Written by Christopher Menning
October 27th, 2023
The World’s 50 Best Bars for 2023 was recently announced in an awards ceremony in Singapore and there was a lot to talk about. First and foremost, let’s extend a warm round of applause to all the deserving bars who made the list. It’s a celebration of their remarkable talent and the countless hours of dedication and hard work that have gone into making these bars exceptional.
The key highlight of the unveiling was Barcelona’s Sips securing the No.1 position, also marking the second time for a Barcelonian bar to claim the coveted spot. Other noteworthy points of this year’s rankings:
The 2023 list features bars from 28 cities with 11 new entries across Bangkok, Berlin, Dubai, London, Melbourne, New Orleans, Paris, Rome, Seoul, Singapore, and Stockholm.
Culinary and beverage tourism is a significant global industry, and the significance of Singapore hosting the World’s 50 Best Bars cannot be overstated. Research reveals that the food tourism market globally was valued at a staggering $1116.7 billion in 2022, with projections indicating a substantial 16.8% growth, reaching $1796.5 billion by 2027.
Notably, 80% of travelers conduct extensive food and drink research before embarking on their journeys, and a substantial 70% base their destination choices on the culinary offerings. In my view, the presence of the World’s 50 Best Bars awards in Singapore is a testament to Asia’s burgeoning status as a culinary supercontinent, with plenty more to offer, especially from emerging markets like the Philippines, Korea, and Vietnam.
Now onto some personal reflections.
During the event, my attention was drawn to a peculiar trend—the renaissance of blue cocktails. This was a rather surprising flashback to the ‘80s and the earlier “dark ages” of cocktail history. However, it wasn’t just a throwback; these vibrant blue drinks actually tasted quite good. Among the highlights was the Donovan Bar team, who flew from London to do a guest shift at the Republic Bar, where they artfully reinvented this classic. Meanwhile, Asia, with its persistent “blue lagoons,” seems to be missing an opportunity for innovation. I’m looking at you, Phuket.
An interesting conversation emerged at World’s 50 Best Bars around the rapid increase of guest shifts. While this concept is undeniably a great way to showcase global talent, I couldn’t help but feel that it occasionally overshadows the fact we were there to visit Singapore’s local bars. The industry consensus leans towards a need for moderation. Guest shifts have reached something of an ego-driven frenzy, with brands and bars fighting to participate. One of my most memorable moments was actually at the Gibson Bar. Despite being empty, due to the awards happening the same evening, the bar came alive with their superstar host. Their impressive pickling programme, featuring pickled quail eggs, mini gibsons, and even a blue blazer show left a lasting impression.
With notorious characters such as Holly Graham moving on to other endeavors and the host with the most, Mark Sansom, leaving the stage, I couldn’t help but wonder who will fill the shoes of these prominent roles? It struck me that many in the industry are unaware of most of the academy chairs, and the absence of a recognisable face representing the awards suggests that 50 Best will require a new, influential personality to guide its future.
Every visit to Singapore is a delightful experience, with its architectural marvels and young yet proud history. However, the awe-inspiring cocktail scene comes at a cost, with most bars charging as much as $25++ SGD per cocktail, which can pose a financial challenge for Southeast Asian visitors. Regardless, Singapore wears its cocktail prowess as a badge of honor. Asia’s rise as a formidable cocktail continent, and W50BB’s arrival in Singapore is a testament to that. As Indra Kantono of Jigger & Pony aptly noted, hosting the awards in his homeland this year “is like hosting the Olympics”.
Sustainability has evolved from being a buzz word five years ago to becoming a cornerstone of the industry. It’s exciting to see top bars embracing sustainability as a fundamental element in their programmes. In fact, during our podcast conversation with Tres Monos, the winner of the Michter’s Art of Hospitality Award 2023, we learned about their practice of sourcing from local farmers and aligning their menu with the changing seasons. This not only benefits the community but also has an educational aspect. They’ve taken it upon themselves to introduce their patrons to ingredients that are grown right on their doorstep yet often remain unfamiliar. This forward-thinking approach excites me because it underscores the potential for the industry to serve as more than just a place for drinks but as a positive force within the community
It’s fascinating to observe how the cocktail industry has collectively evolved, thanks in part to influential awards like 50 Best. However, there’s a notable disparity in consumer awareness across the globe. As Rob Uldis Libecans and Mal Stirling of Caretaker’s Cottage in Melbourne tell me, mature markets, like Australia, seem unimpressed by craftsmanship, seeing it now as a standard. In contrast, in markets like Buenos Aires, consumers exhibit a profound curiosity, actively inquiring about the origins and techniques behind their beverages, as I learnt from Ines De Los Santos of CoChinChina.
While “50 Best” has certainly become a household name in our industry, it’s worth considering what this title truly signifies. Perhaps a more suitable moniker could be “50 Most Influential”. It’s important to understand that earning a spot on this list is no longer solely about offering an exceptional menu. What carries more weight is a bar’s role in positively impacting its local community and contributing to the growth of the local scene.
One noteworthy example is Jay Khan and Coa, a bar that has consistently held the No.1 spot in Asia’s 50 Best Bars for three consecutive years—a recognition that is well-deserved. Khan’s influence goes beyond his bar; he has played a pivotal role in changing his nation’s perception of agave-based spirits. Such an achievement is indeed extraordinary. It’s essential for bar-hopefuls to remember that Khan’s journey was far from an overnight success. He dedicated a significant number of years to his venture, facing business challenges and sometimes having empty tables before eventually finding success. This serves as a reminder of the enduring power of time and patience within our industry.
As I mentioned earlier, these accolades are all about celebration and collective pride. Special category awards, such as the Rémy Martin Legend of the List Award presented to The Clumsies this year are deserving of applause. The Athenian bar truly embodies the essence of a legend, and kudos for recognising their excellence. However, a lingering question remains: Who are the discerning minds behind the selection of these category winners? What specific criteria are employed in this process? And how do we translate these successes to the general consumer?
Ultimately, we should view these accolades as they are and not overthink them. It’s natural to feel disheartened at times, particularly for smaller venues that invest resources in travel and promotion. But let me reiterate a fundamental truth I’ve mentioned before and will continue to emphasise: As a bar owner or manager, there are two vital focal points.
Staff Happiness: Creating a positive work environment where your team is content is crucial.
Customer Satisfaction: Prioritising your customers’ happiness is the key to longterm success.
When you focus on these two aspects and a healthy business model, recognition will naturally follow.
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