(old post from 2009)
So what exactly makes a beautiful bar? If you ask an owner I am sure they would describe a windowless room filed with 50:50 barely-clothed supermodels (of both genders) and billionaires drinking vintage champagne from paper cups. If you ask a serious mixologist they would see it as a room filled with bartending gurus all sitting patiently while Old Fashioneds are being stirred obsessively using hand-chopped ice balls and vintage Japanese mixing glasses. But I have been to a lot of bars… both beautiful and ugly and here is both my Top ten and also what I think makes a beautiful bar.
Firstly (and perhaps oddly) it is what is outside the bar and what of that you can see. A room with a view is a great thing to have and there are of course some that have better views than others. I was just sitting in the Hilton Galaxy Bar in Athens and while the ‘bar’ is nice enough my Martini (and general sense of well being) was definitely enhanced by seeing the Parthenon over the rim every time I sipped it. Thus lets choose from Bar Rouge in Shanghai, Rainbow Room in NYC or Skyview Bar in Moscow… but Café Gray Deluxe in Hong Kong gets my vote.
Next it’s what in a bar that matters and that means booze. An impressive backbar makes all the difference and for that reason we should look at it closely. It’s not just about the size but more what you do with it and yet both have validity. Thus I choose Widder Bar in Zurich for its range and jaw dropping attention to detail and Der Raum in Melbourne for its jaw dropping wackiness (bottles suspended from rubber bands!). Both will have any serious guest or bar geek drooling in anticipation.
Next beauty is all about sex isn’t it (isn’t everything?) so you would have to choose a bar that is both filled with and charged by sex. Hakkasan in London is not only a one Michelin starred restaurant and an award winning bar but it’s a slick and sexy space that pulses and seethes with sexy energy. Staffed by models and populated with more models it may be made of slate but it’s all wood for most (bar)men.
Many times I become a religious man – I sip a well made drink in a great bar and silently whisper “Oh God that’s good” so I often see bars as temples to tippling temptation and for that reason there are several altars that I worship at that make truly beautiful drinks in a truly beautiful environment. Salvatore at Fifty (was) perhaps one such beautiful bar and an fine example of what can be achieved when you give a large cheque to a small man and tell him to set up the world’s best bar. Packed to the rafters with fine bottles of liquor, designed to the last millimeter with the finest woods, stones and glasses and filled with great liquor. From the Calabrese Sink to the one armed bar stools so you can sit at them without having to waste effort pulling them out this is a legendary bar that will be sorely missed.
Le Lion de Paris is another such Temple but one where the priest wear suits (and possibly ladies underwear under that as their general joie de vie suggests). Small, elegant and elite this is one beautiful bar. Pegu Club in NYC is almost the opposite (tho I know the Owner wears women’s underwear) as its larger, egalitarian and yet still deeply important. Named after a Burmese drinking hole this bar manages to make anyone feel special and transports them to a simpler and more refined time… Drink is Boston is another timeless bar as it has three areas of the bar each dedicated to a different century of Bartending… one big room, one big idea and yet it’s one of the most individual bars there is.
Penultimately we have Japan… the home of beauty in so many forms. From Cherry Blossoms to Sushi to flower arranging and origami the Japanese manage to make the simple extraordinarily beautiful and add a complexity to even the most mundane. The hard bit is choosing which is the most beautiful bar and I have chosen the first one I ever saw. Little Smith’s lives in my mind as polished and preternaturally elegant with white jacketed bartenders and hot towels and effortless bartending. I get Goosebumps just thinking about it even now.
Finally we have Nimb in Copenhagen. A cheeky choice you may think as it’s the bar I have just started to run but if you visited it you would see both why I chose to run it and also why I consider it beautiful. From the hand drawn paintings on the wall to its roaring fireplace and ballroom-esque feel it is one sexy room… I only hope that I can make my drinks and the mood both as beautiful as the room and also beautiful enough to be included in someone else’s Most Beautiful list… cheers