The Super League of Bartending
The Worlds Best 50 Bars have been announced in London. MIXOLOGY publisher Helmut Adam uses the opportunity to give an outside view of the so called Super League of Bartending and explains the new European MIXOLOGY BAR AWARDS concept. Enjoy the read and join the discussion.
The noise on social media about this years World’s Best 50 Bar winners had only just died down a little when, as usual, the first critical voices appeared. The GSA (Germany, Switzerland & Austria) region had taken quite a beating this year with only Berlin’s Buck & Breck showing up on 50th place. „Is it good or bad what we do in Germany?“ read a text someone sent me from Christ Church Spitalfields where the ceremony had taken place. „Why aren’t we represented anymore in the top 50?“ And Andreas Künster of ShakeKings Cologne weighed in: „(…) seriously I think the judging panel members should visit Germany a bit more and a lot of other countries. No Le Lion, no Goldene Bar, no Parlour to name just a few?“
London impresario Simon Difford on the other hand, criticized the World’s Best 50 list for – at least that’s how I understood it – not being created by himself. Which promted San Francisco’s esteemed bar and spirits writer Camper English, who plays a big role in organizing the WB50B judging panel, to answer that Simon Difford himself was wrong because „there are judges from around the world, so that we can take everyone’s votes collectively and build the list“.
As the publisher of a German trade magazine people usually assume that your role is to promote the bars in your market. To some extent that is true. It’s part of your local expertise. But personally I’ve always seen our role rather to promote great bar culture as such. Accordingly this post has been long in the making and is not a reaction to the poor performance of German bars in the top lists. It is a general view from the outside. It’s a perspective people like Simon Difford and Camper English lack. Because it’s the view from someone who grew up and lives in a sizeable bar market where English is not the first language.
The U.S. and UK dominance
The results of this year’s World’s Best 50 Bars list came as no surprise. Nine of the top 10 bars in the list are based in Great Britain and the United States of America. And if you look at the top 50 list it’s almost 50% that stem from these two great bar nations. Since the World’s Best Bar scheme has been created, bars from two countries have been taken the top spot every year. And if you look at the other influential international awards scheme, the Spirited Awards of Tales of the Cocktail, the results have been the same. Year after year. So why is that? Are the judges biased? Are these two award concepts rigged or created by the dark powers?
No. They’re not. I personally think that they’re both great concepts. The rise of both the Spirited Awards and World’s Best 50 Bars has helped to create a common sense in the bar industry. The important perception that we actually are a global trade. And the media coverage outside the trade these events generate, helps giving bartending back the pride and self esteem that it lacked for a number of decades.
I’ve voted in both the Spirited Awards and World’s Best 50 Bars judging panels for a some time. A couple of years ago MIXOLOGY was even media partner of the World’s Best 50 Bars brand. From a publisher’s perspective I think it’s amazing what Hamish Smith and his team created. You see bars using the hashtag #WorldsBest50Bars year round. This must be the wet dream of every beverage brand’s marketing director.
But of course both concepts, the American version and the British version of awarding bars on a global level, are not perfect. They rather represent how our trade works on a global level. Nothing more and nothing less. They represent the Super League of Bartending.
The Super League of Bartending
You’ve never heard of the term Super League of Bartending? No? But it’s out there. It’s a fact. I’ll explain it to you. The Super League of Bartending is essentially London and New York. It’s the United Kingdom and the United States of America. If you want to play at the top, you need to work or open a business in London or New York. It’s that simple. Why is that?
First of all both cities have an intimate relationship with the mixed drink. They are both mother cities of the bar. They’ve drawn people from all over the globe into their influence zones, creating an exciting mix of cultures. They’re ideal playgrounds to test a cutting edge idea. But it’s not sufficient to have all these people and ingredients about. Two essential things act as the essential enzymes to start fermentation of what will be distilled into that super league spirit. They are called money and power. Let’s start with London.
The British capital has that city in the city. It’s called the City of London. Yes, you’ve heard about it. It’s blocks and blocks of buildings full of banks, insurances, hedge fonds, and other financial institutions and businesses. They’re really powerful as they produce about 8 percent of Britain’s domestic product. And with their massive salaries and million pound yearly bonuses, they’re able to eat and drink out in a big way. Their € 20.000 Siemens kitchen at home is merely a decoration. And then there’s the big beverage companies. The major players in the spirits and alcoholic beverage game all have massive headquarters in London. And don’t let yourself be fooled by the accounting chess they play to avoid taxation. (All perfectly legal of course.) Even if they’re based elsewhere on paper, the London office is where the important decisions are made. And if it comes to prepare the next takeover or merger, you’ve guessed it, the bankers in their Savil Row suits are right next door.
And now let us talk about the second pillar of Super League Bartending – the United States. Despite having a weirdly regulated alcoholic beverage trade the U.S. is the most competitive beverage market and more importantly, the biggest alcoholic beverage market in the world in terms of value. So this is the place where you can sell more premium prized products than anywhere else. At the same time the United States is the cradle of the modern bar. The mixed drink was invented in Europe, but the United States turned it into an urban culture in its own right – cocktail culture. And New York is the unofficial capital of that culture in the same way as it is the unofficial capital of the so called Western world, the collective term for many of the most advanced societies in terms of democracy, technology, science, and the publication and celebration of culinary arts. Apart from that it is very similar to London in that it is a huge travel destination and has a lot of well-off inhabitants.
Above these two pillars is a roof that is a third and very important factor in creating the Super League of Bartending. It’s the English language. You own a bar? You’ve attracted excellent reviews? In Greek, Spanish, or French? Sorry, but it’s going to break your proud bartending heart: your bar doesn’t exist! It doesn’t exist in the sphere of the Super League of Bartending. The majority of the judges or judging panel members won’t be able to access that information. I can’t access it either.
