World’s 50 Best Bars: Five things we learned

This post was first published on Drinkwire in October 2017 in the immediate aftermath of the announcement of 2017’s ’50 Best Bars’.

As London Cocktail Week 2017 rolls on, Thursday night saw the glitzy party that unveils The World’s 50 Best Bars to the industry’s great and good.

The rankings that have been released every year since 2009 attract attention and criticism in equal measure. Those outside the industry love the idea of ticking off ‘the best bars in the world’ from their personal I-Spy book of booze, while many insiders question the lobbying and selection process that creates the list.

In any event, this year’s list turned up the usual cast of stalwarts, new entries, risers and fallers. Here are five things we learned:

1. New York and London still hold sway

Yet again New York and London clock in as the darlings of the international bar scene taking up all top five places between them as they have done every year since 2014. This year, the two leading lights grabbed 7 of the top ten places and then 15 out of the overall 50. Despite this…

2. Smaller cities are doing well

…A number of lesser known cocktail destinations also performed well this year. The list feels broader than it has in years gone by with a number of cities, particularly Paris (3 bars), Athens (2) and Singapore (6) punching well above their weight. Whether this is down to the global contagion of the craft cocktail movement, or just the growing air miles accounts of the judges remains to be seen, but it’s great to see places like Taipei making a first appearance on the list this year.

3. The luck of the Irish continues

That’s harsh. I don’t mean luck at all – I mean hard work and dedication. In any event, while The Dead Rabbit Grocery & Grog may have slipped from the coveted number one spot (better update that website, guys), Blacktail, the new venture from lovable Irish rogues Sean Muldoon and Jack McGarry, made a barnstorming new entry at 32. They may have lost top spot and just missed out on highest new entry, but with two bars in the top 50, Irish eyes will still be smiling.

4. Artesian sinks without trace

Two years ago Alex Kratena and Simone Caporale shocked the cocktail world by announcing they would be moving on, shortly after they led The Artesian at The Langham to a record breaking 4th year at the top of the 50 Best bars list. Last year The Artesian slumped to 54 without them and this year it sinks without a trace from the top 100 altogether. Timely then that the hotel bar has just announced the appointment of Remy Savage (from Little Red Door, Paris) as Head Bartender and Anna Sebastian (formerly of The Beaufort Bar at The Savoy) as Bar Manager. With these two at the helm, we certainly won’t be taking any bets on how soon they retrieve their crown.

5. The point of these lists

Ok so this is a cheat. It’s one thing we didn’t learn. What is the point of the 50 Best Bars list? Yes, it’s a great night out (props to the team at William Reed and Southwark Cathedral for putting on a fantastic show) and yes, it’s a great opportunity to celebrate the hardworking teams at the top of the business. But does anyone really put much store in the list? Is it even possible to rank bars in order of vague notion of ‘best’? Is the American Bar really measurably better than The Connaught, or The Nomad, or just different? I mean clearly Bar Termini is very different from Attaboy, but is it one place worse? If so, why?

The team behind the list don’t give much away, accepting that any methodology of assessing something as subjective as taste has its flaws and leaving the decisions up to the industry. Ultimately, any awards system that relies on an ‘academy’ of several hundred industry insiders is going to be open to all sorts of politics and pressures, but I guess the idea is that the large number of eligible voters even out any anomalies overall. Whether it does is up to the reader to determine.