French 75 in Paris
On my last visit to Paris, I had only one item on my to-do list, and it was a luxurious one: to drink a cocktail at the historic Bar Hemingway in the Ritz Hotel, one of the world’s most famous bars. Ernest Hemingway spent a significant amount of time here, alternating between serious drinking and serious writing.
The bar is a cozy space at the back of the hotel, with wood-paneled walls, muted colors, and many photographs of the author. The drink selection on its newspaper-sized menu was overwhelming. The bar is famous for the Serendipity cocktail—Calvados, sugar, apple juice, and champagne—and for their version of the Sidecar, one of the world’s most expensive cocktails at 1,500 euros.
I got talking to Roman Devaux, the second head bartender, who revealed that the Sidecar’s hefty price tag comes from the very rare Cognac they use. Only a few people order a Sidecar each year, he said. I couldn’t afford one, so I opted for the French 75, an old favorite. A few minutes later, it arrived in a tall glass with a red rose propped in it, a generous portion of macadamia nuts and green olives on the side.
They say the Bar Hemingway story began in 1921, when a bar called Le Café Parisien opened in the hotel’s Cambon wing. At the time, women weren’t allowed in bars, so a small area opposite Le Café Parisien was created for the ladies waiting for their boozing husbands. In 1936, Le Café Parisien was renovated to accommodate women drinkers too, and the once ladies-only space was renamed Le Petit Bar—which became one of Hemingway’s favorite spots in Paris. (The bar eventually took his name in the 1980s during the hotel’s extensive renovations.) Devaux told me that Hemingway used to come in with F. Scott Fitzgerald, who usually picked up the tab because Hemingway was quite poor at the time.
As I sipped my French 75, Devaux told me the cocktail was invented in 1915 at Harry’s New York Bar—also in Paris—by barman Harry MacElhone. French and American soldiers used to celebrate their victories with this mix of cognac, Champagne, lemon juice, and sugar, and named the drink after the 75mm field gun.
But this is only one version of the story, said Devaux. Every cocktail has a story, often several. And the red rose in my glass? That’s a tradition honoring the days when women got a flower in their drink. I enjoyed this fact so much that it took the sting out of my 30-euro bill.