There are several bars across the world that carry the Harry’s Bar name, but only two of them are true originals – Harry’s Bar in Venice and Harry’s New York Bar in Paris. While the two bars were both opened in the early 20th century, created several iconic cocktails, and have been frequented by some of the 20th century’s biggest icons, that’s where their similarities end. The two bars are actually not connected in any way, besides sharing a name – and the love of Ernest Hemingway.
We delve into the different stories of the original Harry’s Bars, and how they came to be two of Europe’s most glamorous watering holes.
Harry’s New York Bar – Paris, France
Disregard the misleading name – Harry’s New York Bar is a true Parisian institution. Nestled in the heart of Paris, not far from the iconic Opéra Garnier, Harry’s New York Bar stands as a monument to history, culture, and the fine art of mixology.
Founded in 1911 by American jockey Tod Sloan, the bar was originally called “The New York Bar.” Sloan had the interior shipped over from a bar in New York, giving it an authentic American feel right in the heart of Paris. Harry MacElhone, a young barman, took over in 1923 and added his first name to the title. The legendary “Harry’s New York Bar” was born, and it’s still owned and run by the MacElhone family.
Over the years, it became the glamorous watering hole of choice for expatriates, tourists, and locals who appreciated the taste of classic cocktails and the allure of American jazz. Today, visiting this century-old establishment is like stepping back in time. The ambient lighting, original wooden panels, over 400 classic drinks, and the familiar tinkling of cocktail glasses transport you to an era when Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and Porter were regular patrons.
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A cocktail atelier
Harry’s New York Bar was the birthplace of several iconic drinks. The most famous among them is the Bloody Mary, said to have been concocted in the 1920s by Fernand Petiot, a bartender at Harry’s. Their impressive cocktail repertoire also includes the White Lady, the French 75 and the Side Car, legacies of the skill and creativity of the bartenders who’ve graced Harry’s counters.
This Parisian institution was a jazz oasis and something of a second home for the Lost Generation. Throughout the roaring ‘20s, the bar played host to a stream of literary and artistic figures, including Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, and Humphrey Bogart.
With a crowd like that, it’s little wonder Harry’s New York Bar has been immortalized in popular culture. Hemingway mentioned the bar in “A Moveable Feast” and “The Sun Also Rises.” The famous song “I Love Paris” by Cole Porter was supposedly penned in the downstairs piano bar.
Harry’s Bar – Venice, Italy
Ten years later and 690 miles away, another institution was born under the same name. Located just a few steps away from Piazza San Marco in the heart of Venice, stands the historic establishment, Harry’s Bar. Founded in 1931 by Giuseppe Cipriani, Harry’s Bar isn’t just a watering hole; it’s a legend of 20th-century history, literature and art, and Venetian culinary traditions.
The story of Harry’s Bar in Venice began with a chance encounter. A young Giuseppe Cipriani, then a bartender at Venice’s Hotel Europa, extended a loan to a stranded American named Harry Pickering. When Pickering returned a few years later to repay Cipriani with interest, the two decided to invest in a small bar – and Harry’s Bar was born.
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Birthplace of the Bellini
While many come to Harry’s Bar for its history, others come for a taste of its legendary Bellini. A mix of Prosecco and peach purée, this refreshing cocktail was invented by Giuseppe Cipriani himself in the 1940s. Inspired by a 15th-century Venetian painting by Giovanni Bellini, the drink’s pink glow reminded Cipriani of the artist’s palette. The Bellini has since become an iconic cocktail, enjoyed worldwide but never quite as special as when sipped in its birthplace.
Since its inception, Harry’s Bar attracted a roster of artists, writers, and celebrities. The likes of Ernest Hemingway, Katherine Hepburn, Charlie Chaplin, Truman Capote, Frank Lloyd Wright, and Orson Welles were regular patrons. Hemingway, in particular, considered it his favorite watering hole, often describing its intimate atmosphere in his works. The bar’s drawcard wasn’t just the alcohol or the delicious meals, but the sense of camaraderie and creativity. Conversations sparked here would often find their way into novels, films, and art.
Despite its celebrity visitors and renowned cocktails, the beauty of Harry’s Bar today lies in its simplicity. With crisp linen tablecloths and wooden chairs, the original decor allows its rich history to shine. The food remains a winner too, with sumptuous risottos and fresh seafood paying tribute to the city’s culinary scene.
In 2001, the Italian Ministry for Cultural Affairs declared Harry’s Bar a national landmark. While the designation is a nod to its historical significance, the true testament is the endless crowd of visitors who flock to its doors year after year.
The Legacy of Harry’s Bars
While the two bars had completely different origins, they shared many of the same values (and patrons!) arising from the Lost Generation of the early 20th century; music, art, literature, and good company and stories shared over excellent food and drinks.
These bars aren’t just places to grab a cocktail. They’re historic institutions that inspired literary and artistic giants and global gastronomic traditions. They’re a portal to a bygone era, where the walls tell tales of Jazz Age soirees, literary debates and the art of a well-made drink.
As both Paris and Venice continue to involve, Harry’s Bars remain true to their roots, reminding us of the timeless glamor of a great bar. The next time you’re in Paris or Venice, be sure to swing by Harry’s, order a classic cocktail, and soak up a century’s worth of stories.
Banner photo credit: @harrysbar_theoriginal