Harry MacElhone

Words by Theodora Sutcliffe

Died: 1958
Originally from: Dundee
Profession: Bartender
At: Paris

Monday 30 May is Memorial Day. What better occasion to memorialize the slight, wry Scot who presided over one of the world's most famous American bars?

The son of a jute mill owner, from Dundee, Scotland, Harry first worked at number 5 Rue Daunou in Paris (the site that he would later acquire and turn into Harry's Bar) when Milton Henry opened his New York Bar there in 1911. He then headed to America, working at the Elton Hotel Bar in Waterbury, Connecticut, and the Plaza Bar, New York, before serving in the air force in World War I.

When the war ended, Harry took up a role at Ciro's Club, London, where he became enough of a celebrity to publish his first book, "Harry of Ciro's ABC of Mixing Cocktails" in 1921. (His 1927 book, "Barflies and Cocktails", was recently reissued.)

Harry's bosses asked him to launch a second Ciro's, in Deauville, France. Then on 8th February 1923, he acquired the funds to buy the New York Bar where he had worked over a decade before - and changed its name to Harry's New York Bar.

A marketing whizz, Harry catered to Americans, from the sports memorabilia on his walls to his political polls. He advertised in the French press with the bar's address rendered phonetically into English as "Sank Roo Doe Noo". It fast became the ultimate destination for Americans between the wars.

During the Roaring Twenties, Harry was not shy about drunkenness in his bar. He passed out baggage tags to his guests inscribed "Return me to Harry's Bar, 5 Daunou". His international beer drinking contests, during which competitors had to down two litres of beer as fast as they could, routinely made the American press.

A second venue in Le Touquet, Chez Harry, fared less well than his Paris venture, and Harry sold it during the 1930s. Yet, as a respected friend of other leading bartenders of his day, it was Harry who was invited behind the stick of the Paris Ritz when Frank Meier headed out for a stint at the New York Ritz.

After German troops appeared in Paris in 1940, Harry bricked up his booze in the cellar and took refuge in London, where he and his son Andrew worked at the Café De Paris. Harry was there on the night a direct hit from a German bomb destroyed the place, and - according to his family - went on to work at the London Ritz.

Harry's son Andrew and grandson Duncan would follow in his footsteps - working at his bar which is, in a feat of incredible longevity, still operating a century after it first opened.

Few of Harry's own creations are found on today's menus - although the Monkey Gland is beginning to appear again. However, echoes of his bartending ethos can be found in bars - and in particular members clubs - around the world via the rules of his International Bar Flies club. If you ever read the house rules of a members' club, or speakeasy, you might well hear Harry's Scottish tones whispering through them.

Harry founded the 'club' in December 1924. He called his bar "Trap No. 1" and his female members "butterflies". A short, slight man, he gave himself the self-deprecating moniker "Blue Bottle Fly".

House rules included: "Members bumping their chin on the rail in the act of falling are suspended for 10 days"; "Those seeing cerise cats with purple ears should keep it to themselves"; and, most famously, "Backslapping after six drinks should be tempered with mercy".

Perhaps understandably, however, Harry's Loyal Society of Dartsmen and Order of Former Pipe Players are less well known today.

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