In 1911, American star jockey Tod Sloan took a bar in Manhattan, dismantled it, and shipped it to Paris. At the time, American tourists and members of the artistic and literary communities were beginning to visit the City of Light in ever-increasing numbers, and Sloan wanted to capitalize on his fame and make the place a spot where expats would feel at home.
Over the years, Harry's New York Bar has been frequented by a number of famous Americans and international celebrities, including Sinclair Lewis, Ernest Hemingway, Coco Chanel, Jack Dempsey, Rita Hayworth, Humphrey Bogart and the Duke of Windsor. Whether or not you have star status, you can still settle in on a stool with a drink and soak in the history.
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Harry's Bar, Paris
A few blocks from the original Paris Opera House, there’s a beat up old joint called Harry’s New York Bar. It’s reputed to be "The oldest cocktail bar in Europe" if you take the sign out front on its merit.
Harry's was originally named “New York Bar” when it opened in 1911, designed like a classic working man's watering hole. In 1923, Harry MacElhone bought the place following World War I when a lot of U.S. expats were moving to town.
Hemingway, Hayworth, Bogart, Chanel and friends got wind of the place and business boomed.
I’m here in late afternoon in February. There’s an unassuming group of businessmen and a few lovers over at the half dozen cafe tables. A couple truck drivers are chatting around the corner of the bar, and two sharply dressed barmen in old-fashioned white waiter jackets are pouring drinks. Feeling in the mood, I order a pastis and I get that look from the older barman who’s served one too many tourists in his life.
While sipping the pastis and checking out the faded black and white photos of Ivy League rowers and sailors on the walls, I notice the barman making an inordinate amount of Bloody Marys. He’s putting real effort into it too, adding all kinds of spices and creamy egg yolk.
I enquire about this and the bartender points to a framed Newsweek story on the wall dated Jan. 2, 1967. It explains how the drink was invented here in 1920 to cure hangovers. It also says Harry's is where James Bond loses his virginity in "For Your Eyes Only."