On the day Allied troops marched into Paris in August 1944, writer Ernest Hemingway, a war correspondent at the time, made straight for one of its most luxurious hotels and "liberated" the Ritz bar.
At least, that is how Hemingway liked to joke about the event at what became his favorite Parisian watering hole.As the French capital celebrates the 50th anniversary of its liberation from Nazi rule Thursday, the Ritz will pay tribute to him by reopening the bar named in his honor, cashing in on an exploit that has become a legend.
According to the Ritz official version, Hemingway, who was covering the war with General George Patton's 3rd Army for the American magazine Collier's, was greeted by the director of the prestigious hotel at the door.
He was asked to leave his gun outside and then escorted to the bar where he ordered a dry martini.
But one of the few surviving eyewitnesses has a much more colorful story to tell.
"It was incredible, incredible. It was breathtaking to see him behave as if the hotel was his home," Lucienne Elmiger, the 76-year-old widow of the former manager of the Ritz, said in an interview from her country house near Auxerre south of Paris.
At about 2 o'clock on the afternoon of Aug. 25, 1944, the day French troops rolled into the capital, Elmiger was busy in the lobby when the plush stillness of the august establishment on the 18th-Century Place Vendome was shattered.
A swashbuckling figure strode into the lobby of stately pink marble columns and mirrored panels.
"He entered like a king, and he chased out all the British people who had arrived an hour earlier. He was dressed in khaki, but his shirt was open on his bare chest. He had a leather belt under his big stomach, with his gun beating against his thigh."
Hemingway marched through the lobby and the restaurant, in a shouting match with his foes: "I'm the one who is going to occupy the Ritz. We're the Americans. We're going to live just like in the good old days."
He barked at the British in the language of the former German occupiers: "Raus, raus (get out, get out)!"
Hemingway's rivals quickly gave up and fled, and he made a bee-line for the bar where he ordered drinks for the fellow correspondents who had conquered the Ritz with him.
The Nazis, who had requisitioned the landmark to house German top brass on their visits to the capital, including air force head Herman Goering and propaganda master Joseph Goebbels, had deserted the hotel much earlier.
"He had presence, the way people know Hemingway, but no chic. My husband was not very happy to see this happening, in his Ritz," Elmiger said disapprovingly.
Jacqueline Tavernier-Courbin, among those with Hemingway at the time, and now a professor of English Literature at Ottawa University, says he also swept through the cellars.
She recounts that he climbed to the roof where his party - intent on chasing Germans - fired bursts of gunfire which brought down nothing apart from a clothesline full of Ritz linen sheets.
That afternoon, philosopher and writer Jean-Paul Sartre and his companion Simone de Beauvoir called on the American.
According to his brother Leicester, de Beauvoir and Hemingway did their utmost to persuade Sartre to leave them alone together and return home to the Left Bank.
"Look, why don't you get going? We're going to stay here and do a little drinking and serious talking," Leicester quotes de Beauvoir as telling Sartre.
In "The True Gen," a book about the writer by Denis Brian, a friend of Hemingway's reports de Beauvoir emerged from the Ritz only the following morning.
The Ritz was to become an essential part of Hemingway's Paris, the city where he began his career as a writer. "When you're in Paris, the only good reason for not staying at the Ritz is lack of money," he once said.
As in the writer's heyday, the small Hemingway Bar, which will reopen on Aug. 25 after a two-year closure, will once again serve his favorite cocktails, and the Spanish bite-size "tapas" he was fond of.Comment on this story
A bronze bust of Hemingway rests on the counter. The panel above the fireplace is hung with pictures of Hemingway, including two snaps of him shortly before he entered Paris.
Hotel owners are keen to build on Hemingway's legacy to turn the bar into the favorite haunt of literary Paris. Writers and poets will have the chance to receive their mail there.
This would give the place unrivaled standing as the only literary bar on the Right Bank of the river Seine, traditionally an affluent area whose bourgeois character contrasts with the more intellectual Left Bank.