Let’s take the recent bar opening of Blacktail. Yes, Jack McGarry and Sean Muldoon have proven that they’re brilliant operators. But just look at the amount of press their opening generated. In something like 48 hours through countless magazine and newspaper articles and social media posts everyone in the bar trade around the world knew about their new place. Now try the same in Moscow, Amsterdam, Stockholm, or even Sydney.
Yes, Sydney. The Super League of Bartending is Anglo-American. But it’s not Commonwealth. Canada, South Africa, and even one of the most progressive bar scenes worldwide, Australia, don’t play a big role in the Super League of Bartending. Being a native speaker and having English-speaking media is not enough. You need these other factors, money, power, the big beverage companies, and to some extent tradition, in order to be part of it as a region or country. In order to appear on the bar „world map“.
If you look at the results, this world map of bars leaves large swathes of undocumented liquid territory. Territory where you know from personal visits, that the level of bartending definitely matches what happens in London and New York. A fact that the Drinks International team acknowledged with creating another top list: Asia’s Best 50 Bars. Why document Asia’s bars in a ranking if you already have Asia a part of your world scheme? Sure, there are business elements involved. Advertising and sponsorships. But truth is, it’s very hard to develop a global scheme for the bar trade.
It’s tough to claim the world. It generates the maximum of buzz, but it’s also the highest hurdle to take. The world map will have big gaps and white spaces. Honestly, I don’t have the magic formula either. But these obvious gaps, these many places that never make the Super League of Bartending gave us the idea to expand our existing MIXOLOGY BAR AWARDS scheme. To make the awards European.
The EUROPEAN MIXOLOGY BAR AWARDS
And that decision was immediately embraced by many bartenders and bar owners all over the continent. I’m also sure (and a couple of liking games on social media indicate that) that a couple of our industry’s global superstars frowned upon the idea, while checking their Facebook in an airport lounge and accumulating air miles. European bar awards? Zee Germans? How provincial is that! When we already have global schemes!
All cool. We don’t organize these awards for them anyway. We’re here to create something different. We plan to create a proper platform.
And claiming Europe is indeed enough. I tell you why. We and the bar trade here can travel almost everywhere on our continent quite cheaply within two to three hours. We have more and more trade events like Athens barshow, Paris barshow, Oslo Barshow, Perfect Serve Barshow – just to name a few. And our own Bar Convent Berlin of course. Events that generate a good following and make people travel and visit bars. And this is much more affordable for a bartender salary than the trip to the other beloved motherland of bartending overseas. We have a lot of people hopping between cities and taking on jobs elsewhere in Europe. Thanks to the European Union we can take up residence and start working right away almost anywhere. (I’m not gonna go into the thing called Brexit here.) That already makes information travel quicker and also produces good feedback in the advisory council.
Why am I convinced that we’re going to build a good platform? We’re not a vanity project. Sure, the European awards thing will pay back on our brand. But we believe in cooperation. Our jury already features three other publishers and three trade event organizers. Our magazine’s online platform is constantly linking to interesting trade stories published by other news outlets. The dossier we produced for the jury in order to help them decide on bars and bartenders they hadn’t met and visited contained countless links from sources like diffordsguide.com, cocktaillovers.com, drinksint.com, just to name a few. Only if we manage to bring the trade together on this platform it will generate interesting results.
Check out the Long List!
Now, the European MIXOLOGY BAR AWARDS are in their first year. And they’re far from perfect. Having 120 members in the advisory council is not the biggest number. It’s a start. But together with these 16 excellent jury members it’s a good start, I think. Still, if you look at the Short Lists, London again is a very dominant force. At the end of the day our regional awards scheme faces the same challenge as the Super League of Bartending. And even on a national level Paris eclipses the rest of bartending-France. While only recently bars from Geneva and Basel managed to step out of the shadow Zurich casts over bar-Switzerland. But in Europe these challenges are easier to overcome. In our GSA (Germany, Switzerland & Austria) awards scheme we managed to balance this out with jury members from all regions. Accordingly a Munich newspaper triumphantly stated this week that Munich has more nominations than Berlin for 2017.
But still, when Monday night’s gala comes to a close, the awards scheme may well have produced similar results to its “world” counterparts. Then what’s the point in organizing the awards you may ask? Have a look at the Long Lists. That’s why. No award format out there will feature a majority of these brands, names, and places.
We got to discover great products like the Dutch Pekoe tea liqueurs and the bartender success story Three Cents from Greece, just to name two. This immediately resulted in Mixology features by my team. I also can’t wait to go to L’Antiquario in Naples, a place that even our head of jury Salvatore Calabrese hadn’t heard of. Not to mention all the new places in Amsterdam and the Nordics. And as said above – this is just a start.
To come to a close I’d like to send a little message to all of those lamenting over the World’s Best 50 Bars list. Take a step back and simply acknowledge the reality! And then think about what you really want to achieve. If you’re not based in London or New York, you need to invest in a good PR company or put a decent budget for trips to TOTC, other trade events, or bartending guest shifts aside. You’ll have to make at least five to ten times the effort to make the list than someone who’s risen through the ranks of the progressive bar scenes in the two Super League cities. Still, at the end of the day everyone on that Super League list deserves to be there.
Our industry is now global and it’s growing. That growth also means more choice. More bars, more award schemes, more bar shows, more bar publications. And choice is a great thing. For us and for the consumer. Being part of this growing industry and being able to contribute to it makes me proud. I’m really looking forward to meeting the international bar family on Monday night’s gala and at the 10th Bar Convent Berlin!
Foto: Mixology Bar Awards Jury via Mixology Verlags GmbH