Have you ever had that feeling that wherever you sail in the world, some parts of it look exactly the same?
You know what I mean, the same old chains of shops, the only difference between them being the location and the currency you have to pay your bill.
One thing you can’t have too many of, in my opinion, is variations of the original Harry’s Bar.
There are several taverns known as Harry’s Bar around the world for you to drop in on during a cruise, for a quick or slow snifter, including those in Rome, Amsterdam, Florence, London, San Francisco and Singapore.
But as for the original…
That would be Harry’s Bar, the legendary Parisian watering-hole of the American writer, Ernest Hemingway, which last November celebrated the 100th anniversary. It has been serving drinks to American expatriates, world famous celebrities – and the French since it opened on Thanksgiving Day 1911 in the heart of Paris.
Originally called the New York Bar, it rapidly became a club without an official membership.
In the 1920s, it was a regular meeting place for the Lost Generation of writers, including F Scott Fitzgerald, Hemingway and Gertrude Stein. George Gershwin is said to have composed An American In Paris there, no doubt influenced by several Bloody Mary’s, a cocktail claimed to have been invented in the bar in 1911, the first of several well known mixed drinks created there over the years.
As for the bar itself, its founder was an American jockey, Tod Sloan, who was so keen to recreate the atmosphere of a New York saloon he had one dismantled and shipped to France where it was installed in a former Parisian bistro. He then hired Harry MacElhone, a barman from Dundee to run it. When Harry bought the New York Bar (as it was originally known) in 1923, it was renamed after him.
The original mahogany bar and wall panels are still fixtures, now decorated with shields and pennants of several American colleges. The current owner, Isabelle MacElhone, is the widow of Harry’s grandson, Duncan, who died in 1998.
A century of fame and fortune rests on Scottish Harry’s original advertising slogan based on his bar’s address, 5 Rue Daunou:
“Just tell the taxi driver: Sank Roo Doe Noo.”
Who would dream that over the years Harry’s Bar in Paris would also act as a reliable political soothsayer. Since 1924, Harry’s New York Bar (but that has long been its name) has held straw polls of Americans living in Paris which have correctly predicted the winners of all but two (Jimmy Carter in 1976 and George W Bush in 2004) American presidential elections.
In Ian Fleming’s Casino Royale, James Bond calls it the best place in Paris to get a “solid drink”, probably because his creator spent a lot of time there.
The problem, these days, for cruise ship passengers who’d like to sample the outpourings of Harry’s New York Bar in Paris, is getting there during a cruise.
I guess you can either take a river cruise up the Seine. Or get dropped off for a few days in the nearest port.
Failing that, head for another Harry’s Bar in Venice, founded by in February 1931 by Guiseppe Cipriani.
Guiseppe wanted to open a more relaxed bar that was just as elegant as the swanky Venice hotel he was working in at time.
His dream was to create somewhere that his thirsty patrons wouldn’t have to “…break through a wall of liveried porters and an equally intimidating lobby, as stupendous as it may be.”
The only stumbling block was Guiseppe’s lack of funds.
Then along came Harry Pickering, a sad young American student who arrived to Venice with his dog and aunt, in a bid to cure his incipient alcoholism. After two months, Pickering fell out with his aunt, who cleared off leaving him alone with the dog and precious little folding money.
Hotel barman Guiseppe noticed that Harry had stopped drinking almost entirely, as a result, and was so impressed he lent young Pickering 10,000 Lira.
In February, 1931, long after abandoning all hopes of ever seeing Harry Pickering or his money again, Harry showed up at Guiseppe’s hotel bar.
The still sober young man not only repaid Guiseppe’s loan but added, out of gratitude, another 30,000 Lira in interest so his Italian benefactor could open a bar of his own for Venetian high society.
Guiseppe repaid the favour by naming his new establishment, Harry’s Bar.
Ever since its first opening day, Harry’s Bar in Venice has attracted an international and refined clientèle that habitually holidayed in Venice.
The bar’s first and only guest book includes signatures of many famous former customers, including Arturo Toscanini, Guglielmo Marconi, W. Somerset Maugham, Noel Coward, Charlie Chaplin,
Orson Welles, and Truman Capote
During the long, cold winter of 1949-50, Ernest Hemingway had skipped across the Atlantic and dropped in at Guiseppe’s bar in Venice virtually every day, for he was given a table of his own in a corner.
At the time, he was just finishing his novel, Across the River and into the Trees in which he mentions Harry’s Bar many times.
I must find a copy of that book again and see which Harry’s Bar Papa Hemingway refers to – the one in New York or the one in Venice.
Not that it really matters for they are two of the greatest bars in the world, and well worth sailing to.