favourite haunt. He had discovered the Ritz Paris in 1925 after meeting Scott Fitzgerald in the 'Dixies Bar', a drinking hole for ex-patriot American artists and writers. The Dixies no longer exists, but Le Petit Bar, now known as the Bar Hemingway, continues to thrive. Hemingway adopted the bar as his Head Quarters and spent many hours there planning his strategies for the horse races at Auteuil. He would even, according to A.E. Hotchner's book Papa Hemingway
, pick up the bets of Frank, George, Bertin and the other bartenders for the day's races. This was done under the profound inspiration of Bertin's Bloody Marys.
Ernest Hemingway, with his friend Colonel David Bruce (later to become the ambassador of the United States), were the first Americans to be served in the bar after the war. After hailing Sylvia Beach at Shakespeare and Co., the writer made a B-line for the cellars of the Ritz Paris. He was greeted and brought into the room now known as the Bar Hemingway (named after a suggestion from the bartender, Claude Decobert, who had served Hemingway on several occasions), where he downed 51 Dry Martinis. Incidentally, I often served Mr. Curley, in the line of American Ambassadors to have known Hemingway, at the Restaurant Au Petit Riche in 1989, but was never able to win him over to the benefits of cocktail drinking. Perhaps he too had the haunting memory of all those Martinis with Hemingway!
In 1962, Charles Ritz decided to create a third bar on the Vendôme side of the Hotel. Named The Lounge Bar, this serves an enormous daytime clientele and excels in afternoon tea and scones.
pardThe focus on the Vendôme Bar and the absence of Bertin in the late 1970s led the Petit Bar to meander like the rivers that Ernest Hemingway had once fished upon. Its activity eventually came to a halt in the middle of the 1980s and it was used for special parties only.
With the support of Jack Hemingway, who was very favorable to its project, the Ritz Paris pushed very hard for its re-opening, and in 1994 finally offered me the opportunity to become the bartender that I had always wanted to be. (My first letter asking for a position at the Ritz Paris had been in 1979!) The Ritz Paris and I worked extremely hard to create 'The Event', the opening of the Bar Hemingway, which happily coincided with the 50 years of peace since Hemingway had liberated the bars of the Ritz Paris.
We did it! I can honestly say that I never doubted that the Bar Hemingway would be a success. In fact, in 1998 it was decided to make the bar bigger to cope with the incredible volume of new visitors. Better still (and this has to be the greatest compliment a management can offer the Head Bartender), the Ritz Paris and its entire team let me and my Number Two, Johann Burgos, design the new room. (I even found the old espadon or swordfish in the Charles Ritz Grill Room. It was no longer in use and few people ever saw it. I took it down and hung it in the Bar Hemingway.) I was pretty jolly pleased with my latest acquisition until one day, upon arrival at the Ritz Paris, I found that my (well, I had
caught it!) espadon was now hanging upon the Espadon Restaurant, high above the door on the Vendôme side. I felt a little like Ernest Hemingway might have done had he ever experienced 'the fish that got away'!
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