We swung open its kitschy saloon-style doors and left the bright day behind us at a completely inappropriate hour.
The bar is covered with Americana—license plates, college banners, decals—and other ephemera, evidence of its long history as a favorite watering hole of expatriates, including the patron saint of all expats, Ernest Hemingway.
The place was empty except for one lone man who looked a bit like Ernest's daytime ghost, sitting in front of the bartender who was silently wiping down glasses. It was far too early for the stampede of tourists who make a nightly pilgrimage here.
We knew we had to try the bar's speciality, the whiskey sour, but made a good show of hesitation. It really is a bit early, no? Maybe I'll just have a mint tea. Or a mimosa. But our friends found an excuse for us all: jet lag! We didn't bother to remind them that, coming from London, we weren't suffering from jet lag, and no one did the math to determine that it was more like morning for them. Rise and shine and taste that bittersweet Bourbon cocktail.
It's easy to make friends with strangers in a dark bar in the middle of the day. Ernest's ghost was, of course, a young expat writer with a respectable amount of facial scruff and clothes one might wear when painting. But, anachronistically, he scrolled through emails on his BlackBerry and was himself trying to forget a case of jet lag from a flight from Los Angeles. Would a modern Ernest be a burgeoning screenwriter?
We toasted and noticed that another day drinker had crept by us and now sat at the other end of the bar sipping something out of a martini glass. As he slowly drank he slid imperceptibly from barstool to barstool and finally sat next to us, actively listening. Eventually, without preamble, he joined the discussion. As he talked he occasionally drew out an electronic cigarette from the breast pocket of his navy blazer like it was a fine writing instrument and took discreet puffs, blowing odorless smoke from his nostrils.
Another Parisian gentleman, casually chic and confident in his charm, made a bold entrance and immediately introduced himself, shaking the men's hands and kissing the ladies', a gesture which I am convinced was designed for men to easily determine a woman's marital status. (I'm still not sure if the fact of a wedding ring makes a woman more or less a target for a Parisian man.) He tossed back a drink like he had just come from a punishingly boring, sober business lunch.
Between the seven of us, multiple threads of conversation spun out and broke off and interwove, and though we were the only patrons, the space felt fully occupied by our presence, getting thicker and louder as we talked. The effects of a cocktail so mimic the warm, radiating pulse of the feeling of friendship that strangers have been benefiting from this shortcut to intimacy for ages. Sometimes the moment is an entry into something true, other times it's just a flash, a good cheat, a trick to turn everyday life inside out by gold joy sipped and shared. Travelers, expats and businessmen bond, fuzzy plans are hatched; yes, next Thursday we'll meet again. This round's on me. To Hemingway!
We talked about books and bars and Paris. Recommendations for restaurants and advice on life were given. There's a sloppy beauty to the nonsense distributed. A few choice pieces from our afternoon sojourn:
Travel Advice from Bar Philosopher I: "The jet lag and fatigue of an overnight, trans-Atlantic flight can be bypassed entirely by heading straight to the bar upon arrival. With a good buzz, sleep is unnecessary."
Health Advice from Bar Philosopher II: "If you smoke fewer than five cigarettes a day, you will live a long and healthy life. A famous heart surgeon confirmed this to me."
Fitness Advice from Bar Philosopher III: "You may eat as much and drink as much as you like, as long as you don't snack between meals and take the subway rather than drive. My obese American friend came to Paris for three weeks and lost 10 kilos this way."
Did they believe their own advice? Perhaps. Certainly in the dark gleam of Harry's Bar, after convivial drinks, it's easier to. Anything is possible. Ernest's ghost walks. Friends can be made in an instant. A Paris scene retains its allure even when the tableau contains e-cigarettes and smart phones.