It’s not often that an award ceremony is described as “a much needed moment of joy” but this has been the reaction on an Instagram post from The Connaught Bar in London to the news that they had won the number one spot on the World’s 50 Best Bar list.
In a year that can only be described as catastrophic for the industry, the awards have ironically brought out stories that show that the industry, while devastated is also acting as a beacon of hope, optimism and normalcy, that will not easily be extinguished.
In a press conference after the awards, Linden Pride, one of the owners of New York’s Dante, who not only came in second place but was also voted as Best Bar In North America, said: “You can never take away that moment of sitting down with friends and breaking bread or sharing a drink, you can’t compare that to a zoom meeting or sitting down socially distanced from people. I think that sense of hospitality and coming together will always remain.”
Annabelle Joyce, the General Manager from Atlas in Singapore, who came in 4th place and was also voted as Asia’s Best Bar, agreed. “Hospitality is really about being able to see the difference you make in a person’s day. There is that instant gratification that comes from knowing that you are bringing joy into people’s lives.”
While the nature of hospitality was an important theme through the event, and one that Mark Sansom, content editor for The World’s 50 Best Bars believes will dictate the success of re-opening for bars across the world, the necessity for the industry to be more creative than usual and doubly flexible in their approach, was reiterated time and again.
“We’ve been forced to really think outside of the box,” Joyce said about her bar, Atlas, “and I think it’s been a good lesson for all of us in how much we can actually accomplish when we have to do it. It’s taught us to not confine ourselves to certain preconceived notions of who we think we are or what we think we should do. We really just be flexible when these situations arise.
“I think this year has made us really push our limits in what we can do and what we think we should do,” continued Joyce. “Before Singapore went into lockdown in March, we had no intention of pursuing a retail business or selling alcohol by the bottle or doing so many of the things that we’ve been forced to do. But now we are doing them and actually learning to enjoy doing them.”
Pride, who with his staff, spent their lock-down putting final touches on a second venue in the city’s West Village, believes that it is not only the bartending community but also consumers as a whole that has shown they are not only keen to return to the bars but also support them at grass root level where they could.
“New York might normally be an international city but we’ve never felt more supported than we have from our local community in the last seven months,” he said. “We see people in our building, on our block, in our zip code, three or four times a week. They supported us through those early days and that gave us the momentum and the confidence to open Dante West Village, which we have been working on for two years and was met with such enthusiasm in that community.
“This year has been very different and we’ve focused a lot of our energy on other things, like hospital meals and supporting out-of-work bartenders over the last few months. But we’re also trying to find new ways to connect with our local community, support our staff and keep the business open.”
Renato Giovannoni from Florería Atlántico in Buenos Aires, who came in at number 7 on the list and was also voted the best bar in South America, believes the time actually taught both him and his bartenders not only how to can their cocktail offerings, which they are selling throughout their home city, but also to appreciate their roots within the local community. “By being on the list for a few years we have been visited by many tourists and I have been travelling a lot, we lost our focus that we started out being a neighbourhood bar,” he said.
Yet in the midst of everything, Joyce points out that the effect that the awards have should not be under-rated. While the effects on tourism and bringing people to the bar are, of course, negligible at the moment, the effect on the bar team can be enormous.
“It shows the team that their hard work and talent is recognised by the industry and I think that will be the most impactful thing for us as a bar.”
When it comes to the future though, Pride has faith not only in the community but also the industry itself. “It’s just going to be a matter of a lot of the small guys getting back open and seeing the industry come back to life. We’ve lost so many great establishments and a big brain drain out of the industry’ a lot of people have moved away from it and it will take a bit of time for those people to come back.”
Ago Perrone, the Director of Mixology at The Connaught, agreed: “2020 has been an embodiment of hospitality. If you are in hospitality, and bars in general, it’s not an easy life. But you’re always chin up and you’re always there with a smile. We can not let our love and passion for what we do for a living be darkened by what is happening around us.”