Talk about serendipity. Here we are with Colin Field, head bartender of Bar Hemingway in the Hôtel Ritz Paris, sipping his famous Serendipity cocktail, and confabulating about the bar’s highly-anticipated re-opening on June 6th. Perhaps there’s no one giddier about those legendary French doors swinging open after a three-and-a-half-year renovation than Colin. Dubbed the best bartender in the world by Forbes and Travel + Leisure, Colin has been the guru of giggle water at Bar Hemingway since 1994. That’s a tall order considering its history as a favorite watering hole for Greta Garbo, Marlene Dietrich, Coco Chanel, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Ernest Hemingway, after whom the bar was renamed. Pull up a tabouret de bar and listen in as Colin serves up his thoughts on everything from his beloved Hemingway Orphans and his top-secret Martini recipe to his favorite bars stateside.
You’ve been away from “home” for three and a half years. What are you most looking forward to about returning to Bar Hemingway?
I’m most looking forward to being with our regulars, who we call the Hemingway Orphans. They come nearly every day. Of course, we’re all looking forward to meeting new people and making new friends plus having a good excuse for a party or two or three.
What is it like to work where Hemingway used to drink? Can you feel his presence?
Hemingway’s presence is always felt in the Bar, and we think about him all the time. If I’m in a dire situation, I say, “Papa, get me out of this one,” and he does, because Hemingway takes care of those who take care of him. We all feel a responsibility to be knowledgeable in referencing the lives of Hemingway and his family.
How have you been spending your time over the last three years while the bar was closed?
I have been mixing drinks all around the world. I’ve been at The Mark Hotel, The Surrey, and The Pierre in New York; the Otani Hotel and Imperial Hotel in Tokyo; the Halekulani Hotel in Honolulu; the Cipriani Hotel in Venice; The Ritz and Brown’s Hotel in London; and the Hotel Fasano in São Paolo. I also enjoyed working with Air France’s “Cocktails in the Sky” program where I crafted cocktails for those flying in Première and Business classes. I met so many wonderful people, including some of the most charming Air France hostesses. It was truly an honor.
Will there be a new signature cocktail to celebrate the reopening of Bar Hemingway?
Yes. The new cocktail is a very pure Martini, but nothing that has ever been done before. I can’t say more, or knowledgeable bartenders will know. In fact, I’ve already said too much.
Bartenders always have the most wonderful conversations with their patrons. What are some of the more memorable conversations you’ve had from behind the bar?
I have some good acquaintances in the film business, and it’s always nice to enjoy cocktails together and talk about our passions. I’ve made martinis—stirred, not shaken, as a Martini should be—for almost all of the actors who have played James Bond. And I always enjoy talking to Marie-Louise Sciò, Hotel Il Pellicano’s creative director, and her father, who owns the hotel.
You’ve crafted and served cocktails at so many incredible parties, including Kate Moss’s wedding. Which were your favorites?
Certainly one of the best was the cocktail party we did for Cartier on La rue François 1er to launch one of their new watches. We served a fantastic cocktail of gin and Lillet with hibiscus flower juice in Baccarat Harcourt Louis Philippe cocktail glasses, which are so beautiful and valued at over $350 each. I also loved making cocktails for Swarovski in the Galerie des Batailles at the Palace at Versailles and doing the 50th-anniversary party for the Hotel Il Pellicano. And how can I forget the time I spent mixing cocktails aboard the Orient Express?
Baccarat’s Harcourt 1841 Louis Philippe Glass is one of Colin’s favorites
Let’s play favorites…
What’s your favorite bar in the United States?
L’Aperitif at La Mer, the bar at the Halekulani in Honolulu. I love the way Henry, the head bartender, and Executive Chef Vikram Garg pair cocktails and food. I often see bars that do food pairings with cocktails, but the cocktails are served in the wrong glasses – they should be in wine glasses – and the food pairings don’t work. It’s as if ideas have paired them rather than taste and an exchange between the two chefs. In New York, I love the bar at The Mark Restaurant by Jean-Georges, which is managed by Olivier Lordonnois.
Your favorite brand of glassware?
Baccarat is and always will be my personal preference in glassware. I hope I don’t get into trouble for that!
Your favorite Scotch?
Your favorite bourbon?
Your favorite vodka?
Your favorite gin?
Beefeater 24 and Tanqueray 10
Colin’s Serendipity is made with Calvados, fresh mint, clear apple juice, and Champagne
You’ve invented so many cocktails, including the Picasso Martini, the Highland Cream Cocktail, and The Serendipity. You’ve even written a book about cocktails. Where do you get your inspiration?
Inspiration comes from all around me, conversations with friends, touring distilleries, and talking to maîtres de chais. I recently visited Grand Marnier and came back with bags of ideas, not just for Grand Marnier but for lots of cocktails. Knowledge is power.
What is the most underrated spirit?
Calvados. It’s an apple brandy made from specially grown and selected apples and using a cognac-style distillation process from the Pays d’Auge appellation. I use it in our signature cocktail, the Serendipity, which I call “France in a Glass.” Calvados is important to France. It creates jobs in Normandy.
What do you see as a key trend in cocktails in 2016?
There are still a lot of complicated cocktails that take a rather long time to make. As the year progresses, I think we’ll begin to see a movement towards doing lovely cocktails with fewer ingredients. After all, look at the world’s most famous cocktails. In general, they only have two or three ingredients.
Colin puts the finishing touches on a cocktail
What three drinks do you think every host or hostess should know how to make?
A dry Martini; a French 75 served in a tumbler and made the proper way with gin, lemon juice, sugar, and Champagne; and a Serendipity, of course.
Serendipity. We’ll drink to that. Thanks for stopping by, Colin.
Photo sources: Colin Field, The Hotel Ritz Paris