On a recent visit to Paris, I went on a pilgrimage to what I think is the mecca for writers…: the Bar Hemingway in the Ritz Hotel on the Place Vendome.
It’s a small bar all the way in the back of the hotel, a bit of a walk through the long, luxurious corridors lined with vitrines filled with the wares of luxury brands catering to the wallets of the rich and famous.
The dark and manly bar, all wood and leather, is small, cozy and filled with Hemingway paraphernalia that includes an old typewriter, which I believe may have been a Royal, but I’m not entirely sure…and a large bottle of Tabasco sauce next to it.
I smiled as I looked at it, running my fingers over the keys. I love typewriters (I had one in college). This one was very similar to the Royal, my old boss, Dan Rather, had in his office and just as in the bar, alongside it, a bottle of Tabasco. Indeed, Rather always traveled with a bottle of Tabasco, telling me that it killed every germ imaginable, and now I wonder if Ernest Hemingway did too?
I sat next to the typewriter and ordered a glass of champagne. I thought about ordering a sidecar or a martini, which I believe was Hemingway’s drink of choice, or certainly the drink he ordered when on August 26th, 1945, the day Paris was liberated, he stormed the bar with a group of fighters from the French Resistance, picking up a tab for 51 martinis…but champagne is more my thing.
As I sat, sipping my bubbles and munching on olives and cashews, I somehow felt transported in time. One glass turned into two or perhaps more and on my umpteenth drink, I strangely felt as though I was part of that very elite crowd that frequented the bar…Marcel Proust, Coco Chanel, F. Scott Fitzgerald…at a time when they were not part of history, when they were, like me, literary or creative figures trying to make ends meet…and the Bar Hemingway was their local.
As I sat looking around at the letters, photographs, animal skull, boxing gloves…oh and the shotgun above the bar, I was so reminded that Hemingway was first a tough, unapologetic son of a bitch, a hardened journalist and a man who broke the mold. I was reminded then just how much he had in common with Dan Rather.
I remembered the four words Rather told me the day I started working for him: “Tell Me A Story.”
And I never forgot.