There’s a fair amount of discussion here on IPTB about “classic” cocktails as opposed to more modern concoctions. This discussion revolves around two main points, the first being modern cocktails’ complexity of construction (more ingredients and more often artificially flavored), and the second is the notion that a cocktail’s history, or pedigree if we want to sound snooty about it, has value. While the former point is debatable, the snooty side of that debate will find plenty of ammunition in The Cocktails of the Ritz Paris.
Part reference, part musing on the nature and history of mixed drinks, The Cocktails of the Ritz Paris is written by Colin Peter Field, head bartender of the Bar Hemingway at, you guessed it, the Ritz Paris. If ever there was a bar with pedigree, it’s the Bar Hemingway. Opened in 1921 as the Cambon Bar, this was the favorite watering hole of a number of notable personages, but most frequently Ernest Hemingway. It’s said that after the close of the Second World War, Hemingway rushed out to be the first patron to “liberate” the Cambon Bar and celebrate V-E Day. The Cambon closed to the public around 1985, but when the Ritz and Field himself reopened it in 1994, it seemed only fitting to redub the new establishment the Bar Hemingway.
One would imagine that the head bartender at such a prestigious gin joint has some pretty hefty credentials himself; and indeed, depending on which international competition you put more stock in, he’s either the second best, or the best bartender in the world today. In sum, for the serious enthusiast of classic drinks, The Cocktails of the Ritz Paris is an essential reference.
With 77 drinks on 141 pages, Field splits the book about 50/50 between recipes and other information, which can range from garniture, pairing cocktails with cigars, and the sometimes-muddled history of certain cocktails, right down to “the psychology of mixing drinks.” To be perfectly honest, each of these subjects deserves its own volume, and Field never quite comes to a conclusion on any one of them. That certainly doesn’t mean that he doesn’t have tremendous insight on each subject, but each section leaves you feeling that there’s more to be said. But of course, Field is a bartender, not a novelist.
For all the valuable information contained within though, the book itself is equally handsome. Fabric-bound and illustrated by painter Yoko Ueta, the aesthetics of the book are simple and classic, and would not look out-of-place sitting on a bar in 1930.
Regardless of your stance concerning modern vs. classic cocktails and whether pedigree has value, Colin Field’s insight undoubtedly does. And even those staunchly in the modern –tini drink camp will find recipes that appeal to them, like the light and fruity Miss Bonde. So whether you prefer a Manhattan or an Appletini, if you enjoy mixing drinks for yourself and others, The Cocktails of the Ritz Paris is worth seeking out.