The rain was falling gently on the East Side of Lower Manhattan on Tuesday night and at a venue called the Capitale, the red carpet was laid, the photographers were focusing and the bartenders were ready.
And while this might sound like any other high profile award event, this one had an important difference – the bartenders (on the whole) weren’t actually working.
You see, this was the night of the Inaugural North America 50 Best Bars Awards.
From all across the continent – Canada to the Caribbean, from Mexico to the United States – bartenders and bar owners from all of the top 50 bars had gathered to find out which among them would take home the coveted number one spot.
As the bartenders were ushered into the main hall past, ironically, other bartenders creating drinks for the sponsorship brands (including Campari, Rémy Martin, Michter’s, Roku and the official sponsor Perrier) the anticipation was easily felt.
Friends and colleagues greeted each other, many for the first time since before the Pandemic, as the awards got underway.
Mexico City’s Handshake Speakeasy at No.2 gained the title of The Best Bar in Mexico, Toronto’s Civil Liberties, at No.10, won the title of The Best Bar in Canada and Puerto Rico’s La Factoría, at No.12, earned The Best Bar in the Caribbean.
It was then up to The Best Bar In The United States to take up the mantle as The Best Bar In North America – an honour that was given to New York’s long-standing industry favourite, Attaboy.
It’s rare that an award ceremony is tinged with an element of sadness but that was the case among the shouts of jubilation, as Milk & Honey alums, Sam Ross and Michael McIlroy took the stage, crediting their success to the late, great Sasha Petraske.
“Attaboy would never have happened without Sasha,” said Ross, as he reflected on the long-standing legacy left by their mentor and friend.
When asked what it was that made Attaboy stand out, both men echoed that Petraske’s influence had not only raised their bar, but also standards for bartenders and bars across the industry as a whole.
McElroy said, “Attaboy is a classic cocktail bar – three or four ingredients at the most. We’ve always stayed true to the Sasha school and we’ve never changed that. It’s been nine years now and at this stage to win an award like this is amazing.”
Located in New York’s lower east side, Attaboy was established on a ‘bartender’s choice’ system, that involves a sense of trust, faith and understanding between both the customer and the bartender, to create an incomparable, bespoke drink.
As Ross explained, “… we want guests to be assured in their confidence with us. We want to be able to give them as much as possible, so they can enjoy their time off. Especially with how hard the world has been over the past few years, so let us do that part of it for you.”
Although the night was not dimmed by what, as Ross put it, were “the dark days of 2020,” it was hard to escape the feeling of defiance that all in the room shared. As McIlroy said, “North America as a hospitality scene is back. New York City is back and we are thriving.”
Overall, the USA led the list with 29 bars, with Mexico fielding 11, Canada boasting 8 and the Caribbean celebrating 2 top bars.
“We commend all of the bars on the inaugural list of North America’s 50 Best Bars that are doing a stellar job invigorating the continent’s drinks scene as we emerge from what has been a very challenging time,” said Mark Sansom, Content Director for North America’s 50 Best Bars.
“Hospitality is an incredibly important engine of economic recovery and these bars’ creativity and determination demonstrate the best of our industry in North America,” he continued.
Elisa Gregori, Perrier International Business Unit Director, added: “We’re extremely thrilled to see the additional regional North America’s 50 Best Bars list come to life in 2022. North America is home to a vibrant bar community, marked by a variety of cultural influences, always putting hospitality at the centre and continuously pushing for further development in community wellbeing.”
Although the night was a well-needed chance for many in the industry to let their hair down and wear their fanciest frocks, it was hard to escape the sentiment that what really matters is the art of hospitality and the teams of people behind each bar that have rallied together over the last few years to not only survive but also ensure the best experiences for their guests.
As things reopen and return to normal life, the awards serve as a point of recognition, not only for those awarded but for the industry as a whole. And showed the spirit (pun intended) of an industry that is now more than ever united in that camaraderie that comes from being through a war.
For more information, go to worlds50bestbars.com