Last November, Europe's oldest cocktail bar – the much-loved Harry's New York Bar in Paris – celebrated its centenary. To mark the event a new book by its current owners, entitled Harry's Bar: The Original, will be released in March, filled with wonderful anecdotes and photographs which serve to paint a vivid picture of its impressive past, as well as the man behind the name.
As his obituary fittingly described him, Harry MacElhorne was a “Scotsman by birth, American by mistaken identity, bar-tender by dedication”. He moved to France from Dundee in 1908 to work in casinos on the French Riviera and by the age of 21 found himself in Paris, where he was promptly hired behind the bar at what was then The New York Bar, newly opened by American ex-jockey Tod Sloan. He was hugely popular from the outset and the bar was soon nicknamed “Harry’s bar” by its customers. This was a self-fulfilling prophecy as 12 years later MacElhorne – who had left Paris and travelled widely in between, honing his bar-tending skills in a variety of prestigious establishments – returned to purchase his old haunt and add to it his own name (and stamp of genius). Thus Harry’s New York Bar was born, thereafter taken from strength to strength by the devoted MacElhorne who remained there until his death in 1958.
"The heavily adorned, mahogany-panelled walls of Harry's New York Bar lay claim to its expansive history, reminding visitors of the thousands that have quenched their thirst before them"
Behind its saloon-style swing doors, the bar's décor has remained much the same as it was in Harry's day. The heavily adorned, mahogany-panelled walls lay claim to its expansive history, reminding visitors of the thousands that have quenched their thirst before them; from the pastel-coloured, international bank notes which line the wall of the exceptionally well-stocked bar (some dating back to wartime), to the black and white photographs of bygone boozers and small caricatures by Toulouse Lautrec and Sem. This sense of posterity is brilliantly documented in the book which tells tales of the bar's most famous frequenters, including Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Coco Chanel, Rita Hayworth and Humphrey Bogart, and answers all the questions which so many must have pondered whilst sipping on a Bloody Mary at 5 Rue Daunou.
Harry's Bar: The Original is published by Stewart Tabori & Chang and will be available from March 1.
Text by Daisy Woodward