When Ian Fleming decided upon a favorite bar in Paris for James Bond, there was only one option for the discerning secret agent: the legendary Harry’s New York Bar.
As laid out in the 1960 short story A View To A Kill, when in Paris, 007 “invariably stuck to the same addresses… if he wanted a solid drink he had it at Harry’s Bar.” By then, Harry’s was already nearly 50 years old, and an institution for some of the most hard-drinking American expats in the City of Light.
Located near the Opera in Paris’ prestigious 2nd arrondissement, Harry’s started as a bistro which was purchased and converted into a bar by American jockey, Tod Sloan, opening on Thanksgiving Day, 1911. Called simply “The New York Bar,” the actual wooden bar itself was imported in from Manhattan, and a Scottish barman named Harry MacElhone was hired to run the joint. In 1923, Harry bought the bar outright, added his name, and began to turn Harry’s into one of Paris’ most legendary watering holes.
As American writers, artists and sportsmen began to flock to Paris during the Jazz Age, Harry’s New York Bar became a staple on the hard drinking circuit. Its address, 5 Rue Daunou, was the bar’s calling card, with advertisements in the international press running a tagline telling visitors to simply ask taxi drivers to head to “Sank Roo Doe Noo.”
Those who followed the ad’s directions included F. Scott Fitzgerald, Jack Dempsey, Thornton Wilder, and most famously, Ernest Hemingway. It was in the dark mahogany piano bar decorated with faded American College pennants that George Gershwin is said to have composed An American In Paris. Along with journalist O.O. McEntyre, Harry created a society for his illustrious guests, the International Bar Flies, whose aim was the serious business of drinking. Members had their own secret handshake and decorated their narrow silk ties with a tie clip featuring a two friendly looking, well dressed flies.
As well as being the adopted home of legendary ex-pat drinkers, Harry’s also claims to be the home of legendary drinks. Fernand Petiot is said to have invented the Bloody Mary there in 1921 (although other accounts place the restorative cocktail’s birthplace at Manhattan’s 21 Club by George Jessel). Harry MacElhone himself invented the French 75, a potent mix of champagne, gin, lemon juice and sugar that Harry likened to being hit by a French 75mm artillery shell. His 1919 book, “Harry’s ABC of Mixing Cocktails” also included the equally strong Side Car and White Lady.
Today, Harry’s remains a quaint, welcoming neighborhood bar, still run by the MacElhone family; the current owner is Harry’s grandson’s widow, Isabelle MacElhone. With no televisions and the only music coming from George Gershwin’s piano room downstairs, couples nestle together in what claims to be Europe’s first cocktail bar, virtually unchanged, and still serving up the same well-made drinks that made it a second home to Hemingway and Fitzgerald.
And the International Bar Flies are still going strong, just as they were the night James Bond said to his taxi driver “Sank Roo Doe Noo,” beginning a memorable evening in Paris “culminating in the loss, almost simultaneous, of his virginity and his note case.”