A century of Harry's Bar in Paris

By David Chazan
BBC News, Paris

  • Published
Harry MacElhone (left) behind the bar at Harry's in earlier years
Image caption,
Harry MacElhone (left) gave the bar its name

For Harry's New York Bar, it was the bash of a century.

The legendary Parisian watering-hole of the US writer Ernest Hemingway celebrated the 100th anniversary of its opening by throwing a party for its well-heeled and well-connected regulars.

"Tonight we're celebrating 100 years of cocktails, of people and bartenders," said manager Alain Da Silva.

Among the more than 300 guests were a number of prominent local businessmen and French pop star Etienne Daho.

Harry's Bar, which claims to be the birthplace of the Bloody Mary, is a small corner of Manhattan in the heart of Paris.

Originally called the New York Bar, it opened on Thanksgiving Day 1911, soon attracting American expatriates and celebrities.

In the 1920s it became a meeting-place for the "Lost Generation" of writers, including F Scott Fitzgerald and Gertrude Stein as well as the hard-drinking Hemingway.

George Gershwin is said to have composed An American In Paris there, and it has been visited by film stars from Humphrey Bogart to Clint Eastwood.

Parisian patrons

The bar's founder, American jockey Tod Sloan, was so keen to recreate the atmosphere of a New York saloon that he had one dismantled and shipped to Paris.

Its mahogany bar and wall panels are still fixtures, now decorated with the shields and pennants of American colleges.

Sloane hired a Scots barman from Dundee called Harry MacElhone. He bought the bar in 1923 and it was renamed after him.

Image caption,
The bar is also popular with non-Americans today

The current owner, Isabelle MacElhone, is the widow of Harry's grandson Duncan, who died in 1998.

In recent years, increasing numbers of Parisians have adopted the bar as their own, although it is still frequented by many expatriates.

"Harry's is like a club without an official membership," says Mrs MacElhone.

Former expatriate June Rives, from Houston, Texas, says she has been a regular for years, even after moving back to the US.

"I always come to Harry's Bar for Thanksgiving," she said. "I love the ambience and the chilli is better than in Texas."

Cocktail experts

Manager Alain Da Silva says the Bloody Mary was invented at Harry's in 1921.

"The story is that there were a few customers, a few friends, and the bartender, Pete Petiot, made a cocktail for them with tomato juice and vodka," Mr Da Silva said.

"It got its name because one of the friends said, 'It looks like my girlfriend who I met in a cabaret.'

"The cabaret's name was the Bucket of Blood and the name of the lady was Mary so it was very simple to call it a Bloody Mary."

Habitues like Frederic Pastre say the attraction of Harry's is more than just cocktails.

"This is a place where you can meet people of all nationalities, people you wouldn't normally come across," he said.

The heir-apparent of Harry's Bar, Isabelle MacElhone's 23-year-old son Franz-Arthur, has been dubbed the "crown prince of cocktails" by some patrons.

Many of the regulars are middle-aged, but Franz-Arthur says the bar is becoming more popular with young people.

"This place has a soul and a history," he said. "It's a concept that didn't exist in France before."

'Sank Roo Doe Noo'

For the centenary, Harry's has published a book about the history of the bar and an updated version of Harry MacElhone's ABC of mixing cocktails.

For decades, Harry's advertising slogan was based on the bar's address, 5 Rue Daunou: "Just tell the taxi driver: Sank Roo Doe Noo."

Mr Da Silva says that since 1924 Harry's Bar has held straw polls of Americans living in Paris which have correctly predicted the winners of all but two US presidential elections.

"The straw votes stopped during World War II, but the only times we got the wrong result was when Jimmy Carter was elected in 1976 and George W Bush in 2004," he said.

British writer Ian Fleming, the creator of James Bond, is also thought to have been fond of Harry's Bar.

In the novel Casino Royale, Bond called it the best place in Paris to get a "solid drink".