Humorous Responses to the So-called “American Bar” of Europe

Paris by Sunlight and Gaslight, by James Gabny McCabe, 1869: “A splendid display of gilt letters along the front of the handsome balcony informs the passer by that it is an ‘American Bar-room,’ where American drinks, pure and simple, are sold…  The ‘drinks’ sold here may be American in principle, but they are not so in fact.”

The Innocents Abroad, by Mark Twain, 1869: “We ferreted out another French imposition — a frequent sign… ‘All Manner of American Drinks Artistically Prepared Here’…  ‘We will take whiskey-straight’  (A stare from the Frenchman.)  ‘Well, if you don’t know what that is, give us a Champagne Cocktail.’  (A stare and a shrug.)  ‘Well then, give us a Sherry Cobbler.’  The Frenchman was checkmated.  This was all Greek to him.  ‘Give us a Brandy Smash!’  The Frenchman began to back away… shrugging his shoulder and spreading his hands apologetically…  It was plain that he was a wicked impostor.”

Nasby in Exile, by David Ross Locke, 1882: “There are a few bars in London that make a specialty of American drinks, which are very curious. The names they palm off as American are very funny to an American, because they are never heard of over there.”

Jerry Thomas, as quoted in David Wondrich’s book, Imbibe, talking to a reporter of the Dramatic Mirror, circa 1882-1884: “Then I’ll teach the Britishers what’s what.  Then there’ll be no need to brew bogus Yankee drinks.  No, sir, for I’ll give them the full benefit of my inventions, and they shall see what kind of a boy a New York bartender is.  I’ll revolutionize the bar in England when I go over, you bet your boots!” [Since Thomas never went to England, his quote on this subject seems to take accounts he had heard of American bars in England as a launching point for his own arrogance.]

How to Travel, by Thomas Wallace Knox, 1887: “A few drinking establishments in London have sought to attract the patronage of strangers from the United States by advertising ‘American drinks,’ but those who have tried them say that the British concoctions are base counterfeits of the great originals.”

The Expatriates – A Novel, by Lilian Bell, 1901: “‘Why, from the number of ‘American Bars’ seen all over Europe, one would think nobody drank anything but American drinks,’ said Lida.  ‘Oh no!  Besides, these so-called ‘American Bars’ couldn’t mix a drink that an American would recognize…”

The Preposterous Yankee, by Montague Vernon Ponsonby, 1903: “Many persons who have never been to America, but who have visited the American Bar in London, and consumed what is there called ‘American drinks,’ feel a spirit of resentment against the United States.  They think that there must be something abnormal or criminal about a nation that will imbibe such liquids.  This is unfair to America.  As a matter of fact, the “American drinks” sold in London are strange concoctions invented in Whitechapel, and which no American would drink if he could get anything else.”

How Paris Amuses Itself, by Frank Berkeley Smith, 1903: “The only thing American about this ‘American Bar’ was the sign over the door, beneath which appeared a long list of American drinks with weird names, translated to him [the owner] from a bartender’s guide published on the Bowery in the early sixties [Jerry Thomas’ book], not one concoction of which he had ever been able to mix.”

Denmark, Norway and Sweden, by William Eleroy Curtis, 1903: “At the Grand Hotel in Stockholm is an ‘American bar,’ similar to those to be found in London, Paris and Berlin.  It is attended by a young man, who mixes what are alleged to be American drinks.”

Everybody’s Magazine, Volume 18, January 1908:  “Thus the core of Paris, the tourist Paris…  The American bar flourishes.  It is called an American bar because there is nothing like it in America and because somebody in it can make what he fondly calls a cocktail.”

The Saturday Evening Post, Volume 185, Issue 1, 1912: “Personally I prefer the brand of American who can go abroad and sample the peculiar institutions of England, such as the Tower of London and Shakespeare’s Birthplace, and the kind of cocktail they sell in the American bar of the Savoy Hotel — and still return home with the true Americanism of his speech unimpaired.”

Samuel Francis Batchelder, addressing the Harvard class of 1893 dinner in 1913: “I attempted to celebrate by going out and getting a real American cocktail.  Now you who have tried that experiment in Paris will perhaps appreciate my difficulty.”



5 thoughts on “Humorous Responses to the So-called “American Bar” of Europe

  1. The Twain quote is particularly interesting because, if I’m not mistaken, he is talking about the year 1867. It’s during the Exposition Universelle of that year that Paris was introduced to ‘American Drinks’, so he would have been one of the first Americans to try an American Drink made the French way (or rather one of the first to have tried to have one and failed). The London quotes are fun, especially the first two because we know that, at the time, most American bars in the city where run by Americans (the most famous of which was Leo Engel). The same applies to Germany, where the first bartender association (1909, oldest in the world) was created by a handful of Americans.

    I knew Frank Berkeley Smith’s book because it has one of the earliest mention I found of Henry’s Bar — and it was positive. So I wonder how many positive comments one could find in the other books you’re quoting.

    1. Thank you for your thoughtful and well-educated comments.
      I consider that during the nineteenth century, the U.S.A. was to mixed drink what France was to cuisine. I imagine that whenever it was that the “French Restaurant” became a common feature of large, American cities, Frenchmen would have found a handful to be satisfactory and many to be unsatisfactory. One French acquaintance of mine still considers that there isn’t really any authentic French cuisine in American restaurants, even those headed by chefs from France. Similarly, it seems clear to me that the prevailing opinion of Americans who had traveled to Europe in the nineteenth century (or early twentieth century) was that authentic American drinks were difficult to obtain there. That said, you are correct that there are some positive reports. I have read two accounts that suggest that Leo Engel was the only bar-tender in London who could be relied upon to serve a first-rate and authentic American drink. One account that I have seen recommends Engel, but warns against other, less competent bar-tenders “imported” from the U.S.A. I have also read blurbs about the “American Bar” of the Paris expositions that mention the availability of American drinks within larger reporting of the expositions, in general, that seem neutral by American journalists who may, or may not, have actually sampled the drinks. Smith does give a very positive impression of Henry’s Bar. He also indicates that it is the most authentically American bar in Paris – which is suggestive that the others were not so authentic. The positive accounts do seem to be clearly in the minority, and are mostly not humorous. In this collection of quotes, and the ones by our navy man, humor and entertainment were what I was going for – while also presenting what I consider to be the majority opinion at the time.
      P.S. I have added a quote by Jerry Thomas into the body of the post. I hesitated at first, since, unlike many of my brethren, I find Jerry Thomas to be a better representation of the early arrogance sometimes found in bar-tenders than of good American mixological tradition. Also, since Thomas never went to England, his quote on this subject seems to take accounts he had heard of American bars in England as a launching point for his own arrogance. I find Thomas’ quote to be more arrogant than humorous.

  2. Well, actually it’s something I almost added (and forgot) in my initial comment: this seems to me very similar to what one could read in France about US wines or about British attempts at French cuisine 20 or 30 years ago. The great bars in Europe were few and far between, there’s no doubt about it. Most drinks at the Exhibitions (not only in Paris, I also have a couple of clippings regarding Crustas in Vienna) would have been made by American bartenders of unknown pedigree and then imitated by local ones who thought “hey, nice trend”. It didn’t pick up for another 30 years, obviously, with European bartending only coming of age around and after WWI. However, there were great pioneers, beyond Fouquet and Newman.

    1. I wonder what the majority opinion among the people of France is of California wines of today…

      1. No idea, but even today, most experts can’t seem to be content with saying “taste this great Californian wine”, they need to say “You know, they actually do some good wines in the US, try this one, it’s great”. The prejudice is still there — and I’m not even mentioning the grape vs terroir thing.

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