We’re sitting at the Hemingway Bar at the Hôtel Ritz Paris, my friend Greg and I.
He leans over and says, soft and deep, “That face, it’s beyond the dreams of pornography.”
The face would be that of Roman the bartender, the friendliest man behind a bar that we’d met in our Paris jaunts thus far.
Greg and I, we’re bar people — we adore eating at bars, perhaps even more than eating at actual tables.
At bars, you tend to get to know your neighbors well — even if conversation only starts up because a fork is in your elbow. You have a front-row seat to behind-the-counter action, all the little dramas that aren’t meant to permeate through the welcoming smiles of waitresses.
You also get to know some pretty gifted entertainers pouring drinks — and Roman happened to be one of them.
Granted, the Hemingway Bar — named for Ernest Hemingway, who used to belly up to that very bar for his single-malt whiskies — has a storied history that provides great fodder for any bartender. And, given the fact that each cocktail at the bar will set you back 30 Euros, the entertainment factor helps. (One wonders whether Hemingway could afford to drink there if he were alive today.)
But Roman and his colleague Paul-Michael — they’re born storytellers who gently spar with each other while sharing passionate tales of the drinks they’ve poured and hope to someday pour. (Plus, yes, it does help that they’re in possession of Food Network-worthy good looks.)
There’s the Benderitter, a spicy ginger extract and champagne concoction that’s become one of the bar’s signature cocktails.
And also a host of others involving the usual ingredients — strawberries, mint, cucumbers and the like.
When we asked about the most outrageous drinks they’d created, they rattled off mixtures involving savory touches like crushed beef bouillon. But Paul-Michael finally had one that took the cake — a Midori cocktail garnished with a dried scorpion.
It won him a competition, 1,000 Euros, a nice mention in a European magazine on cocktailing – and the hope of more prizes to come.
When we’d gotten to the Ritz that night, grumpy, weary and soaked from head to toe from an unceasing downpour, we’d all but growled our drink orders, vowing to have just a quick one before dinner. Instead, we lingered, pondering having a second before reluctantly tearing ourselves away.
Prizes are great — but good yarns are better, we decided.
Even if the Ritz never decides to put the Midori scorpion on the menu, we’re heading back sometime.