AN ORIGINAL AT SANK ROO DOE NOO
Of all of the world’s notable establishments named after a Harry one pre-dates them all and as an almost obvious result it is reputed to be the oldest cocktail bar in Europe.
In 1922 the bar’s former bartender Harry MacElhone took ownership of “The New York Bar” after its original founder—the superstar jockey Tod Sloan—had been forced to sell on account of a lavish bon-vivant lifestyle that his retirement income couldn't support. Sloan had opened the bar in 1911 after reputedly transporting the interiors from a bar in Manhattan. In an interesting side-note Ernest Hemingway, whose name and legacy features heavily with the bar, not admittedly unusual for bars in Paris, was apparently inspired by Sloan when we wrote his early short story “My Old Man". The most noted establishment in the story is the Cafe de la Paix—which is itself still just around the corner from Harry's—but I digress! Upon taking ownership Harry added his name to the bar’s title. In 1924, as part of a response to an article written by Odd MacEntyre, perhaps the most widely-read newspaper reporter in the world at that time, Harry set up the International Bar Flies (I.B.F.) a jovial international drinking association that still hasn't enlisted me as a member. Odd MacEntyre was chartered member number 1 with many other noted journalists being listed as early founders too. For anyone interested in clever marketing moves this could be a key reason for the bar’s great lore and storied foundations.
It’s not hard to imagine upon visiting today that Harry’s remains much as it was at that first meeting of the I.B.F in 1924. In order to maintain a bar for over a century a place needs to meet with a certain amount of success. One of the common outcomes of such success is that at some point as time passes, particularly during periods obsessed with innovation or the new, many establishments will undergo a renovation in an effort to maintain the run. Harry’s has somehow resisted this and instead is as focussed as ever on simply satisfying the most eternal needs of anyone seeking a stiff drink. In doing so, in keeping with the spirit of a achieving a desire to create a genuine New York bar in Paris by literally transporting the interiors of a New York bar to Paris, there is a rare honesty and integrity about the place. If ever an establishment could have been said to have been blessed with the patina of age as a result this Harry’s is it. Cracked leather boxing gloves worn by boxing legend Primo Carnera suspend from a brass monkey below the antique textured ceiling. Collegiate crests, old bank notes and long-ago framed cartoons grace the oak panelled walls. Signed baseballs decorate the bar. Above all the place feels convivial. By contrast, many of the most lauded bars in the world reside in renowned 5-star hotels (for obvious reasons). In these venues the polish and perfection of the hotel can if you're not well dressed (heaven forbid) leave you feeling dishevelled. These alternatives can inevitably have a sense of exclusivity about them and (for some) such perfect refinement can be uncomfortable—Harry's however is a place that you could take anyone and because of this you’ll inevitably meet everyone. As a result, like many, I’ve passed hours at that bar engaged in friendly conversations with people from all walks of life from all over the world.
In line with the overall ambiance the drinks have an unbridled honesty about them too. There is no glitz or performance to the cocktail making here. Subject to where you’re seated one of the white-aproned bartenders will often write down your order and pass it to Gilles who will assemble your beverage with no flair other than an experienced hand (and so it should be—Gilles reputedly joined Harrys in 1984). The drinks here pre-date the mixology craze or the obsession with craft gins. Whereas many bars now seek out the newest niche ingredients for their cocktails that approach is an anathema to the enduring spirit of 5 Rue Daunou. If you want to drink the world’s classic cocktails as they would have been served when originally created then come to Harry’s.
In todays cocktail experience, if almost everywhere else wants to be perfectly airbrushed Vogue cover photo, Harry’s New York Bar is perfectly content to be an original Cartier-Bresson. It remains one of the world's greatest bars as a result and will continue to be where generation after generation continues to lose itself in honest good cheer.