What makes a great bar? What are the criteria for deciding which is best and why? It’s an uncertain set of standards, but what is certain is that it’s a very different game to judging restaurants. Imagine choosing to book a meal in a dimly lit, nostalgic restaurant with a 1920s-inspired menu, tucked away in the basement of a hotel? Unappealing, absurd! However, it’s a description that fits many of the truly great bars around the world, and is a comparison that also goes to highlight how removed the aesthetic and values are of a sophisticated drinking culture.
A bar may be new and extraordinarily innovative but it will most often still be immensely nostalgic. While that style currently pervades many areas of modern life — think the now familiar retro barber shop haircuts, Edison lightbulbs, and fashion verging on period — it is safe to say that when that trend ebbs, for those who tend bar it will persist.
It is a strange phenomenon, but one thing all of the great bars around the world have in common is a sense of history and a commitment to another era of hospitality. Patina is prized; as is institution status. Drinkers, too, not only want their tipple of choice perfectly executed but also to feel an atmosphere, a sexiness, a sense of glamour.
The Americans first perfected the art of the cocktail and the artistry of tending bar. It is for that reason their style still dominates globally.
In the past decade, countless ‘golden age’ and ‘Prohibition-era’ cocktail bars have opened in the hipper enclaves of every major city, reviving a style of drinking that is more considered, elegant and a step up from the local watering holes.
Similarly, the grand hotels, colonial outposts and institutions have realised that the essence of their history is distilled in their bars. These two forces, old and new, are merging to create a drinking scene that is as dynamic and as spirited as times past.
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© Vogue Living, May/June 2014Download PDF