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Content accurate at time of publication

01 Apr 2011

Bearers of the spirit of life, bars are faithful witnesses to the dance of time and the significant moments in history. These watering holes, and their iconic cocktails and drinks, have inspired, sheltered and comforted many an influential figure – from presidents and revolutionaries to Beat artists and notable writers. CAMPER ENGLISH takes a step back into the past.

More than simply liquor dispensaries, bars are public spaces in which to connect with others, or simply to watch the world go by. But some – because of a special ambience or X factor, perhaps – become the backdrop against which revolutions are plotted; lovers meet (and quarrel); politicians greet their constituents; and where writers and artists find inspiration.

These eight fabled spots have seen history written in their premises and famous personages crossing their thresholds. All of them hold on to their storied pasts and invite visitors to relive it all with a cocktail.

CAFFE FLORIAN, VENICE

At 291 years of age, Caffe Florian may be the oldest operating coffeehouse in the world. Famed master of seduction Casanova was said to have frequented the place, which should come as no surprise as it was the only cafe to admit women in his day. Writers such as Lord Byron and Charles Dickens, along with composer Igor Stravinsky and artist Amedeo Modigliani, frequented it too. The plan for the Venice Biennale was also conceived at this very location. So were various schemes and plots to achieve Venetian independence and Italian unification, as noblemen and ambassadors drank here just as often as artists. Today, locals and tourists soak up its historic atmosphere – and the sun at the plentiful outdoor tables – accompanied by live music and cold cocktails.

BELLINI Invented by Giuseppe Cipriani, founder of Harry’s Bar in Venice, and first served in 1948, it is popular throughout Italy. Stir together 90ml chilled Prosecco and 45ml white peach puree. Float 15ml peach liqueur on top.
caffeflorian.com

 

LONG BAR AT WALDORF ASTORIA, SHANGHAI

Back in the early 1900s, the exclusive Shanghai Club was reputed to have the longest bar counter in the world, hewn from raw mahagony. Back then, a seat at the coveted east end of the bar (with a view of the Huangpu River) meant you had arrived, while newcomers were relegated to the back end of the bar. Having been destroyed in various events, it was painstakingly rebuilt by Waldorf Astoria to original specifications using photographs and original blueprints. Reopened in late 2010, the refurbished Long Bar has recaptured this old world elegance perfectly, thanks to its brown leather chairs, live jazz and extensive menu that includes an oyster bar and a selection of fine whiskeys.

THE WALDORF COCKTAIL Into an ice-filled shaker, add 25ml of sweet Vermouth, 60ml of whiskey, 10ml of absinthe and two dashes of Angostura Bitters. Stir well and strain into a chilled glass.
www.waldorfastoriashanghai.com

OLD EBBIT GRILL, WASHINGTON DC

Since its 1856 opening, this bar has relocated several times, but retained many of the original decorations including stuffed animal heads supposedly shot by former US president Theodore Roosevelt. Other American presidents who’ve reportedly stopped by for a drink include Ulysses Grant, Grover Cleveland and Andrew Johnson while William McKinley is said to have lived in a room here at one point. Today, the Old Ebbitt Grill is a large building with several rooms, all furnished in Victorian style. The marble staircase, antique clock and collection of vintage beer steins here are era-appropriate but in sharp contrast to the more plush public and private dining rooms with classical club-style furniture. Today, Washington power players meeting for martinis share space at the bar with tourists and presidential history buffs.

GIN RICKEY The most famous cocktail created in Washington in the late 1800s, it is named after government lobbyist Colonel Joe Rickey. In an ice-filled highball glass, add 45ml gin, 15ml lime juice and top with soda water. Garnish with a lime wedge.
ebbitt.com

THE BAR HEMINGWAY AT THE RITZ, PARIS

Ernest Hemingway’s favourite of the Ritz’s bars, this cosy and elegant little room with wood panelling and leather armchairs was renamed in his honour. He was one of many writers who frequented the bar, along with F. Scott Fitzgerald, James Joyce and Jean-Paul Sartre. Helmed by one of the world’s most respected barmen, Colin Peter Field, The Bar Hemingway is the perfect destination in which to sample Parisian luxury without splurging on a room upstairs. The drinks, priced at €30 (US$41) each, are mostly simple but original concoctions served with the care and grace of one of the world’s finest bars.

CIDER RITZ A modern creation from the Ritz Paris, it is designed as a light cocktail for the early evening. Add equal parts apple juice and Champagne to an ice-filled wine glass. Garnish with an apple slice and rose petals.
ritzparis.com

VESUVIO, CALIFORNIA

This former Beat poet hangout is located across the alley from the City Lights bookstore that published the controversial Allen Ginsberg book Howl and Other Poems. Here, the likes of On the Road author Jack Kerouac and Neal Cassady (better known as the character Dean Moriarty in Kerouac’s On the Road) drank and talked literature, which is what customers do today at the sunny tables upstairs or the dark wooden booths on the ground floor. Not much has changed in the 63 years that the bar has been open, except for the addition of organic cocktails attuned to the present mood of the city.

NEGRONI This slightly bitter classic Italian cocktail is exceptionally popular in San Francisco, especially in the Italian North Beach neighbourhood where Vesuvio stands. Stir equal parts gin, sweet Vermouth and Campari with ice. Serve in a cocktail glass garnished with orange peel.
vesuvio.com