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Drink around Europe in Ernest Hemingway's favourite bars

Ernest Hemingway is an author whose legacy is so significant that it overshadows the giant hulk of the man he was. Both his writing and life are intertwined in a strange symbiosis, and often it is hard to distinguish between fact and fiction due to the vast mythos that surrounds him. Regardless, his mark on culture has been everlasting.

Hemingway was seriously wounded when serving as an ambulance driver in the American forces during WW1, and his experiences formed the basis of his 1929 classic A Farewell to Arms. This marriage of lived experience with his work of fiction gave his novels a palpable essence, one that many in the readership could align themselves to, either through their own experiences or of those around him. In many ways, just like his life, he expertly blurred the line between the real and the fictional. 

His style was economical, and it rarely contained frills, matching his uber-realism as a human being. Again, this added to the very natural feel of his work. It was also his training as a journalist which contributed to this unmistakable style. 

When he began to write short stories, Hemingway kept the minimalism he had been trained to compose and only focused on the explicit implications of his words. He left it up to the reader to scratch below the surface and find meaning. Not to be confused with the psychological theory, he also named his style the ‘iceberg theory’, and it has been incredibly influential on modern authors.  

Hemingway produced the majority of his work between the mid-1920s and the 1950s, and in 1954, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature for his game-changing efforts. What’s interesting about his career is that his works are not that extensive. In total, he published seven novels, six collections of short stories and two works of nonfiction. More surprisingly, a notable chunk of his work was published posthumously. 

Aside from his writing, Hemingway’s adventurous lifestyle and uber-manly public image also added to his vast legacy. He moved to Paris in 1921 with his first wife, Hadley Richardson, where he worked as a foreign correspondent for the Toronto Star. In the French capital, he fell under the artistic and ideological influence of the modernist writers and artists of the decade’s ‘Lost Generation’ community. Here, he rubbed shoulders with Gertrude Stein, James Joyce and formed a friendship of “admiration and hostility” with the era’s other iconic author, F. Scott Fitzgerald. The most notable chapter of his life is undoubtedly the time he spent working as a journalist covering the Spanish Civil War between 1937 and 1939. This inspired his most enduring work, the 1940 effort For Whom the Bell Tolls.

Prone to “alcoholic sprees”, Hemingway was married four times; was with Allied troops as a journalist at the Normandy landings and liberation of Paris; a boxer; fisherman, and all-around thrillseeker. Showing just how modernist his works were, even if he tried to cast off the influence of Stein, his books were burned by the Nazis in Berlin in 1933 for “being a monument of modern decadence”.

The real-life intrepid explorer, today we’re marking out five of Hemingway’s favourite drinking haunts on the European continent. Surprisingly today, despite a major world war and the fact that Hemingway died way back in 1961, many are still in existence. They’re thriving as major tourist spots for those wanting to get a little bit closer to the spirit of one of the modern age’s most important literary figures. 

Join us, then, as we list five of Ernest Hemingway‘s favourite European watering holes.

Ernest Hemingway’s favourite European bars:

The Ritz – Paris, France

One of the most famous hotels on the planet, of course one of the most celebrated authors of all time would find himself frequenting it. It was established by Swiss proprietor César Ritz in 1898, and was among the first European hotels to offer en suite bathrooms and electric telephones with each room. Both Hemingway and Coco Chanel have suites named in their honour.

Showing just how linked to the hotel he is, the cocktail lounge, ‘Bar Hemingway’ is named after him, as it is where he used to drink with his perennial frenemy, F. Scott Fitzgerald. He is famously quoted as saying: “When in Paris the only reason not to stay at the Ritz is if you can’t afford it”.

Hemingway’s love for The Ritz ran very deep. He once also said: “When I dream of afterlife in heaven, the action always takes place in the Paris Ritz”.
He loved it so much that he even gathered a group of resistance fighters to liberate the bar on 25th August 1944.

The Nazis had already left so no violence was needed, and Hemingway celebrated by racking up a tab of 51 dry Martinis. It is said he then stayed there for a while, and Charles Ritz gave him the best room in the house, overlooking the historic Place Vendome.

