Feel like "Putting on the Ritz" in Paris? Better hurry because it's closing for renovations soon.

If you feel like “putting on the Ritz”, you better hurry because this luxury hotel at the Place Vendôme will temporarily close its doors in 2012. Upon learning that the much needed renovations will require two to three years, Stephane and I went to the Bar Hemingway a couple of weeks ago only to discover that it’s a very popular destination on Saturday nights. Looking at the crowded bar full of happy people and wishing that we could join them, we vowed to return on another occasion.

Wanting to increase our chances of getting a spot in this famous watering hole, we decided to occupy some of the comfy sofas in the Ritz while waiting for the bar to open last Sunday evening. Joking that we probably looked a bit desperate for a drink, Stephane, Sara and I were pleased when an English couple and an American family of five joined our vigil. Opening the doors promptly at 6:30 p.m., the bartender invited us to take a seat in the leather chairs and then made his way around the room describing three special cocktails ranging from “nice” to “naughty”.

Even though Head Bartender Colin Field, who was named best barman in the world by Forbes magazine in 2001, wasn’t there, we decided to try one of his creations that is also the Hemingway House Cocktail. "Serendipity", as described by the customer for whom Colin created the drink, is when you find what you’ve always been looking for without knowing that you were looking for it.

Serendipity, the cocktail

2/10 Calvados
1 sprig of fresh mint
1 teaspoon of sugar
3/10 clarified apple juice
5/10 Ritz champagne
ice cubes

Gently mix the Calvados, fresh mint and sugar in a tumbler. Add a few ice cubes and the clarified apple juice. Top with champagne. Serve with a white orchard for the females. Enjoy.

With hindsight, I wish that we would have sipped our Serendipities at the bar rather than at a table because the bartenders are well-versed in Hemingway lore. Eavesdropping on the bartender's conversation with some of the other guests, we found out that Hemingway was the first American to enter the hotel after Paris was liberated from Nazi Germany, thus becoming the liberator of the Ritz on August 25, 1944. Forget his literary career, that's quite a claim to fame!

Hemingway once said, "When in Paris the only reason not to stay at the Ritz is if you can't afford it" and that's how I felt about the cocktails. At 30 € ($ 40) the Serendipity is the most expensive drink that I've ever tasted, but perhaps it was worth it to share a moment of history with Hemingway.

15, Place Vendôme
75001 Paris

Head Bartender Colin Field making a Serendipity.


  1. Good morning. Yes, $40.00 is a lot to pay for a cocktail but I like to think of it as paying for an experience, then the cost seems much less "cher". You're paying for the drink, the history, the ambience, the location, the story that you will tell later--then it seems perfectly priced, cheap even.

    Having said that, I've never had a drink there.

    And did you write about the Ritz not receiving the Palace rating, or was that something I read in the Times? I've heard it's really gotten tatty around the edges lately. How do those Vogue editors put up with such?

  2. I just watched the video. One, I don't think I would like a Serendipity--apple juice just ain't my thing. And two, I don't understand what he means about not mixing two alcohols when making a drink--classic cocktails are combinations of two alcohols--even his Serendipity.

  3. My mom and I went there last month. We thoroughly enjoyed the experience and our one drink each (note: not plural!) Ever since reading "The Paris Wife" last year, I've become very interested in Hemingway history, etc. I don't know much about the plans for renovation but hope that they still keep the Hemingway bits prominent.

    As for the prices of the drinks, my mom commented again when I was home last week: "when I saw the price of those drinks after the exchange rate on my credit card I almost died!" Worth it for the experience!

  4. Joseph; Field's comment about not mixing two alcohols puzzled me, too. I'm not sure what he meant. The Serendipity was the "nice" cocktail at the bar and was refreshing and easy to drink. I don't recall that it had a strong apple juice flavor. In the video Field says that he only uses a splash of juice, whereas the recipe says to use 3/10.

    Yes, I wrote a post about the Ritz not receiving the palace rating after I went to le Bristol's celebration. It's true that the couches in the Ritz look a bit worn/soiled. While sitting there, I kept wondering what they're going to do with all of the curtains, furnishings, etc. Also, it's not good news for most of the employees who may loose their jobs. The waitress told us that they're still negotiating with the hotel and don't know what their future holds. Although I guess that the renovation will also create lots of new jobs for 2-3 years.

    kbh, I wonder if anyone goes on to a second or a third drink. When we asked the waitress if there will still be a Bar Hemingway after the renovations, she said that she isn't sure. It's makes me even more pleased that we were able to get there before it closes.

