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One woman's quest for cocktail enlightenment

London accountant is busy blogging, and drinking, her way around the world
With the Laila Cocktail -- raspberry vodka, strawberries, blueberries, mango, lime -- in Istanbul.
Fellicity Noble with the Laila Cocktail -- raspberry vodka, strawberries, blueberries, mango, lime -- in Istanbul. (Photo: Felicity Noble)

In 2005, Felicity Noble bought Allan Gage’s book, Around The World in 80 Bars, as a Christmas present for her sister. Instead of wrapping it up and nestling it under the tree, though, she ended up keeping it for herself. She eventually set out to visit every single bar — and sip on every single cocktail — featured in the book.

“I've always been one for ticking off lists,” Noble said, “but drinking a Mojito in Havana’s famous Bodeguita Del Medio and then following Hemingway's handwriting to Floridita was probably the trigger. The more bars I started to visit, and the more amazing experiences I had, I was inspired to continue.”

Fast forward to 2017 and the London-based, full-time accountant has hit all but 15 of the bars across the globe, documenting it all on her blog, The World is My Cocktail. Impressively, Noble has visited all the featured bars in North and South America. The only place she has yet to visit in Europe is Moscow.

“I try and travel as often as I can fit around my day job,” she told Tales. “I ticked the first two bars off in 2006, but only really started in 2008, and even then, I didn’t detour as much as I should have because it was my first experience traveling by myself. In the past two years, I started to do longer trips again, ticking off eight bars in 2015 and nine in 2016 and 2017.”

The remaining bars are arguably the most difficult to get to, either because they’re in far-flung destinations (Australia, New Zealand, Fiji and Japan), cost a pretty penny (Maldives and Mauritius) or pose potential safety risks (Cairo). You can bet that she has every intention to get to each one, though. She’s planning a three-month trip to Asia and Australasia – with a potential stopover in Africa – for 2018.

As for the bars she’s already been to, Noble has had many incredible experiences and, as expected, a handful of disappointments.

Noble with barman Murray Stenson -- and an Aviation -- at the Zig Zag in Seattle. Noble with barman Murray Stenson at the Zig Zag in Seattle. (Photo: Felicity Noble)

“My favorite bar for the experience alone was definitely Don Javier making me his Batanga in La Capilla, Mexico. Now in his 90s and no longer working the bar, I was happy just to meet him, but on hearing my quest, the local Tequila distillers encouraged me to ask him to make it for me,” she said. “This isn’t necessarily the bar that I would make my local, though. That would more likely be Seattle’s Zig Zag Café, back in the days of Murray Stenson, or the Tiki Bar in Maui where I got chatting to the local jet ski boys. I also really enjoyed the music and dancing at GoGo Lounge in Montreal, and I obviously love London’s American Bar at The Savoy.”

The bars that she wasn’t so keen on? Toronto’s West, seeing as how the two nights she tried to go they had closed up shop, and Jamaica’s Rick’s Cafe and Johannesburg’s Moyo, which were reluctant to make her the off-menu cocktail detailed in the book. She also said that Paris’ Harry’s Bar and Rio de Janeiro’s Garota de Ipanema were both “less than hospitable,” but noted that they seem to be well known for that.

To keep each visit authentic and to absorb as much of the local flavor as possible, Noble typically doesn’t disclose her mission. Sometimes the bartenders ask when she shows them the print-out of the cocktail recipe from the book. But that’s not always the case. Sometimes she’ll stay for only a drink, but when things get good, she’ll stay all night long. And we know what you’re wondering: Does the author know of Noble’s noble cocktail mission? He does!

“I met the author two years ago at London Cocktail Week, and he was really lovely,” she said. “He was very impressed with my quest, especially the number that I had managed to tick off, and we compared notes on some of the more memorable bars. We’re in direct contact now and he is following my progress, and I sometimes drop him an email at the time of visiting the bar if something particularly noteworthy happened.”

Over the last 10 years of sipping the world’s finest cocktails, Noble has learned plenty. The greatest lesson, she says, is to sit at the bar instead of in the room. That leads to more engagement with both the bartenders and the local patrons.

“I’ve also learned not to make my mind up about a bar too quickly, as just as I think it’s going to be an early night, I can end up talking to someone who keeps me there until closing,” she said. “I wouldn’t say the book gave me my cocktail education – as it was published before the global craft cocktail renaissance – but it definitely introduced me to the industry.”

Stay tuned for a book inspired by Noble’s adventures, and keep up with her cocktail musings at her blog, or via her Instagram and Twitter accounts.

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