Last Call Cocktail Adventures: Ritz Hemingway Bar

Bar Hemingway, the Ritz
15 Place Vendôme
75001 Paris

As I’ve mentioned in prior posts, every Easter my good friend, Kate, comes up from Geneva for a long weekend devoted to indulgent drinks and dinners, which always includes a visit to a swank hotel bar. This year we took our tradition to the Ritz for one last drink from world-renowned barman, Colin Field, before it closes for a 2+ year renovation on April 16.

It’s difficult to separate the bar Hemingway from the man who’s been at its helm for the past 18 years.  Always the consummate gentlemen, Colin’s charisma and charm are legendary.  A few years ago, I took a Ritz cocktail course and learned more than I expected. Ironically in such a chi chi locale, I was reminded of how detrimental cocktail snobbery can be.  In today’s craft cocktail network, it’s easy to fall into group think. “We hate vodka.” “We drink shots of Fernet.” “We wouldn’t deign to make a mojito.” But, Colin’s been in the business since before many of today’s cocktail rock stars were of legal drinking age. And, over the past decades, he’s developed his own approach to the profession, incorporating his beliefs about what a cocktail experience should be for the customer.

So what I learned from him was not to start loving vodka. Instead, I learned to stop hating it just because every other cocktaillian did. In an era when prohibition style bars are de rigor and bartenders sometimes fall prey to seeking out hard to source ingredients just because every one else does, my interactions with him reminded me that to have a more comprehensive understanding of the world of cocktails, it must be examined through its history and future possibilities as well as the current cocktail trends.

Along with the Ritz, Colin has built himself into a brand that goes beyond just the business of building a cocktail. Soon we’ll be able to buy the Colin Field watch, complete with his signature on the face for a cool 2,000 Euros. Bringing out his iPad, he showed Kate and I a picture of the time-piece and then signed a coaster and held it up next to the photo to compare. And this is the essence of Colin.  He doesn’t just make a drink.  He makes an effort to interact with his clientele. By the time I left, I also had the name and number of his dentist.

 

In keeping with this interactive tradition, he’s known for creating concoctions that fit the mood, style and needs of a customer. So, instead of my usual martini, I asked him to create something for me.  What I got was a Colin Field special: Grey Goose Poire, apple juice, a bit of citrus and a single red rose as a garnish. Even with an open mind, vodka is one of the last spirits I’d pick from the shelf, so I was much more interested in Kate’s drink: the Ciboulette cocktail (cognac, apple liqueur, lemon juice, and griotte cherries with a champagne topper)  Why would this drink that has nothing to do with chives be called ciboulette (French for chives)? Before I even wondered myself, Colin told us that it was the name of the pet bunny belonging to the man who created it.

I’ve never been shy about stating my opinion that many luxury hotels charge unjustifiably high prices for a drink. But I was happy to pay the price last night to raise a glass to a venerable barman. Because even though vodka is not my spirit of choice, a lot more went into my drink than just the booze.  And if you want to partake in a bit of the history that is the Ritz, make haste because they close next week.

 

DIY Edition: Cocktail Class with Colin Field of Bar Hemingway, Ritz

Bar Hemingway, Ritz/Escoffier School
15 Place Vendome
Paris
Tel: +33 1 43 16 30 30

There is no such thing as a perfect cocktail. This comes from the man who many would argue makes exactly that. But Colin Field, Head Bartender at the Bar Hemingway for the past 16 years, believes that to be great, a cocktail must be viewed within an entire context of who’s drinking it, why and where.

In the past, I’ve intentionally avoided Papa Hemingway’s old haunt for Wednesday Cocktail Adventures. Having been there before, I didn’t doubt that the cocktails would be perfectly executed. But, for me, the 30 Euros price tag is near impossible to justify – even given the coddling and historical elegance of the Ritz.

Of course, I visit a lot of bars for 52 Martinis. But, I also indulge in more liver-friendly research through books, magazines and chats with plenty of knowledgeable industry people. In this vein, I decided a cocktail class with Mr. Field, himself could be highly educational. Courses are offered in either French or English and go from 15h00 to 16h30 on Saturdays. (cost: 100 Euros)

Our group of 12 sat in the bar while Colin shared his cocktail philosophy, stories and samples. This is a man who has a lot of thoughts and theories on drinking. This is also a man who invites overused adjectives: stylish, impeccable, personable, professional. You simply have to respect anyone that elevates their chosen profession to such a level. The hour and a half course stretched closer to two hours as we broke into groups for an exercise – which included sampling the finished product.

Initially, I wasn’t certain that I could learn much in such a short period of time. I can now confidently say that anyone with a serious interest in cocktails will appreciate an afternoon spent in the company this exceedingly charming bartender. By 16h00 I was revamping some of my own thoughts on cocktails and revising my budget to include more drinks at the Ritz.

If you’re hoping to learn how to make a mojiti or toss shakers, this is not for you. But, if you want to better understand what makes cocktails interesting, personal and palatable, don’t hesitate to sign up. By the time I left – Ritz martini glass and certificate in hand – I was thinking: there may not be a perfect cocktail, but there just might be a perfect bartender.