Monday, January 26, 2009



Hemingway’s Paris
(Originally titled: This Must Be The Place)
by James “The Barman" Charters
as told to Morrill Cody
Hardcover edition published in 1937
By Lee Furman, Inc.
Paperback edition published in 1965
By Tower Publications, Inc.

Mark Twain once said: “The cheapest and easiest way to become an influential man and be looked up to by the community at large, was to stand behind a bar, wear a cluster diamond pin, and sell whiskey. I am not sure but the saloon keeper held a shade higher rank than any other member of society.”
Jimmy “the barman” Charters was the most famous bartender in 1920’s Paris. The Boulevard du Montparnasse was where all the artists, writers, and poseurs would congregate to drink and socialize. And Jimmy Charters was the one who served them all.
Among his customers were: Oscar Wilde, Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, Harpo Marx, James Joyce, Ernest Hemingway, etc. It is Ernest Hemingway who wrote the introduction to this book and said: “If his book has only one-half of his charm, one-quarter of his knowledge, and one-quarter of his experience, it should still be a fairly intoxicating volume.”
In Hemingway’s Paris, Jimmy Charters writes of his experiences as a bartender in mid-1920’s Paris. The characters were all in a class by themselves. Like any good modern day bartender, Jimmy had an inner sense of knowing about people. Whether instilled at birth or acquired on the job matters not. He could “read” people from the moment they walked into is bar. And it is from this viewpoint, customers as main characters, that makes this book a wonderful read.
Jimmy Charters was born in 1897 in the town of Rhyl in Wales. He originally planned to become a professional boxer, and fought in Liverpool, London, and Manchester.
He eventually was offered a position as assistant waiter at the Midland Hotel in Liverpool. This was a very elegant hotel with a swimming pool, grill room, theatre, French Restaurant, and a beautiful lounge. He caught on quickly, and within a month was promoted to a full-fledged
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In the French restaurant, the headwaiters were all Italians. They told Jimmy that he must learn French to succeed as a headwaiter. Arrangements sent him to Paris to work at the Hotel Meurice.
After several months at the Meurice, he then went to the Carlton. He naturally sought experience in various departments of hotel work, and worked as dishwasher, waiter, and assistant cook. After the Carlton, there was the Crillon, the Majestic, the Continental, and several others. Then there was the Hotel Massene in Nice as assistant barman. Next was Ciro’s in Monte Carlo. He enjoyed bar work more than being a waiter. When Jimmy started bartending, however, all he had to offer was his “Liverpool grin.”
He returned to Paris as assistant barman at Jack’s Bar. Next was the Bar de l’ Opera. “At one time or another, I must have worked at every big café and nightclub in Montmartre, including Pigall’s, l’Abbaye de Theleme, Le Royal, le Perroquet……..”
One day Jimmy heard about an opening at a bar called Le Dingo in Montparnasse. He was hired there as assistant barman and waiter. This was the beginning of his many years as bartender to the Quarter.
Jimmy Charters also gives some fine points on the art of bartending. He lists diplomacy as a first requisite, along with no squabbling over bills. Contrary to the bar owners, however, he says how he would like to give a free drink for every two or three the customers buys.
Jimmy could also tell when a man or woman walked into his whether he or she desired solitude or companionship. He started many romances this way, and encourages people to talk together if they showed any inclination.
Then there was the exhibitionist. He tells of an English girl who would sit at the bar and after several drinks would pull her dress wide open, exposing herself stark naked. He would have to wrap the dress around her and tie it securely. “You see it isn’t so easy being a bartender. You have to be prepared for all kinds of emergencies.”
He also talks about advantages for bartenders, such as professional services offered free by lawyers, doctors, and others from his many clients. He obtained reduced rates at cinemas and theatres, horse-racing tips, and free “entertainment.” He also received free bottles at Christmas from the French liquor people, who gave him a present of their product. Even today many bartenders partake in the receiving of free services and gifts, one of the advantages of “being in the business.”
Jimmy Charters mentions that most writers are drinkers, and how white wine has always been the favorite with writers and artists. He used to pass Shakespeare & Co. almost daily when he worked at the Trois et As bar. Shakespeare & Co. was a bookshop on the rue de l’Odeon run by Sylvia Beach. “Many of the white-winers of the Quarter have been of the Sylvia Beach school.” Sylvia Beach was the first publisher of James Joyce’s Ulysses .
