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June 2017

We'll Always Have Paris -- Harry's and Hemingway

Drink iconically in Paris!  Both of these legendary bars predate the great movie Casablanca, which is the source of many classic lines, e.g. the subject title of this post.   One night in Paris my wife and I visited these historic bars to soak in some history and cocktails (not necessarily in that order).     

HarrysBarParisHarry's Bar opened in 1911.  American expats and visitors initially formed the bulk of its clientele.   Notable people who have imbibed there over the years include Humphrey Bogart (one of the stars in Casablanca) and Ian Fleming (author of the James Bond novels; in Casino Royale 007 refers to Harry's as the best place in Paris for a "solid drink").  Despite its American origin, Harry's is named for Harry McElhone, a Scotsman who tended bar there in the 1920s.  My wife and I were pleasantly surprised that most of Harry's current patrons were native French speakers, or at least they were the night we were there. 

Our experience at Harry's was worthwhile but not worth repeating.  The cocktails certainly were above average and the bartenders were proficient.  However, the service and atmosphere were perfunctory.  We didn't feel like we were being pushed out the door, but nothing about Harry's invited us to stay, linger, and have another drink or two.

RitzParisThe Bar Hemingway at the Ritz Paris hotel is named for that Hemingway (the inspiration for the Hemingway Daiquiri).  The bar was in business before Papa started drinking there, but he supposedly liberated it from the Nazis towards the end of World War II.  The place oozes class, elegance, and discretion.  For example, you can't take photos and there is an informal dress code.

The Bar Hemingway is fairly deep inside the hotel.  The journey is worth the very expensive cocktail or two.  Once my initial sticker shock wore off, I was able to appreciate our finely crafted drinks. Unlike the vibe in Harry's, the atmosphere in the Bar Hemingway felt more welcoming, e.g. the bartender was delighted to have us sample the house ginger essence.

Bottom line -- Harry's and Bar Hemingway both blend cocktails and history, but if you have to pick one (and can afford it), follow Papa's lead.


Vive la résistance! -- The Kir

KirThe Kir is a ubiquitous cocktail in France, and it increasingly appears on American drink menus. It was Ms. Wulf Cocktail Den's go to cocktail during our recent journey to Paris.  The drink is named for Felix Kir, a priest who was active in the French Resistance in World War II (he is credited with orchestrating a prison break of Allied prisoners).  After the war Kir became the mayor of Dijon, a town in the Burgundy region, and he created a concoction of local white wine and crème de cassis (blackcurrant liqueur).

4 parts chilled white wine
1 part crème de cassis

Pour the crème de cassis into a wine glass, then add the wine.  Très simple, oui?

Crème de cassis is the common denominator of variations of the Kir, including the Kir Royale (champagne instead of white wine, make sure you use a champagne flute), Kir Bourgignon (red wine instead of white wine), and the Kir Breton (Calvados and champagne instead of white wine).  It also is a key component of the Bourbon Renaissance.  I suggest using crème de cassis from France.

Technically you should use white wine from Burgundy, but realistically you can use any white wine that's dry and doesn't have an oak flavor.  The ratio of the ingredients is really a matter of taste. Ideally you want the Kir to be a little sweet and a little dry.

Have a Kir, raise your glass, and toast to resistance against bad cocktails!


We'll Always Have Paris -- Little Red Door

It's a classic line from Casablanca, one of the greatest movies in history.  I'm no Humphrey Bogart (I'm not as cool as he was) and my wife is no Ingrid Bergman (she's better looking than Bergman), but we did have a great time in Paris.  As Paris is one of the great cities of the world, it's no surprise you can find some great cocktail experiences there.

The Little Red Door is a fun and cozy cocktail bar in the 3rd arrondissement.  It's fairly close to a lot of the main tourist sites.  Conveniently, the Little Red Door was walking (staggering?) distance from where we stayed.  It's not a big place, so depending on when you go you may have to wait a short period of time to get inside.

LittleRedDoorParisThe cocktail list is very creative, as it pairs 11 drinks with pictures from various artists.  The drinks, which have numbers instead of names, are approachable liquid works of art.  We should know, as we tried a few of them during our two visits to the Little Red Door.  You're not bound to those drinks.  The first time we went there Calvin made me an exquisite variation of a Sidecar.  As most people in the cocktail community consider Paris to be the birthplace of the Sidecar, I wanted to have one while I was in town.

Fortunately the Little Red Door hasn't become full of pretentious mixologists (arguably a redundant phrase).  That's a concern when a bar becomes increasingly popular.  No worries here.  The bar staff was engaging, pleasant, and more than happy to talk about liquors and cocktails.  Interestingly, the bar stuff was truly international, e.g. Calvin was from Scotland, and I don't think I heard any native French speakers behind the bar.  Between the quality of the cocktails, the top notch technical skills of the bartenders, and most importantly, the people, the Little Red Door definitely is worth a visit if you're in the City of Light.

Me and the Little Red Door -- it's the beginning of a beautiful friendship (if you don't get the joke, watch Casablanca).


Getting It In -- The Last Word

You want to have the Last Word?  Of course you do.  Now you can have it in a conversation and in a cocktail. Although many sources refer to the Last Word as a Prohibition era cocktail, it actually predates Prohibition (it appeared on a drink menu in Detroit no later than 1916, and Prohibition began in 1919).  Interestingly, its creator was not a bartender.  Frank Fogarty was a popular vaudeville stand up comedian, so maybe the name of the cocktail was linked to his occupation.

Last Word.75 ounces gin (I used The Botanist)
.75 ounces green Chartreuse
.75 ounces Luxardo maraschino liqueur
Juice from 1/2 lime

Combine in a shaker with ice, shake with the energy of a stand up comedian working the crowd, and strain into a chilled glass.  Lime garnish optional.

The Last Word is refreshing yet potent.  A lot of its potency is due to the green Chartreuse, an herbal liqueur from France.  There are two types -- green and yellow.  The green version is higher proof and has a tart flavor, and the yellow version is lower proof (but still quite strong) and a little sweet.  You'd think combining green Chartreuse with fresh lime juice and gin would make the Last Word overpowering.  That's why you bring in the maraschino liqueur.

Good thing the Last Word came back into the limelight (pun intended) about 10 years ago.  Now you have a great way to start, continue, and end your cocktail "conversation."