The World’s 50 Best Bars Look Very Different in 2020
This year's winners showcased an expanded worldview, but also one unexpected trend
“Thank you for joining us for this hopefully one-of-a-kind event.”
That’s how Mark Sansom, a spokesperson for The World’s 50 Best Bars, dryly noted the start of the virtual awards ceremony on Thursday.
Normally an eagerly awaited event, this year’s edition was dealing with both industry backlash due to a controversial winner from last year as well as the ongoing and crippling effects of COVID-19 on the bar industry at large.
To the organization’s credit, they made major adjustments to voting and inclusiveness after bar professionals protested a 2019 Industry Icon award handed to drinks veteran Charles Schumann, who once said “a bar is no place for a woman.” (The award was later returned.) Earlier this year, they announced an expanded 540-strong voting Academy with a 50/50 gender balance, a move up from five to 20 Academy Chairs and new Chair positions in the Middle East and Africa. “These are areas we may not have been familiar with, so it was a new challenge for us,” says Sansom.
The organization also hosted events and various endeavors this year to raise $1.25 million to help bars stay afloat during the coronavirus epidemic. The virus, however, didn’t have that much effect on the final results: voting was conducted from January 2019 to March of this year, a period that was only shortened by three months.
So there were some interesting new developments this year, even if the overall voting structure and the effects of bar closings and COVID didn’t quite prompt radical changes to the overall list.
“I think the most interesting thing is Asia’s great showing,” noted Sansom, who thinks it won’t be long before an Asian bar hits the top spot. He also noted that three bars in South Africa made their debuts in the 51-100 half of the list (which, side note, is a much more interesting list; witness entries from Puerto Rico, Beirut and Cape Town).
Some other trends we noticed:
- Agave spirits are doing extremely well outside of Mexico. Bars in St. Petersburg, Sydney and Hong Kong (see Coa, #8, below) devoted to mezcal and tequila took prominent spots in the top 50; meanwhile, Mexico had one showing in the top 50.
- London is still the center of the cocktail world, at least for the World’s Best Bar list. Connaught Bar (a hotel bar at the Mayfair known for its martinis) took home the number-one spot, and venues in the city also took home the “highest new entry” and “best new opening” awards, as well as three of the top 10 overall spots.
- Given the misguided choice for last year’s Icon award, it was welcome news that bartender/sommelier Ashtin Berry, founder of Resistance Served — an annual food and beverage symposium focused on celebrating and examining Black and African American contributions to hospitality — took home the statue this year.
- Best in America? Last year’s winner and this year’s no. 2, New York’s Dante.
But honestly, the biggest “trend” was not reflected in the final vote: the industry’s response to COVID-19 and the adjustments everyone’s had to make, some of which were even positive.
“We had lost a little focus on being a neighborhood bar,” notes Renato Giovannoni of Buenos Aires’ Florería Atlántico, the no. 7 bar in the world and the winner of the best bar in South America (Giovannoni also won the “Altos Bartenders’ Bartender Award”). “Our bar is a basement! We learned to bring that experience to a sidewalk in this beautiful city and sustain our philosophy. We surprised ourselves. And we showed we all need to learn and open our minds.”
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