The Hindu Business Line
How Ernest Hemingway liberated the Ritz’s bar
Even for Ernest Hemingway, a man whose bravado was matched only by his thirst, his liberation of the Ritz Hotel’s bar in Paris was the stuff of legend.
Officially the Nobel prize-winning author of A Farewell to Arms and The Sun Also Rises was supposed to be a war correspondent for the American magazine Collier’s when he entered the French capital on August 25, 1944.
In reality, the macho novelist, who strode from a commandeered Jeep with all the swagger of a general to take over the city’s most luxurious hotel, was waging his own swashbuckling private war against the Third Reich. One of those Resistance fighters later remembered Hemingway’s obsession with the luxury Paris hotel, saying he talked of little else but “being the first American in Paris and liberating the Ritz.”
Hemingway had become enamoured of the Ritz as a penniless writer in Paris in the 1920s along with F Scott Fitzgerald, a time he later immortalised in A Moveable Feast’. With the help of his contacts in the American armoured division, commanded by the equally flamboyant Gen George S Patton, Hemingway wrangled a meeting with French commander Gen Philippe Leclerc, whose tanks had been given the honour of liberating Paris. His humble request: To be given enough men to liberate the Ernest Hemingway
Ritz’s bar. To the writer’s surprise, he got a frosty reception and was dismissed. But Hemingway persevered and on August 25 he turned up at the hotel on Paris’s beautiful Place Vendome in a Jeep mounted with a machine gun at the head of a group of Resistance fighters.
He burst into the hotel and announced that he had come to personally liberate it and its bar, which had served as a watering hole for a long line of Nazi dignitaries, including Hermann Goering and Joseph Goebbels.
Hemingway wrote of his stay in the hotel with his group of irregulars in a 1956 short story, A Room on the Garden Side, which was recently unearthed by The Strand Magazine in the US. In it, he quotes the French symbolist poet Charles Baudelaire and describes how his men drank the Ritz’s champagne as they cleaned their weapons and prepared themselves for their next stage in the “dirty trade of war.” Scholars believe it may have been a part of a bigger work he planned, detailing his wartime experiences.