Cocktails in the Time of Corona: Colin Field of the Hemingway Bar Paris
We recently caught up with Colin Field, the head bartender of the legendary Hemingway Bar at the Hotel Ritz Paris, about how he spent his quarantine and the city’s reopening.
On his personal website Colin Peter Field presents himself plainly as a “bartender” and shares a list of his favorite spirits, including the ubiquitous Grey Goose Vodka and Maker’s Mark Bourbon. But don’t be fooled—Field is a visionary mixologist and is regularly hailed as one of the greatest bartenders in the world. (There’s a reason why Kate Moss wrote an introduction for one of his cocktail books.)
The British native arrived in Paris in 1981 at the age of 20 and has since helped change the drinking landscape of the city, which used to be curiously uninterested in cocktails. Since its reopening in 1994, the famed pocket-sized Hemingway Bar at the legendary Ritz Paris has provided a haven for sophisticated locals and glamorous out-of-towners who share a taste for bespoke drinks garnished with nostalgia for a time when literature and rugged masculinity went hand in hand. As you’d imagine, Ernest Hemingway memorabilia covers the walls.
Behind the bar, Field offers guests a welcoming smile and witty banter. And it’s not unusual to find a fresh flower adorning your cocktail.
After two months of complete lockdown, Paris has started to reopen but the Ritz Paris remains closed. While waiting to get back to work, Field has been staying outside the city. Read on for how he has been keeping busy and the first drink he’s planning on making for his guests.
Where were you for the months of lockdown and what was the experience like? “I have been in the countryside for the last months with my lovely wife and 18-month-old son. We are lucky to have a country cottage-style house, about 50 miles from Paris. We have a growing orchard of apple trees, pear trees, cherry trees, peach trees and grapes, not to mention vegetables (potatoes, cucumbers, melon and pumpkin plants) growing over four acres. It’s been marvelous to really spend time with my wife and see my son grow 24 hours a day rather than an hour here and an hour there.”
How did you keep busy? “Painting the house, repairing the windows, changing the kitchen floor, replacing tiles on the roof, cleaning the swimming pool and around it. I realized that we had really neglected the upkeep and the place had been going to the dogs. Now, it’s a little to a lot better and all that while having breakfast, lunch and dinner with my family for possibly—apart from our yearly vacations—the first time in my life.”
What about inventing new drinks? “New cocktails come to me while I’m actually on the job. It’s the people, guests and friends that inspire me while I’m in the bar. The interaction, the conversations, these are the factors that create sparks in my mind, which lead to new cocktails. Over the lockdown, I have been doing short videos on Facebook. They tend to be rather comic rather than showing you a recipe. Too many bartenders have already successfully cornered that, so I wanted to do something a bit different. But I have not been working on new cocktails. I have been working on repairing the tractor!”
How worried are you about the future of the industry? “When the hotel closed for renovations, I continued to work for the Ritz Paris even if I was working in London, New York, Tokyo, on the Orient Express or on Air France 380s. During those four years, I met so many interesting bartenders and very passionate hotel general managers, which leads me to believe sincerely that the world hotel business will and is already reemerging more dynamically and more powerfully than before. There are just so many enthusiastic and passionate people out there that we will all overcome this momentary obstacle.”
How does it feel to be far from the Hemingway Bar again for such a long period of time? “The Hemingway Bar is a passion for me and I’m always thinking about it and my team. As soon as it became possible, members of my team came here to have lunch and a swim and talk about the future. Not only about the future of the Hemingway Bar but also the work that they have also done in their homes and future plans. We are all very close and have a WhatsApp channel that we all communicate on several times per day, sharing jokes and info. I am a permanent optimist, while the bar has been closed for three months, where there is a problem there is also an opportunity and I have enjoyed this ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ break and truly capitalized upon it. I have been in contact with an enormous amount of my clients, a lot of these super people I have known for more than 25 years. So although it might be diplomatic to say I’ve been depressed and put on weight and felt that the world had become grey, I’ve actually lost weight, feel much more healthy and am looking forward to the marvelous future of the hotel, restaurant and bar industry.”
What’s Paris like at the moment? “Over the lockdown I did not visit Paris. We were in quarantine and we stayed where we were. Since I’ve got back to Paris, I can see differences. There are hygiene rules at the bank and there are still incredible queues at the bakery and the post office. People in supermarkets are all wearing masks and a lot on the road, too. It’s definitely like some horror film. But the terrasses of cafés are filled up, almost frighteningly so, also the local markets go on as if nothing happened; there seems to be a total amnesia on the subject of Covid-19 and distancing. One has to admit, however, that the infections are well on the way down and there are no signs of a second wave.”
When can we expect a reopening for the Hemingway Bar and the Ritz? “Although, I hope that the Hemingway Bar will open again soon, I’m afraid that I do not possess enough information to give a viable answer. I, like many in the industry, am hoping that we can fully open again soon. You see, letting us open to half capacity, is definitely not the answer. Half capacity is the route towards a business going bust! Always has been, always shall be.”
What would be the ideal first drink at the bar when it reopens? “When we do open, probably after a massive cleaning spree that could take some time, the cocktail to have would be a damn good Dry Martini served in a crystal cocktail glass, straight up at 21°c with three olives!”
Interview has been condensed and edited.