When Ian Fleming decided upon a favourite bar in Paris for James Bond, there was only one option for the discerning secret agent; the oldest cocktail bar in Europe – the legendary Harry’s New York Bar. According to the 1960 short story “A View To A Kill,” when in Paris, 007 “invariably stuck the same addresses…..if he wanted a solid drink he had it at Harry’s Bar.” By then, Harry’s was already nearly 50 years old, opening on Thanksgiving Day in 1911, and an institution for some of the most hard drinking American expats in the City of Light.
Located near the Opera in the prestigious 2nd arrondissement, Harry’s started life as a bistro which was purchased and converted into a bar by American jockey Tod Sloan. Called simply ‘The New York Bar’ the actual wooden bar itself was imported in from Manhattan, and a Scottish barman called Harry MacElhone was hired to run the joint. In 1923, Harry bought the bar outright, added his name, and began to turn Harry’s into one of Paris’ most legendary watering holes.
As American writers, artists and sportsmen began to flock to Paris during the Jazz Age, Harry’s New York Bar became a staple. Its address, 5 Rue Daunou became the bar’s calling card, with advertisements in the international press running the tag line telling visitors to simply ask taxi drivers to head for “Sank Roo Doe Noo.”
Those who followed the ad’s directions included F. Scott Fitzgerald, Jack Dempsey, Thornton Wilder and most famously Ernest Hemingway. It was in the dark mahogany piano bar decorated with faded American College pennants, that George Gershwin is said to have composed ‘An American In Paris.’
Along with journalist O.O. McEntyre, Harry created a society for his illustrious guests, the International Bar Flies, who’s main aim was the serious business of drinking. Members had their own secret handshake and decorated their narrow silk ties with a tie clip featuring a two flies in top hats, cheerfully greeting one another.
As well as being the adopted home of legendary ex-pat drinkers, Harry’s also claims to be the home of legendary drinks. Fernand Petiot is said to have invented the Bloody Mary here in 1921 (although other accounts have the restorative cocktail being created around the same time at Manhattan’s 21 Club by George Jessel). Petiot insisted however that he was the true inventor of the drink, which he eventually took to the King Cole Bar at the St.Regis Hotel, Manhattan.
Owner Harry MacElhone himself invented the French 75, a potent mix of champagne, gin, lemon juice and sugar that Harry likened to be hit by a French 75 mm artillery shell, and the no less strong Side Car.
Today, Harry’s remains a quaint, vibrant neighbourhood bar. The dark wood paneling is covered with American college pennants, giving the feeling you’ve just stepped into an Ivy League club room. Harry’s has stayed virtually unchanged, serving up the same well-made cocktails that made it a second home to Fitzgerald and Hemingway.
Still run by the MacElhone family, the current owner is Harry’s grandson’s widow, Isabelle MacElhone. The International Bar Flies are still going strong, just as they were the night James Bond “said to his taxi driver ‘Sank Roo Doe Noo,’ beginning a memorable evening in Paris culminating in the loss, almost simultaneous, of his virginity and his note case.”
What You’re Having: the French 75 – it was invented here after all!
5, Rue Daunou, 75002, Paris.