Today a five-star hotel, to stay at The Ritz is obviously a thing of dreams, but instead of staying, you can just visit Hemingway’s bar. It is said to be the world’s “most famous (and smallest)” bar, and only has 25 seats. Every day people battle it out for a chance to sit in the tufted leather armchairs and sip on a dry martini whilst looking at the bar’s historic library and photograph collection.

Bar Hemingway, The Ritz, Paris. (Credit: The Ritz)

La Venencia – Madrid, Spain

Some things never change. It is said that Le Venencia in Madrid hasn’t changed very much at all since the horrific days of the Spanish Civil War. The bar is where Hemingway would visit if he wanted to be informed about the latest updates in the war from the Republican soldiers who were known to frequent it.

It is situated in the bustling neighbourhood of Huertas, and interestingly, it was once home to two of Spain’s most important literary figures, Miguel de Cervantes and Lope de Vega.

In addition to the decor and layout which haven’t changed since the days of Hemingway, some of the rules that were set then are still in effect, mainly no photographs, and oddly, no tipping. The tabs are still written in chalk on the bar, and the sherry, yes sherry, is stored in the traditional wooden barrels. La Venencia serves a range of alcohol and tapas and has brilliant reviews across the board.

(Credit: Tripadvisor)

Harry’s Bar – Venice, Italy

Harry’s Bar was opened in 1931 by Giuseppe Cipriani after an old American acquaintance, Harry Pickering, gifted him 50,000 lire one day out of the blue after Cipriani had lent him 10,000 to help him with financial troubles.

“Mr. Cipriani, thank you,” he said, according to the Cipriani website. “Here’s the money. And to show you my appreciation, here’s 40,000 more, enough to open a bar. We will call it Harry’s Bar.” The rest was history.

Hemingway spent a great deal of time in Venice in the late 1940s and is said to have been at Harry’s almost every day. He had a table of his own and often drank with Cipriani. He loved the bar so much that it features in his 1950 short story Over the River and Into the Trees.

Aside from Hemingway, it was frequented by Truman Capote, Alfred Hitchcock and even Orson Welles. Furthermore, it’s also mentioned in Evelyn Waugh’s classic novel, Brideshead Revisited. A living breathing piece of history, Harry’s bar is also the home of the world-famous Bellini and Carpaccio.

The late Antony Bourdain said: “You get a pretty good plate of food—and the Bellinis are just fine. They just cost a fuck of a lot. But they do treat you courteously and it is Venice out the window—and everything’s expensive anyway.”

(Credit: Cipirani)

Café Iruña – Pamplona, Spain

Situated in the heart of the Basque Country, Pamplona is a must when on a cultural excursion. The home of the terribly outdated, but Spanish cultural juggernaut of bullfighting, the city is the third-largest in the Basque Country and the home of the San Fermín festival held in the second week of every July. The colourful celebration was brought to cultural fame in Hemingway’s 1926 classic The Sun Also Rises.

Hemingway loved Pamplona, and it loved him. There’s a street named after him and even a statue in commemoration of him. Dazzled by the city’s bars as much as bullfighting, his favourite haunt to get an alcoholic tipple was the city’s famous, Café Iruña. 

A 19th-century bar with helpful staff and fresh regional food, the establishment should be at the top of your list next time you’re in Pamplona. Its wine is also said to be some of the best in Europe. Just make sure to avoid Iruña if you’re there over San Fermín as it is guaranteed you’ll not get a seat.

(Credit: Café Iruña)

Brasserie Lipp – Paris, France

No list of Hemingway’s favourite European bars would be complete without mention of Paris’ iconic Brasserie Lipp – it even featured prominently in his 1964 memoir A Moveable Feast.

In the book, he recalls living in a tiny apartment in the city’s Latin Quarter, and he often found himself strolling the banks of the Seine looking for something to. Notably, he tells the tale of frequenting the Musée du Luxembourg without having eaten, and strangely, this makes him appreciate the paintings of Paul Cézanne even more. 

Whilst out on these jaunts, he stopped at Brasserie Lipp on Boulevard Saint-Germain for beers and the traditional dish, pommes à l’huile with sausage. If you want to get a taste of what Paris was like when Hemingway was living there, look no further than the Brasserie Lipp. A traditional Parisian establishment in decor and food, you’ll be transported right back across the city’s turbulent and exciting modern history.

(Credit: Brasserie Lipp)