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Classic Cocktail Bars – Bar Hemingway at The Ritz Paris

Bartender at Legendary Hotel Reveals Secrets to Making Great Cocktails

Bar Hemingway

PARIS – Just keep walking. Walk through one of the four, white-canopied doorways on Place Vendôme into The Ritz hotel. Walk past the uniformed doormen and hotel managers in suits stationed in the entrance way. (There’s no lobby in The Ritz.) Walk past the piano bar on the left and the Salon Proust on the right, named in honor of the famous French novelist who often hosted dinner parties in a suite at the legendary hotel. Walk down the long, glass hallway lined on both sides with elegant boutiques. There, at the end of the hallway, near the Rue Cambon side of The Ritz, you’ll find two bars: The Ritz Bar on your right, and Bar Hemingway on your left. Turn left. There, you’ll find one bartender’s ode to the author who inspired him to become one of the best bartenders in the world.

Because Bar Hemingway is more than just a bar. The bar is Colin Peter Field’s obsession with Hemingway vividly brought to life. Long before Field knew he wanted to be a bartender, he loved reading Hemingway. Growing up in Northamptonshire, England, Field was a passionate reader and he earned an A level in school in literature. Field also learned early on that knowing how to make drinks was a great way to meet people, especially women. So Field essentially turned his bedroom into an informal bar. Then at 19 years old, Field moved to France to attend hotel school. There, his hobby turned into his passion—making amazing cocktails.

Field always knew he wanted to work as a bartender at The Ritz. But he didn’t get a job there straight away. As he explained during a recent two-hour-long conversation standing behind the bar, Field spent years working his way up to The Ritz. So how did an Englishman become the bartender at one of Paris’s most famous bars? The same way many people succeed—persistence, timing, and maybe a bit of luck. Field applied early on in his bartending career for a job at The Ritz but did not receive a job offer. A few years later, Field was recognized as one of the top bartenders in France. He applied again. Still no job offer. This went on for a while. Field’s reputation as a world-class bartender continued to grow. But still no job offer from The Ritz.

Finally, in his early 30s, The Ritz contacted Field. The Ritz interviewed Field several times, he recalled. During one interview, Field talked about that A level he earned in literature. During another interview, they asked Field if he had ever contemplated suicide like Hemingway. Not exactly what you would expect for an interview to hire a bartender. Then again, Bar Hemingway isn’t like most bars. Eventually, The Ritz offered Field a job—running the newly created Bar Hemingway. He thinks his A level in literature tipped the scales toward The Ritz hiring him, not his prowess behind the bar. Whatever the reason, Field enthusiastically accepted the job. He also reinvented how the bar looks, down to the last detail.

If I die and go to Heaven, I would like it to resemble the bars of the Ritz Paris

Hemingway famously drank at The Ritz when he lived in Paris in the 1920s. He also allegedly “liberated” The Ritz at the end of World War II by downing 51 dry Martinis in a row, according to The Ritz’s website. Hemingway loved drinking at The Ritz so much, he once famously said, “If I die and go to Heaven, I would like it to resemble the bars of the Ritz Paris.” Initially, Hemingway hung out in the bar across the hall from the Bar Hemingway now known as The Ritz Bar, which opened in 1921. Back then, The Ritz Bar was named “Le Café Parisien” and only men were allowed in the bar until 1936. Women could drink in the bar across the hall which opened in 1926. That bar was called the “Petit Bar.” Once men and women were allowed in both bars, the Petit Bar became the unofficial journalists’ bar where Hemingway, Robert Capa, and others whiled away their spare time. And it’s that bar that was renamed the Bar Hemingway in 1994.

Hemingway wasn’t the only author or artist drawn to The Ritz. Along with Hemingway and Proust, F. Scott Fitzgerald often spent hours in the hotel bar. So did actor Gary Cooper (super duper!) and songwriter Cole Porter, who reportedly spent nine hours a day there and allegedly composed “Begin the Beguine” here, although some claim Porter wrote the song aboard the Franconia ocean liner. Fashion designer Coco Chanel liked The Ritz so much, she ended up living there. But Hemingway’s shadow still looms large decades later at The Ritz. And you can thank Field for that. Field loves Hemingway. He loves the way the author lived his life, wrote his books, and constructed perfect, powerful sentences.

