There's something about sipping a classic cocktail in a storied bar that can make a lifelong memory. For much of the 20th century and into this new one, bars in the Ritz Paris have offered that kind of experience.
Now Colin Peter Field, head bartender of the hotel's Bar Hemingway, has produced a cocktail book every bit as elegant as the Ritz itself, filled with lore, legends and instructions on making your own Ritz-style cocktails.
Whether you're headed to Paris or simply want to put your feet up at home and learn how the world's great bartenders approach their craft, you'll enjoy perusing The Cocktails of the Ritz Paris (Simon & Schuster, 2003, $19.95). Yoko Ueta's stylish illustrations add to the enjoyment.
Field's chapter on the psychology of mixing drinks is an instructive series of questions to ask before making a drink. Who is it for? What is he celebrating? What's his objective - a light, thirst-quenching drink or something more?
And finally, what is the bartender's objective or challenge? For instance, for a customer "flagging in energy," he suggests a drink with lots of fresh juice, a bit of sugar, a drop of alcohol and "something fizzy to pep the person up, probably champagne or ginger ale."
There is also a useful chapter on preparing a cocktail, explaining the roles of the principal constituents: the base alcohol, the perfume and the body (consistency). He also offers chapters with advice on garnishing drinks and choosing a glass.
But Field's real love is the stories behind classic drinks. He considers himself a "cocktail genealogist," someone who values the history of a drink as much as the precise instructions for making it. Devotees of the classic dry gin martini will delight in the five pages he devotes to the history and development of what he calls "the world's most famous cocktail."
The heart of the book is a chapter devoted to various classic cocktails, along with each drink's origins and a story or two. Many of these were invented at the Bar Hemingway itself.
The Serendipiti is a good example. An "all-evening cocktail, particularly in hot weather," the drink was created by Field in 1994 for Jean-Louis Constanza, described by Field as a great sportsman, successful businessman and devoted Epicurean.
Upon tasting it, Constanza exclaimed "Serendipiti!" which he defined for Field as meaning "when you find what you've always been looking for, without knowing that you had been looking for it." Field liked the word and the definition, and that's how the drink is known.
You can try it yourself. But first, a note on communicating proportions: To be precise and to avoid problems in translating differences in measuring systems, Field works in tenths, imagining that each drink is 10 parts, regardless of the kind of cocktail or size of the glass.
"When you look at a recipe with all its measurements in tenths," he says, "look next at the glass and imagine it separated into 10 floors. You then just follow the instructions."
1 sprig of mint
2/10 apple juice
In a tumbler, take 1 full sprig of mint, cut the bottom of the stalk off and place the sprig in the glass. Add the Calvados and muddle the 2 ingredients together, only slightly bruising the mint.
Add plenty of ice cubes and the apple juice. Fill almost to the brim with champagne. Taste and say "Serendipiti!"
- "The Cocktails of the Ritz Paris" by Colin Peter Field (Simon & Schuster, 2003, $19.95)