I perch on a low stool in the small Hemmingway Bar at the Ritz in Paris. It is the evening of the first day of the New Year. I contemplate my choice of drink. I will need to order soon. I usually choose Merlo. It is comfortable and known. I love the smooth red taste, every glass just like the one before, a known quantity and not too expensive. But this is Paris.
How about a glass from an old French vineyard? I could enjoy grapes from vines inherited in estates passed down from generations. Perhaps a Chateau Lafite Rothschild? I might enjoy a sip of wine with a long pedigree, luxurious, smooth and reserved. It is something to consider.
But this is not what I want. I see a woman with a glass of whisky on her table. It sits undisturbed in a cut crystal glass. She doesn’t touch her drink. She is dispassionate for her whisky, straight up. I want to walk over to her table and snatch her glass.
My attention shifts. I think of beer, fresh, foamy and cold. Beer is a drink for the young, drunk from the bottle. I see the image of a baby bottle and laugh. I feel too old for a beer.
This intimate bar, lit by white Christmas lights on the banisters, wooden stools with leather seats, and dark carpet is named for the great old writer Ernest Hemmingway. First edition brown and gold leather bound books line the shelves behind my head. I pick up a tiny volume, and open to the title page. I see that it is from 1814 and signed. A very long time ago, I managed a book store and collected first editions. As I cradle the ancient volume in my hands, I think about my drink order. No, I am too old for beer.
At a nearby table, another woman fingers the glass of a Manhattan. Her untouched drink stands in a red martini glass. Sophisticated like its name, this drink is a work of art, something that I, an artist, can appreciate. I watch as she aloofly takes a swallow. I could grab her drink and guzzle it down, but that would cause a scene, too much for this quiet bar where couples whisper to each other.
I think of the whisky again. The woman, who was served the drink, remains staring at her glass. Perhaps she wishes she had ordered something different, not such hard booze, unblended, unsophisticated, and too strong for her. This is what I want.
The waiter arrives. He is deferential, and smiles with tight lips. His thoughts are transparent behind his smile. He folds his hands in front of his white jacket. He offers that I might like the like bar’s special after dinner drink, The Serendipity, made with mint, apple juice, an unfamiliar liqueur, and champagne.
Yes, champagne. I have been drinking champagne all night, and last night as well. At the Bar Vendome, where the piano player sends mellow songs into the air from a large black grand piano, and famous patrons go to hide in nooks which guarantee they will be seen, I ordered what I could afford, the Ritz Brut. I wanted the Dom Perignon. At the Vendome, I split the bottle of the Brut with my girlfriend. Perhaps I should have waited for the proper champagne. I giggle to the waiter in white, filled with the tiny bubbles, and order The Serendipity.
I listen to the young German investment bankers beside me. They try to seduce two French girls. They speak in English, the common language of the two pairs. I join in the conversation.We laugh and discuss; Tolkien, the economy, Frankfurt, and love. I warn the girls to not be reserved, like I was at their age. I freely offer, from my champagne filled brain, key words of wisdom gained during my 58 years: go take these young men to bed and have a great time tonight. They only have two days left on their holiday. They work long hours. This is the time that they have. The investment bankers love me. When I turn back to my table, I hear them praise the words of the older American women. I taste my Serendipity. It is light, fresh and smooth. I love this Parisian bar.