Novelist Jim Harrison is another author Field admires. Field met Harrison and talked to him several times at the Bar Hemingway. He’s met many other famous people, too, tending bar at The Ritz. Field’s friend, supermodel Kate Moss, wrote the preface to Field’s book, The Cocktails of the Ritz Paris. But like many great bartenders, Field doesn’t talk much about his famous clientele. And that’s probably why so many famous clients keep coming back to Bar Hemingway. Field puts people at ease. A few other reasons why the bar might be so popular might have to do with what’s not allowed at Bar Hemingway. No children. No dogs. No shorts.

When Field took over Bar Hemingway in 1994, he carefully selected every object in the intimate, two-room bar. He was adamant about how the bar should look. One decorator wanted to put windows or mirrors or some other fussy touches all over the place. Field insisted that the bar should look like a library since the bar honors a great writer. But not a drab, public library. Imagine a library in an old, English manor. Or perhaps a classic, private club in London. Add in a splash of a hunting lodge in Scotland or Canada and you have all the ingredients for the Bar Hemingway. Wood paneling. Dim lighting. A few animal heads mounted on one wall. Old books and bottles of alcohol neatly arranged on the same shelves behind the bar. And references to Hemingway. Lots of them. Sepia-toned photographs of Hemingway hang on the walls throughout the bar. Portraits of Hemingway. Hemingway fishing. Hemingway’s wartime identity card. Hemingway riding in an Army Jeep. Even a large bust of Hemingway’s bearded, bespectacled head stands in one corner. There’s also a copy of a love letter on one wall that Hemingway wrote to his wife, Mary Welsh.

Field has been described as one of the best bartenders in the world. Forbes and Travel + Leisure magazine even went so far as to declare Field the best bartender in the world.

There’s also a copy of the June 2016 issue of The Hemingway Star. Never heard of this newspaper? That’s because this publication is actually the menu for the Bar Hemingway after it reopened last year following a four-year-long, $200 million renovation of the hotel. But it’s not the memorabilia or the books that keeps people coming back to the Bar Hemingway year after year. It’s the amazing drinks that Field and other bartenders there make night after night. Field has been described as one of the best bartenders in the world. Forbes and Travel + Leisure magazine even went so far as to declare Field the best bartender in the world.

On The Ritz’s website, Field’s philosophy for making cocktails is explained in one sentence: “One drinks a single cocktail three times: once with the eyes, once with the nose and lastly with the palate.” In person, Field explained his philosophy for making cocktails as he made a Manhattan and a Negroni. But first, Field stopped making both drinks for a minute and pretended to make an imaginary drink. He set an imaginary glass on the bar. Then he pretended to make the same drink and set that imaginary glass a few inches away. Then he pretended to make a third drink the exact same way. He set that imaginary drink the exact same distance away from the other drinks, like an assembly line. Some bartenders, Field explained, pride themselves on making the same drink the same way every time. Field thinks that’s a boring way to make a drink. A great writer would never write the same book the same way twice. Neither would a painter or a sculpture. Each work of art is unique.

Field has the same philosophy when it comes to making cocktails. When Field makes a drink, he adds a personal touch to each one, he explained with a dramatic flourish of his hands. He crafts his drinks based on the person sitting in front of him at that exact moment, at that exact time. However, Field does have certain rules for certain drinks. When it comes to a Negroni, the drink should be made in a tall glass with several large ice cubes. And when it comes to a Manhattan, the drink should be served straight up in a larger white wine glass. Field takes bartending seriously. He even created a course to train bartenders. But the more you talk to Field, the more you realize he doesn’t take life too seriously.

It’s that delicate balance between doing something great and doing it with pleasure that sets Field and Bar Hemingway apart. Like the author he admires and the sentences Hemingway wrote, what you see only begins to scratch at the surface of what makes Field and Bar Hemingway so special, so unique.

Bar Hemingway in The Ritz, Paris, is open daily from 6 p.m. to 2 a.m.

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Written by Ken Ross

A professional journalist since 1993, Ken Ross writes about cocktails, wine, classical music, dance, art, skiing and anything else that pays the bills. You can read his weekly wine column, Wine Press, at Masslive.com every Monday. Follow Ken Ross on Twitter. He lives in Massachusetts.

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