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Hemingway punched me in the mouth

One of the hallmarks of the good vacation is finding a hole-in-the-wall restaurant that turns out to be delightful, then walking out with the feeling that you’ve found “your place” in that city. It’s silly, I know, and more than a little influenced by the bottle of wine the two of you shared. But it’s a joyful feeling nevertheless, and must be respected.

We had it as we emerged from Le Petite Vendome, in Paris’ 2nd Arrondissement.

We can’t take full credit for finding it on our own. The recommendation came from a friend of Mary’s who is a frequent visitor to Paris. It’s a bustling, unassuming bistro with a small bar in the front. The tables are huddled together, filled with people talking loudly in French, enjoying their meals.

We sat down at a table for two in the corner of the back room, which we shared with a table of about 12 well-dressed, young French professionals, talking passionately, as young French professionals will.

I ordered escargot to start, followed by the duck confit. Mary had French onion soup and a salad. Although I’m a lover of shellfish, it was my first experience with snails, other than a frustrating battle several decades ago with a plate of tiny periwinkles in Martha’s Vineyard. It wouldn’t surprise me if someone with a more refined palette than I said these were prepared with a little too much salt and garlic. But I thought they were delicious. The rich, meaty flavor of the snail stood up fine to the seasoning. And the duck was rich and gamey - fall-off-the bone delicious.

Mary loved hers as well, in particular the cheesy pastries on her fresh salad.

Just as we were savoring the fact that the restaurant seemed to be filled with locals, an American couple was seated next to us. And by “next to us” I mean their table was inches away. We had the polite “where are you from” conversation. LA, it turns out.

“What brings you to Paris,” Mary asked.

“Paris,” the man answered with a shrug and a smile. Good answer.

At some point he mentioned that they had just come from Bar Hemingway, around the corner, which he said was laughably overpriced but excellent and worth a stop.

“Where do you want to go?” Mary asked as we stepped out into the street a few minutes later.

“Bar Hemingway, of course!”

I’m only slightly embarrassed to say that I drank the Hemingway Kool Aid as a young man, especially the image of him drinking and brawling in Paris with other great writers. Overpriced or not, it seemed negligent not to stop in for a drink.

Turns out the bar is in the Ritz, where Hemingway often stayed, no doubt in the years after he was famous and rich. He also drank at the bar, which is filled with pictures of him, along with various manly accessories.

I succumbed to the J. Peterman-like backstory of the Kashenka, which the menu explained is “the story of a beautiful Polish dancer who broke an artist’s heart. He wrote a poem within a glass. Fresh strawberries lightly crushed would represent his soul. Three-month aged vodka made by the Bar Hemingway team represents his blood, and the cold shattered ice over which the Polish vodka is poured is Catherine herself, who left the artist doomed to dream of her in absence forever."

It was a fruity double vodka on the rocks, though a damn good one, I must admit.

Mary had the Miss Bond, a blend of raspberry and champagne that was delightful despite a much less elaborate backstory.

There's an early Woody Allen stand-up routine in which he imagined himself living in Paris among the great artists and writers who congregated there after World War I. It was a series of "recollections" about the legendary thriving literary scene, all of which ended with the same punch line.

“Hemingway had just finished his first novel,” goes one of them. “Gertrude Stein and I read it and said it was a good book but not a great book, but with a little work it could be a fine novel. And we laughed over it. And Hemingway punched me in the mouth.”

Each of our drinks at Bar Hemingway were 34 euros. Seventy five bucks for two cocktails..

That's going to leave a mark.



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