25 Apr 2013

Spirits: Colin Field: Best Bartender on Earth?

Douglas Blyde meets the Paris Ritz’s legendary barman, Colin Field (for Vertu)
COLIN Field, ‘best bartender on Earth' according to Forbes magazine, was the debonair raconteur and host of the Hemingway Bar at Paris’s Ritz for 18 years. Adorned with nine decades of memorabilia, from sharks' jaws to gramophones (Field collects them) and the ledger of cocktails invented here, the cosy, panelled room is named in honour of author Ernest Hemingway, once an habitué of the palatial hotel.

Born in England to a South African father and a German mother, the multilingual friend-to-the stars pours dry Champagne pepped with needle of caramelised ginger. He mentions that, using herbs from her garden, he crafted cocktails at the wedding of friend Kate Moss as a birthday gift. Moss is so dedicated to him that she penned the preface for his bestseller, Le Ritz Paris – Une Histoire de Cocktails. ‘She’s an angel’ says Field. ‘So educated, with good taste born of travelling.’
Field is a traveller too. He recalls a trip to Japan where, in Tokyo, a friend introduced him the city’s oldest café. ‘After five minutes, we were asked which coffee we’d like. Then the server went to get beans, ground them by hand so delicately, boiled the water, fitted the filter and slowly poured.’ After 25 minutes, Field and friend had coffee of similar quality to a “good” Italian espresso. ‘Drank in seconds! But it wasn’t the coffee that was important, but the procedure provided an inexpensive, un-European way of calming down.’
The experience inspired Field to dream. ‘In a perfect world, I’d like a bar with just one table, where cocktails cost €500. I’d take a silver spoon from an ebony box, place it on royal velvet, and use a Baccarat shaker...’
Are barmen artists? ‘Depends what they’re trying to try to say,’ Field says. ‘I just showed one studying the degree I devised for bartenders a photo of Ernest Hemingway at 40 with his eight-year-old son. They’re kneeling beside a huge swordfish. It reveals the relationship between a father and son, and domination of man winning against the sea. But the winner always loses because the swordfish is dead. It’s the whole thing about Hemingway’s Old Man and The Sea. The man catches the marlin, but it’s eaten by sharks.’ 
Field was ‘100 per cent Ritz’ until closure for a three-year refurbishment, and now plans to be even more active, working on an international miscellany on cocktail culture, bringing his range of sugar-free liqueurs to a wider audience, and travelling to Hawaii, Australia and the Maldives. 
For Vertu