    I saw the authorof The Paris Wife when she talked at WHSmith last year. Listening to her and talking with her during the book signing made me reconsider some of my thoughts on Hemingway. As you're interested in him, you might want to read the article that I linked to in the post about him being the liberator of the Ritz. Fascinating stuff.

  5. Hemingway's last American home, if I recall correctly, was just up the street here in Chicago. It has now been converted to apartments.

  6. Hemingway's last home was in Ketchum, Idaho. It's where he committed suicide. He was born in Oak Park, IL. It's still possible (or at least it was a couple of years ago) to visit his house and the Hemingway museum. I had a wonderful time talking with one of the docents when Sara and I did a tour. I don't think that he ever returned to Illinois after going to Europe but I may be wrong. He referred to Oak Park as a town with "wide lawns and narrow minds."

  7. Joseph and Mom, I think by not mixing two "alcohols" he means you shouldn't mix two hard liquors, so in this case the champagne is not an "alcohol". He mentions that you shouldn't have two base alcohols, so I think by this he means no mixing, for example, gin and vodka or rum and vodka, etc. Most cocktails I've had will have the base "alcohol" and then other spirits that add to the flavor/essence like creme de violette or amaretto etc.

    Joseph - I was also kind of skeptical about the apple juice since it isn't my favorite, but I really didn't taste it. I think the effect of the juice was to make the cocktail taste very light and refreshing.

    The Serendipities were really great, I'll have to try to make them at some point soon!

  8. An interesting tidbit, courtesy of wikipedia:

    "[Serendipity] has been voted as one of the ten English words hardest to translate in June 2004 by a British translation company."

    Any idea what serendipity is in French?

  9. That's quite an overhaul they're giving the Ritz if it's going to take two years. It looks lovely as it is.
    Now that cocktail sounds delicious. I'm not a great one for mixing drinks usually, but that sounds worth a try. And I do enjoy a local speciality which is cider added to a generous dash of chestnut liqueur. Very warming!

  10. Sara, Thanks for the clarification about the base alcohols. Drink, the Boston bar, seems like the place to go if you want to learn about cocktails. We'll have to go there during my next visit and ask them to make a Serendipity.

    No idea what serendipity is in French but I'm trying to find out. Very interesting that it's one of the hardest English words to translate.

    Steph, On the surface, the Ritz looks lovely but when I started to look at it more critically, I noticed that things were a bit worn. I didn't mind but I may have if I was staying in one of their really expensive rooms. Plus, they need to renovate to stay competitive with the other luxury hotels in Paris.

    I've never heard of chestnut liqueur and can't quite imagine the taste. Does it taste like "chestnuts roasting on an open fire" or glazed chestnuts?

  11. Sara, thanks for the clarification. I think you're right.

    Mary Kay, now I'm going to have to walk up to that apartment building and read the sign again. Maybe it was his last home in Chicago. I couldn't remember where he had shot himself.

  12. Joseph, If you do get to the apartment building, please let me know what the plaque says. Just like many other American expats, I've always felt a certain sense of kinship with Hemingway. Plus, I love his descriptions of Switzerland and the Swiss in some of his short stories that were set near where I used to live.

  13. As noted elsewhere, the apartment was on the fourth floor of a building on Dearborn Street. He lived there after his honeymoon with Hadley. The commemorative plaque on the building states that they honeymooned in Wisconsin; actually they went to Michigan. Mistakes do happen. The building is a little run down compared to the neighborhood, and the fourth floor windows could use a rehab for sure. But can you imagine coming home everyday to a space knowing that greatness once lived there?
    The pressure!

  14. As my fate would have it, yesterday I went to a toy wrapping party in the neighborhood. I sat down at a table with my toys to wrap and started talking to the lady there. Turns out she and her husband own the Hemingway property! Right after i disparage it here. Of well. They were very entertaining.

  15. I'll have to check if the Dearborn Street apartment is mentioned in "The Paris Wife by Paula McClain. I wonder if anyone ever knocks on the door of the 4th floor apartment and asks to visit or just soak up the atmosphere. That's kind of how I felt at the Hemingway bar.

    What a coincidence that you met the owners of the Hemingway property while wrapping toys. Did they have any tales to tell or was the property a recent acquisition?

  16. I found an excellent tool that allows you to translate with Google and Microsoft at the same time.This comment did in Spanish using danish to english translation.


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