Behind the Bar

How Do You Become a "World's Best Bar"?

A bar with large refrigerators holding bottled cocktails behind it.
How do bars like White Lyan make their way onto The World's 50 Best Bars list? It's all about paying keen attention to every last detail. Photo by Jason Bailey.

Whether it drives traffic and sales or simply increases staff morale, getting your bar’s name on The World’s 50 Best Bars list is a major boost. But what are your realistic chances of cracking the top 50? Well, as good as any, according to The World's 50 Best Bars editor, Hamish Smith, who tells us this year’s “could be the most open field to date.”

“The four-time winner of The World's 50 Best Bars, Artesian, has gone through a lot of change since winning in October last year. It's impossible to predict who will win, as our 400+ voters are yet to vote, but it’s reasonable to assume that many bars will see 2016 as a great opportunity. Most years about a third of bars are new to the list.”

Specifically, Smith tells us that we can expect to see more Asian and Latin American bars on the list. “We have noticed that the spread of cocktail culture has given rise to great bars across the world. London and New York, as the bar capitals of the world, still dominate but there are now great venues in Latin America, Asia and the Middle East.”

We talked with Smith, as well as Declan McGurk of American Bar (No.5) and Jamie Boudreau of Canon (No. 15) about their tips on getting your bar’s name on the list.

1. Pay attention to the details:

Smith: “Look at every detail of your guests' experience, from the moment they walk in the door to the moment they leave. There is always room for improvement.

The judges mostly look at a combination of hospitality, drinks innovation, atmosphere and execution of concept. Most of our academy seem to agree it's the attention to the small details that make an experience memorable and elevate a bar from good to great.”

McGurk: “Professionalism and service are vital, as they are very much key aspects that feed into the product. Employing creativity too is utmost but this doesn't have to mean rotovapping everything. It can be the way that the wet martini is perfectly stirred, making the drink add value to the guest. Quality is also very important and with an international platform now visible through social media it is important to look at the details such as photographs of drinks, etc. … Always have the end goal in sight: that the guests who arrive are given an experience that is truly memorable and through thoughtful touches exceeds their expectations.”

2. Stay focused on your strengths:

McGurk: “Over the last three years we have developed a good period of leadership stability, which has really allowed the team performance level to be very strong. There has also been great development in how we have progressed our offerings with some truly original cocktail concepts. In 2010 there was the correctly made decision to really focus on the history of the bar, which was perfect for the reopening of the hotel (The Savoy) but now we have moved to a stage where we are creating and, one would hope, writing our own history but time will be our true judge here.”

Boudreau: “I honestly don't know … what they (the judges) are looking for, but I do know that Canon is a unique spot. It's kinda un-duplicatable given that a mere 32 seat restaurant has a million dollar-plus inventory containing more American whiskey than anyone else in the world and one of the largest spirit collections (at 3500 labels and counting) in the world.”

Two cocktails in a lounge, presented on a wooden box American Bar sets itself apart by being innovative in every element of the guest experience, from the drinks to the menu to the service. Photo courtesy of The Savoy.

3. You can do it without a big promo team:

Boudreau: “In this day and age, publicists really have to earn their money to beat out what an individual can do with social media. Also, due to our size, we couldn't afford a publicist (like) bigger operations like the Dead Rabbit as we just don't have the seats or investors to be able to afford a proper team. And to be fair, I've found that my efforts have always received more attention than a PR company’s and I have ended up firing every PR team I've ever been forced to work with as they were not able to get results that I was able. Probably more of an issue of who we were working with than PR teams in general, but there you have it.

“Now having said all that, I've found that almost everyone in the top 50 uses PR companies, of which the only benefit that I can think of being that they will be working on your brand when you're too busy working on the establishment.

4. If your bar loses its ranking, consider it constructive feedback:

McGurk: When American Bar slipped down the list in 2013, "we took it as very constructive feedback. From this moment on, Erik and I re-analyzed our program and a new direction was formed, which, after three years of hard work, we can very much see the fruits of our work. The positions of such bar rankings cannot be what drives our bar given our position and history (but) I think we were wise to not be defensive and instead listen to this feedback.”

Smith: “Never stand still, because other bars in the industry will not.”

5. Don’t try to go for awards:

Boudreau: “Just try and do your absolute best, each and every day. And don't chase the money, as becoming a top tier establishment usually happens in spite of money. Again we have 32 seats and a million dollars in inventory (this will never be recouped) as well as one staff member working for every four guests in our restaurant (an insane amount of labor). Try to innovate, push your boundaries and keep your staff and guests happy. Self promote (no one else will do it for you) and perhaps one day you will get recognized. If you go after awards, you're more likely than not going to be a very unhappy person as awards are fleeting, but self-fulfillment and pride at doing one's best lasts much, much longer.”

6. Anything is possible.

Smith: “Last year we had a bar from Nicosia in Cyprus, Tel Aviv in Israel and San Juan in Puerto Rico. If a bar gets it right, word will travel — and so will our academy of voters.”

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