Afternoon drinks at the legendary Harry’s New York Bar in Paris

Heading towards the Seine from Au Printemps, we walked around the back of the Opera and a few turns later, we found ourselves on Rue Daunou. And that’s when it hit me, “Tell the cabbie to take you to Sank Roo Doe Noo.” That famous line on the back of the cards from Harry’s New York Bar made it easier for Americans in the 1920s and ’30s to find their way to 5 Rue Daunou. (By the way, did you ever think that the reason for so many Americans in Paris in the 1920s was because of prohibition? Seven days on a boat to get a decent drink!)

Sank Roo Doe Noo

It's not a big place, but the neon helps you find it. You don't see much neon in Paris.

So, of course, we went in. Time for a cool drink at a real bar. A bit of history – Harry’s is celebrating its 100th anniversary this November. I’m sure the party will be a blow out. Also in a reverse culture exchange, the inside of the bar was originally a bar in Manhattan and shipped to Paris. Doesn’t get more authentically New York than that.

When it opened, it was just called New York Bar, but in 1923 it was taken over by the bartender Harry MacElhone who added his name up front. Apparently, the original owner lived a bit too lavishly and had to sell. Can’t imagine how that could that happen in Paris…

The bar at Harry's New York Bar

Top shelf booze, and lots of it. It's a serious bar...

It soon became THE bar for Yanks, expats and their friends. The barfly list reads like a who’s who: Ernest Hemmingway (surely he drank at every bar in Paris), Rita Hayworth, Humphrey Bogart, Knute Rockne, Sinclair Lewis, Coco Chanel, Jack Dempsey, Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Duke of Windsor. Apparently George Gershwin composed An American in Paris in the Ivories Piano Bar downstairs.

At the bar...

Hey baby, can I buy you a drink? Marlene at the bar behind a Campari and soda. So did Hemmingway warm this bar stool? I'll bet he did.

Aside from the star-spangled clientele, the bar claims to have invented a number of well-known cocktails including the Bloody Mary, the French 75 and the Sidecar. But if you’re in the cocktail crowd, you’ll know there are a few bars that lay claim to some of those drinks.

Banners and money behind the bar

Looks like Toronto has been in the house. Nothing but money, honey, on the walls...

We slid in there about one in the afternoon to have the bar to ourselves, other than one gent sitting in the corner, idling over his drink and the newspaper. The bartender sported a crisp white apron. We ordered two Campari sodas which were just perfect.

The pictures tell the story. The bar is soaked in atmosphere, badges from police and fire departments and university banners hold places of honour on the wall. A pair of battered boxing gloves (Jack Dempsey’s?) hang from the ceiling. A well-organized selection in front of the mirrors, red hots on the bar.

Badges on the wall at Harry's New York Bar

So, do people bring badges with them, knowing they're going to Harry's, or do they rip them off the shirts in the bar? Always wondered how some things get up on the wall.

A drink, red hots and tons of atmosphere

Red hots on the bar, boxing gloves under the ceiling, bartender ready for your next order, sign showing the way down to the Ivories bar.

It was a wonderful place to relax and reflect. And men, if you need to hit the head, this is it – you’ll think you’re in an exclusive private club. And at Harry’s, in fact, you are.

We finished our drinks, walked fifty feet down Rue Daunou, and who do we bump into? Why, it’s our son and his gf. Paris is a small town.

Mom is happy to see "the boy and his girl".

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  • Michael Stewart

    Loved the piece on Harry’s (my Parisian home-away-from-home). Truly a classic saloon. I had the good fortune of knowing Harry’s son and grandson (both now sadly gone). In fact, it was grandson Duncan who made me a member of the International Bar Flies. By the way, the boxing gloves belonged to the heavyweight champion Primo Carnera. Some of the best conversations I have ever had were with complete strangers at Harry’s. It is, and always has been, a civilized place for civilized people. I’m glad you enjoyed it.

    • Michael,
      Thank you for your kind note and the clarification on the boxing gloves. You, sir, are obviously one of the civilized people if this is your home away from home in Paris. I need to work my way up to that. You’re lucky to have known Harry’s son and grandson.