Is Rugby-born Colin Peter Field the best barman in the world? It’s certainly a title that has been bestowed upon him several times, and in January he will celebrate 25 years at the Ritz Paris, where he reigns supreme at Bar Hemingway. This intimate snug contains only nine tables, accepts no reservations and usually has a chicly dressed queue snaking outside the door.
Beyond the clubby decor of oak panelling, studded leather and Hemingway memorabilia, the draw is Field’s signature (and strong) cocktails. His acclaimed Clean Dirty Martini is adorned with fresh roses, orchids or carnations, while a green olive frozen in its brine keeps the spirits (he won't divulge if they’re vodka or gin) crystal clear until it has completely melted, by which time you’re past caring. The other most ordered creation is the Serendipity: champagne, Calvados, clear apple juice and fresh mint leaves.
What makes a superlative bartender is “sincerely liking people”, says Field, who as a teenager installed a fully serviceable bar in his Rugby bedroom before booking a one-way ticket on the Magic Bus to Paris. He enrolled on a bartending course at Ferrandi, financing his studies by working alternately as a waiter and bartender, with the single-minded goal of being hired by the Ritz. “I had to go through nine interviews,” he recalls. “Finally, I got a call to ask me if I had read Ernest Hemingway. So, after all my efforts to make it to the top of my profession, the Ritz eventually hired me for my literary skills.”
Field defines the ascent to excellence to three levels: the first, perfectly executing the classic cocktail; the second, creating a distinctive style; and then his own signature third level. “At this level, a cocktail can create a memory, like Proust’s madeleine,” he says. “It is no longer a cocktail but the expression of an emotion.”
The most unusual request he has ever received was for a cocktail that “tastes red without being red”. This intrigued him so much that he began an in-depth exploration of the relationship between taste and perception. A study in green resulted in his Poire Victoire, with Grey Goose vodka, Normandy apple juice and lime juice. “The cocktail is almost colourless but from the first taste, it’s as green as the skin of the lime.”