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Swinging from the Chandeliers

photo: hotel ritz

The Ritz, a Paris palace.

Paris Life - No. 22

by Laurel Avery

Paris:- Friday, 24. October 2003:- The thing I miss most about leaving the U.S. is being able to spend time with my women friends. Amy, Barbara and I were like the Three Musketeers. We could always depend on one another to get us through difficulties with boyfriends, work, family, or what have you.

As we always said, "Boyfriends come and go, but you have your girlfriends forever." And I still have them, but they are a few thousand miles away, and talking on the phone is not quite the same as an evening out, all dolled up in our finery, flirting outrageously with interesting men.

Happily, not long ago I met another expatriate woman in Paris who, oddly enough, also has my name.photo: ritz stairs Laurel is a woman who is intelligent, feisty, and enjoys life to the fullest. So when she invited me to join her for aperitifs at the Hemingway Bar in the Ritz, I gladly accepted.

Staircase in the Ritz.

Though I had visited France 16 times over the years before moving here, I had never actually been to the Ritz, being on more of a beer than a champagne budget. I generally tend to go for the small, hidden, often run-down little bistros where you never run into any tourists but get to soak up a lot of local flavor.

However, I must admit, the Ritz is worth the occasional visit, if only to bask in the atmosphere of Paris as it is imagined in the dreams of those who have never been here.

Built in 1898, the Ritz is a bastion of the beau monde. Walking along its elegant corridors, one is assailed with window displays filled with jewelry, clothing, dinnerware, and various 'objets d'art' available for purchase if one's Carte Bleue is up to snuff.

No photographs are allowed there, in order to 'maintain the privacy of its clientele' - a euphemism for being a safe cover for the doubtless numerous illicit affairs that must take place there.

The Hemingway Bar is named after one of its most regular clients, Ernest Hemingway, who frequented the bar until his death in 1961. He was introduced to the place in the late 1920s by his friend, the writer F. Scott Fitzgerald, as he was too poor at the time to be able to afford to buy his own drinks.

I can understand why. The cocktails are 23€! This includes everything on their martini menu, bar specialties, and the champagne cocktails as well. Wines by the glass are 14€, and a beer is 11€.

photo: cocktail menu, hemingway barAfter the success of 'The Sun Also Rises' Hemingway was able to afford his own drinks and became able to spend more time in this favorite haunt of his. He and a bunch of his allied soldier buddies 'liberated' the Ritz at gunpoint on Friday, 25. August 1944, from the German troops who were using the hotel as their headquarters. Then they partied all night in celebration of the Allied victory. I can just imagine the hangovers the next day.

The bar is small, filled with wood paneling and cosy leather chairs perfect for enjoying some cognac and a cigar. One of the stories recounted in the menu relates that one day in the late 1920s, while Hemingway was enjoying a drink with Fitzgerald, he swung from one table to another via the chandelier. I'm not sure how the management would look upon one of the patrons doing that today, however. I guess if you're Hemingway you can transport yourself from table to table however you like.

While not being particularly crowded the evening we were there, Laurel and I were the only two women in the place. Other ladies would pop their heads in from time to time, take a couple of steps into the room, and then leave. We later found them all in the bar across the corridor.

The Hemingway Bar tends to be a male conclave, but if you are a woman who does not feel out of place in a room full of men and cigars, it is not at all unwelcoming. Among the famous women who frequented the place were Colette and Simone de Beauvoir.

Our bartender that evening was Pierre, and I think all their bartenders must have to go to charm schoolphoto: laurel avery, cocktail before being accepted as an employee. Each of our drinks was served with a rose in it, and in between serving other patrons he did a few card tricks for us. A little entertainment with my 23€ 'Kir Imperiale' was a pleasant thing.

While not inexpensive, the Hemingway Bar is definitely worth a visit every now and then when you want to soak up the rarefied atmosphere of a place that inspired some of the world's greatest writers.

Laurel tries another kind of cocktail.

It's also a great place for some important female bonding, even in a bar filled with men and their cigars. If you ever find me swinging from one of the chandeliers in the Hemingway Bar in the Ritz you will know that I have made it as a world-famous author.

Text and photos, Laurel Avery © 2003
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