My wife and I were at the tail end of a trip through France when a long walk in the rain left us cold, wet and annoyed. Tempers flared and we each retired to our corners: her at a fancy Paris salon for a haircut that cost more than tickets to the goddamn Sugar Bowl, me on a stool at Harry’s New York Bar, the swinging Wild West doors settling behind me. I needed a wine. Nothing with fruit in it. I needed something from Kentucky. I needed several somethings from Kentucky.
Harry’s is more than the bourbon drinker’s embassy in Paris. They have something else waiting patiently in a steamer on the worn wooden bar for the urge to arrive…
From the shelf, a redheaded sexpot was calling my name. Short glass. Ice cubes. Maker’s Mark. But Harry’s is more than the bourbon drinker’s embassy in Paris. They have something else waiting patiently in a steamer on the worn wooden bar for the urge to arrive. Believe it or not, about the best damn hot dogs in the world are served in a Paris watering hole, a few blocks from the canopied lights at the Ritz hotel.
I live on the road as a reporter for ESPN, typing out datelines from five continents, and eating hot dogs in all of them. Few of them were as needed as the one at Harry’s. The preacher should have included not showing up to dinner half in the bag in the vows. I’d learned on my own by now, the hard way. It was light out, and I was a little tipsy. That warm two-drink buzz, where everything is happy and rounded. I was sorry for snapping, and I’m sure she was, too. My mood picked up. I listened to the ice cubes clink in the glass, watched the bartender fix Bloody Marys for the tourists. The drink was invented here.
I needed to make it to dinner, at a fancy place where we’d had reservations for a month. This was our final, and finest, meal in Paris. Checking my watch, I had just enough time to get over the Place Vendôme and catch a cab. We were meeting at the restaurant, and I needed to knock the edge off the now three big glasses of whiskey. I leaned in to the bartender, asked him to fix me a hot dog. (They’ve been serving them here since 1925, the first joint in all of France to do so.) It arrived quickly, on a Harry’s New York Bar plate, steaming with a single napkin underneath. I took the first bite, the mustard opening up my sinuses.
The bun was hot to the touch, like a Krystal burger. The dog was moist yet firm on the outside. Nothing was soggy. Soggy is where a good dog goes bad. It had a little bite. And the thing that set it apart was that thin strip of French mustard. The mustard makes the dog, and nobody does mustard better. The entire thing was like the bar itself. No one thing stands out, or dominates your memory of it, but together, with the easy blur of whiskey, it was perfect.
It only lasted four or five bites. Fortified, I stood up from the stool, swung open the saloon doors and stepped out into the rain.