PARIS — Harry’s Bar in Paris is celebrating the 100th birthday of the bloody mary, the vodka-tomato juice cocktail believed to have been invented at the iconic watering hole in 1921.
These centenary events offer a welcome reprieve from the winter blues and concerns about the omicron version of the coronavirus.
The bar is carefully checking COVID-19 health passes as foreign visitors gather to sample the drink closely associated with Harry’s Bar, whose patrons over the past century have included writers Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald.
According to the history of Harry’s, bartender Fernand Petiot invented the cocktail, and the recipe was first published in a book called “Harry’s ABC of Cocktails” in 1921. An estimated 12,000 Bloody Marys are served annually at the bar.
“It’s a classic drink,” bartender Dante Agnelli said while demonstrating the mixology behind the drink, ingredient by ingredient: salt and pepper, Tabasco sauce, Worcestershire sauce, lemon juice, vodka and tomato juice.
“You make it directly in the glass,” Agnelli said as he stood at the counter where Petiot first performed the now well-established ritual 100 years ago, at the dawn of what became known as the roaring 1920s.
Harry’s Bar plans to host a celebration on Thursday night despite concerns about the spread of omicron variant of the coronavirus in Europe and a surge in new virus infections across France.
Franz-Arthur MacElhone is a great-grandson to bar founder Harry MacElhone. He said that the celebration will follow government regulations. Patrons around the globe will have their health checked and hand sanitizers distributed. Bar staff will also wear masks.
Recent days saw the French government expand the areas where permits are needed, which now includes restaurants as well as a growing list of events. A person must present proof of vaccination and a recent receipt from COVID-19.
French authorities closed nightclubs in France and tightened social isolation measures. However, they are trying to avoid another lockdown.
The health protocol is the only visible change inside the bar that used to be located on New York’s 7th Avenue before it was dismantled, shipped to Europe and rebuilt in central Paris in 1911.
For Harry’s patrons, the timeless décor is a reassuring fixture, particularly at a time of uncertainty due to the pandemic.
“Once you walk in, you leave all your worries aside,” said Ihab Hassan, 61, a retired businessman from Egypt and a regular at the bar since the 1970s.
Hassan seemed to think that even the pandemic coronavirus was not going to hinder his favourite pastime in Paris, and he said so with a bloody-mary at the counter.
Sitting next to Hassan were an American, Jay Sing, and an Australian, Renée DiGeorgio. A reporter from the Associated Press asked their views on the iconic cocktail and both admitted to having had a few.
“Sometimes, with breakfast, for my hangover, we drink bloody marys,” said DiGeorgio, 42, who works in the mining industry and is based in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
“This is a really nice bloody mary,” he said. “It’s actually the first time I’ve ever drunk a bloody mary when the sun’s down!”
Three men stated they were aware of the government’s anti-virus guidelines and took all necessary precautions.
“I have four vaccines in me,” said Sing, 28, a tech industry worker from New York. “I’m like the Iron Man. Nothing is touching me!”
MacElhone, the great-grandson of the bar’s founder, recounted different legends surrounding how the bloody mary got its name.
“Petiot said it was for a dancer that he was very fond of called Mary,” MacElhone explained.
“She used to work in a place in Chicago called the Bucket of Blood,” MacElhone said. But that’s only one explanation for the name of the famous drink.
MacElhone added that there were others.
“There’s a Hemingway story,” he said. “It was just before he got married, and he had been dating somebody called Mary.”
According to the story, Hemingway requested a mixed drink with juice because he didn’t want alcohol in his mouth.
Tomato juice was added, and “while he was drinking it, he was saying ‘bloody Mary’”, MacElhone said.