Ernest Hemingway was another friend of Sylvia Beach. At the time, Hemingway was a correspondent for a Toronto paper, and wrote short stories in his spare time. “Hemingway came to my bar frequently (he was no white-winer!) and we would have long conversations about boxing or he would tell me about bullfighting, in which I was much interested though I know nothing about it.” Jimmy and Ernest often went to boxing matches together.
Jimmy Charters devotes a section of is book to drinks and drinking. He gives a formula for the French way, or safest way to drink: not more than two cocktails before dinner, a good wine served with the meal, and afterwards, one or two liqueurs with coffee. “Fortunarely for bars, Anglo-Saxons always agree with me when I tell them this, but they never follow the advice.”
Jimmy was not a big drinker. “…I myself cannot do it. One or two strong drinks, and I am on a rampage for the rest of the day… so I almost never drink.” In this and other ways, Jimmy was unlike most bartenders. He prided himself on the difference.
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In his opinion, good Scotch whisky was the safest drink, straight or with plain water. Gin was good as an apertif, but not the strong French aperitifs, which were synthetically made, or the heavy French wines (which contained chicory and coffee), which could ruin your stomach.
“Mike” and “Brett,” the hero and heroine of Hemingway’s novel The Sun Also Rises, were based on actual people. (Jimmy Charters does not disclose their real names.) Their real-life romance stole the attention of the Quarterites.
Both came from upper class families. They were very much in love and frequently were in Jimmy’s bar. Things eventually turned sour, and Mike started romancing an American girl, but did not stay with her long.
In the interim, the real life Brett met and married an American, and moved to Greenwich Village. Mike never returned to his usual self. Life became difficult, and he encountered many financial difficulties, along with drug problems. He died shortly thereafter, from an overdose of pills. Whether intentional or not, will never be known.
Jimmy called the Trois et As (which means “The Trey and the Ace”) his best bar. He said he had more fun there than any other place in Montparnasse. Jimmy tells anecdotes about Oscar Wilde, Modigliani, and other various artists and restaurant and café owners. He also tells stories about Harpo Marx and Djuna Barnes.
Towards the end of the book Jimmy gives his diatribe on alcoholics. He claims to have much success in handling drunks because he himself had been drunk so many times, (which is a contradiction of his earlier statement that he seldom drinks.) He then reaffirms himself and says that he has forced himself to stop drinking entirely (except occasional bouts) because alcohol affects him too seriously. He goes on about some of his customers who were drinkers of the alcoholic type.
In one of the later sections, he gives a review of the various bars in Montparnasse. This is a good overview of the bohemian lifestyle on the Left Bank. It tells what life was like for the motley assortment of artists and poseurs who flocked to Paris during this time period.
Jimmy also talks of his romances and love life. From Jeanne, a Burgundy girl who was assistant cook at the Dingo, through a Bretonne named Germaine, a girl called Madeleine (who resembled Pola Negri of the movies,) and lastly Marylene, who became his wife.
The last chapter talks of the end of Montparnasse. The tourists started arriving in greater numbers, driving the artists and writers out. The sightseers came to experience the counterculture as they heard about it from the press back home. This was 1929, the start of the depression in America.
Although out of print, Hemingway’s Paris is a treasure to seek out in libraries, good used book stores, or on-line. Jimmy Charters was not only a barman, but a humanitarian.
Sam Putnam, a friend of Jimmy’s, writes: “I can see Jimmie yet, reaching across the bar, gentle like, to put an obstreperous customer to sleep - gently, oh so gently - then, one hand on the bar and he’s across, picking the guy up, dusting him off and sending him home in a taxi - and paying his fare! That was Jimmie. I often wondered how he made any money…Montparnasse may be the explanation of my liver, but I wouldn’t have missed it for all that. Livers be damned! I’ve got something to tell my great-grandchildren about, and Jimmie to them will be a mythical character - which is exactly what he is.”
But Jimmy Charters sums it all up himself: “…a barman is really more important, in many cases, than the bar itself.”
James Charters: bartender extraordinaire.



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