White Lady + Harry MacElhone + Harry’s New York Bar.
Recently the Proof team (yeah, OK, there’s just me but it sounds cool) were in Paris and no serious cocktailista can visit Paris without a trip to Harry’s New York Bar. Over the last 110 years Harry’s has survived two world wars and the Dark Ages of the cocktail (c.1970 – 2000) largely unscathed. Just a stone’s throw from the Paris opera at 5 Rue Danue – or sank roo doe noo as they famously advertised – more classic cocktails were created here than in any other place although, to be fair, there are quite a lot of claims and counter-claims to the creation of classic cocktails around this time, so, like an iffy Margarita, we might take them with a pinch of salt. We’ve covered a few of those drinks already (the Sidecar, the Boulevardier and [perhaps] the French 75) without going too deeply into their creation stories. Time to fix that and add another undeniable Harry’s classic. But first the backstory to the backstory…
Originally just the New York Bar, Scotsman Harry MacElhone (mack-alone) ran the joint (which was literally shipped there from NYC) from its 1911 opening before leaving, bouncing around London and New York for a while and then returning, buying and adding his name to the New York Bar in 1923. Between the wars was boom time at Harry’s when it functioned as the centre of the American ex-pat culture and has been a magnet for celebrities all the way from Ernest Hemmingway to Daft Punk ever since. Still run by the MacElhone family many generations later and tucked away on a quiet side street I was surprised to find Harry’s really isn’t the cynical tourist trap that I was expecting it to be. In fact Harry’s is refreshingly unpretentious with its old world white-jacketed friendly waiters and bartenders, age old décor and classic but, yes, also more modern cocktails. It’s a true gem and – at least by Paris’ outrageous standards – quite reasonably priced. As team Proof worked their way through the menu every cocktail we tried – leaning heavily on Harry’s classics of course – was perfectly balanced and simply yet elegantly presented. Hats off to Harry and his descendants for keeping a place this special for a staggering 110 years.
The White Lady is the most indisputable Harry’s invention although he changed it over the years and it has changed further yet since. Harry created it during his time in London prior to returning to the New York Bar using crème de menthe* as the base spirit. By 1929 he’d turned to gin and the White Lady was essentially a gin Sidecar. Later egg white was added, and feel free to add that or some aquafaba, but I’m going to go for Harry’s heyday classic here. The White Lady might not be the most exciting or nuanced cocktail ever created but its three ingredients are easy to find and it makes a wonderful exercise in balancing a drink for the budding new cocktailista. Classically the sweetening agent is Cointreau orange liqueur but my personal tweak is to sub in Grand Marnier which, with its cognac base, I find more pleasing – and, hey, it’s still French!
1.5oz / 45ml London dry gin.
0.75oz / 22ml fresh lemon juice
0.75oz / 22ml Cointreau (but I prefer Grand Marnier)
Shake well with ice and double strain into a chilled champagne coupé.
Toast Harry MacElhone (1890 – 1958) the greatest bartender/owner in history.
*Presumably the white kind and not the green stuff.