In times of great struggle and uncertainty, we could all use a little pick-me-up. With the World’s 50 Best Bar awards just around the corner, it’s a good time to remind ourselves of why it matters.
This year, the hospitality industry has been dealt several heavy blows with restrictions being mercilessly imposed on an industry that is among the smallest contributors to infections but owns the largest workforce. The hospitality industry worldwide is responsible for the gainful employment of millions of people and CoVid has caused this whole system to collapse under the weight of its own burdens – rent, salaries, you name it. At the heart of this storm are the bars we all know and love, who have provided us comfort, a place to celebrate, and a place to call home in good times and bad. Cocktail bars across the world have seen a bittersweet few months with the guidelines shifting daily, pushing them to improvise and think on their feet to do as much damage control as possible to stay above water. From bottled cocktails to contactless take-out solutions, the global bar community has reinvented the wheel and stepped out of every conceivable comfort zone at this time, to try and pull through.
As a bystander and someone living on the fringes of this community, I have seen my friends knocked down and get back up while some have lost their jobs and livelihood. But I have also seen some beautiful instances of altruism and giving. I have seen Jad Ballout’s hard work turn to dust in the Beirut explosion while the global bar community rallied together to help him rebuild, and kitchens give away food to the needy through the lockdown. I have seen a generosity in spirit and a resilience that I have rarely seen in any other community.
But to take that resilience for granted would be unfair and to allow the efforts and little victories to go by unnoticed and unacknowledged would be negligent. Now more than ever, it is vital to shine light on a community that is riddled with pressures but will not be broken. A community that puts a meal on the tables of millions of families and continues to do so with a smile on their face.
The annual list of The World’s 50 Best Bars, sponsored by Perrier, will be unveiled as part of a virtual awards ceremony on Thursday, 5th November 2020.
The announcement of The World’s 50 Best Bars 2020 list follows on from the work of the 50 Best for Recovery programme, which has raised $1.24m to date for the hospitality sector. The initiative included providing grants to 236 businesses from 53 countries as a direct result of fundraising efforts, which included the Bid for Recovery auction, the publication of the Home Comforts e-cookbook and the generous support of 50 Best’s partner brands.
I caught up with Mark Sansom (Content Editor, The World’s 50 Best Bars) to delve a little deeper into the thinking behind this year’s awards.
It is common knowledge that pulling off an award ceremony in the midst of a pandemic draws a fair deal of attention – both positive and negative. Earlier this year, Asia’s 50 Best recognised bars and bartenders in the continent for their achievements over the past year and well before the pandemic shut some of their operations down temporarily. While some suggested that it wasn’t the right time for celebrations, most argued that the community could use a pick-me-up. Mark says “We focussed on not making the awards a celebration, but rather a recognition of the bars’ and their teams’ hard work. The situation globally has clearly changed a great deal in the intervening six months and as this is obviously a global event, different parts of the world are at a different stage of their response to the pandemic. Asia was hit first and with ferocity and it looks as though the bar community there is well into its focus on rebuilding. Further west, it’s a different story, with Europe doing its best to work with ever-shifting restrictions and USA and South America working hard to work within the confines of the rules applied.”
The awards, in my opinion, serve as a gentle reminder of better days as well as something to look forward to. More than anything, the recognition is a nod to those whose noteworthy contributions to the world of bars must not slide without due applause.
The decision to go ahead with this year’s awards could not have been an easy one to make and the team at 50 Best went to great lengths to feel the room before deciding to go ahead. Throughout the pandemic, the 50 Best team has been in touch with the industry, speaking to upto 50 bartenders, bar owners, brands, partners and industry experts to stay abreast of how the pandemic is affecting businesses all over the world.
According to Mark, “The overwhelming feeling was one that they wanted the awards to go ahead. The main comments centred around the bars wanting something positive to talk about. They also noted that they hoped the international press would start telling some positive and optimistic stories about the hospitality sector. One of the most important aspects of the next stage of recovery for bars will be guest confidence. By running a virtual ceremony this year, we hope to get the message out to consumers that bars all over the world are ready to receive guests safely and securely.”
In addition to the awards, the 50 Best Team has done a remarkable job of putting all their weight behind creating learning experiences and fruitful exchanges throughout the pandemic. To bridge the gap between business and consumer, the team have put together masterclasses and workshops across the board as well as released an e-cookbook with contributions from the world’s best chefs and bartenders. “When we realised the severity of the virus back in February, we asked ourselves how we could best help the industry. We looked at our strengths and immediately set about making plans that could help the industry. One of the first things we did was to establish the Coronavirus support hub on our website, which shared stories of bartenders all over the world, giving hospitality workers advice and help as to how they could get grants in their own regions”, says Mark.
Efforts to raise funds for struggling hospitality establishments have also included 50 Best Recovery, an auction of world-class experiences and spirits that raised funds to the tune of $1.24 million, as well as providing grants to 236 businesses across 53 countries to alleviate the pressures of overhead expenses.
So what can we expect from the awards this year, you ask?
Mark says they learned a lot from the Asia’s 50 Best Awards held in May 2020. “The main concern is to give bars a focal point of recognition for their hard work, but to approach the list announcement with measured optimism that doesn’t stray into all-out celebration, because so many bars and their teams are still struggling and doing their best to keep going in the face of adversity.”
As an ardent supporter of the community and someone whose best stories begin with “I was at this bar once….”, I cannot begin to emphasise the importance of lauding hard work, especially at a time like this. The teams who work tirelessly and make it look effortless are in dire need of a reason to smile and look forward to the post CoVid world – a world where people like you and I will be thankful that our favourite bars are still open and relieved that they didn’t give up, even though all odds were stacked against them. For me this is deeply personal, because I have been on both sides of the bar and recognise the current struggle.
The hospitality industry today is fighting an uphill battle but one that they are doing with the utmost grace. For those who are allowed to operate as well as those battling strict curfews, guest safety is and always will be highest on their list of priorities. This industry cannot afford to, nor have they been known to be negligent of our needs, so you are encouraged to feel safe and go out there and support your local bar if you can.
The upcoming World’s 50 Best Award night is an opportunity for us to laud the ones who made it this far, the ones who tried, and the ones who will keep going. “We hope that by announcing the list this year, it will give everyone good cause to come together for an hour on the global stage, whatever the stage of the response to the pandemic” says Mark.
Let’s come together and applaud the ones who gave us so many memorable evenings – through every promotion,every graduation, every engagement, every break up, and every make-up.
About The World’s 50 Best Bars
The World’s 50 Best Bars, owned and organised by William Reed Business Media, provides a definitive list of the world’s best drinking venues, voted for by an Academy of over 540 experts worldwide. The World’s 50 Best Bars list has been published annually since 2009 and has become the most anticipated ranking for drinks professionals and cocktail aficionados across the world. The list of Asia’s 50 Best Bars has been published since 2016. The World’s 50 Best Restaurants list, also organised by William Reed Business Media, has been published since 2002.
About the author
Priyanka Blah is the founder and editor of The Dram Attic. She has spent the last decade discovering the world of bars through extensive travel, and has been chronicling the evolution of the drinks industry from both sides of the bar, paying particular attention to guest experience, menu innovations, and creativity.
Global PR Partner of The World’s 50 Best Bars
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