Raising the Bar: The World’s Top Cocktail Lounges of 2023
Raising the Bar: The World's Top Cocktail Lounges of 2023 - New Additions Shake Up the Top Ten
Each year brings a shuffling of the rankings, as audacious new lounges muscle their way onto the list while others slip down the standings. In 2022, the top ten received an injection of fresh faces that have elevated mixology to an artform.
Leading the pack of newcomers is BlackTail in New York, the passion project of renowned barman Giuseppe González. Tucked away underground beneath Pier A Harbor House, BlackTail transports guests to 1930’s Cuba through subtle design touches and González’s impeccable tropical cocktails. Their signature drink - the Airmail - blends aged rum with honey, lime, champagne and frappe, evoking languid Havana nights. With its intimate yet lively atmosphere and excellent live jazz, it’s no wonder BlackTail claimed the number four spot this year.
Over in London, clever cocktails meet refinement at Kwant. Helmed by Erik Lorincz of the world-famous American Bar, Kwant offers inspired libations in an atmosphere of understated luxury. Lorincz has a knack for making classic cocktails feel entirely modern, like the bar’s signature Spiced Pear Martini with grey goose vodka, spiced pear purée and cardamom bitters. Kwant debuts at number six, giving London two spots in the top ten.
Other notable newcomers include Maybe Sammy in Sydney, drawing inspiration from Australia’s native fruits and herbs, and Presidente in Buenos Aires, where cocktails as vibrant as the city are served in a 1920’s-style room. Both Maybe Sammy and Presidente illustrate broader trends of bars celebrating their local culture through indigenous ingredients and one-of-a-kind spaces.
What else is in this post?
- Raising the Bar: The World's Top Cocktail Lounges of 2023 - New Additions Shake Up the Top Ten
- Raising the Bar: The World's Top Cocktail Lounges of 2023 - What Makes a Bar World-Class?
- Raising the Bar: The World's Top Cocktail Lounges of 2023 - Artisanal Ingredients Take Cocktails to New Heights
- Raising the Bar: The World's Top Cocktail Lounges of 2022 - Sensory Experiences Reign Supreme
- Raising the Bar: The World's Top Cocktail Lounges of 2023 - Emerging Trends: Cocktails Go Zero Proof
- Raising the Bar: The World's Top Cocktail Lounges of 2023 - A Global Tour of Top Mixology Talent
- Raising the Bar: The World's Top Cocktail Lounges of 2023 - Design Details that Elevate the Drinking Experience
- Raising the Bar: The World's Top Cocktail Lounges of 2023 - Homegrown Hangouts Hold Their Own Against Global Hotspots
Raising the Bar: The World's Top Cocktail Lounges of 2023 - What Makes a Bar World-Class?
A world-class bar is more than just a place to grab a drink. It provides an experience that delights the senses, surprises the palate, and transports guests, even if just for an evening, to somewhere extraordinary. But what exactly elevates an establishment into the realms of the world's elite watering holes?
At the most fundamental level, it begins with the quality of the cocktails. The best bars on earth are obsessed with sourcing only the finest liquors, bitters, syrups and mixers to create their libations. Many are ditching mass-produced ingredients in favor of small-batch and artisanal options that add depth and character. Some even make their own bitters on-site or grow herbs for garnishes. Details matter here; technique and balance are paramount.
Yet drink quality alone does not an iconic bar make. The venue must also nail the fundamentals of hospitality and service. From the moment one walks through the door, staff make guests feel welcome, guiding them to the perfect table and explaining the menu without a hint of pretentiousness. Efficiency matters too - no one wants to wait 15 minutes for their second round. At top bars, drinks flow steadily all night even when packed to the gills.
Of course, the design of the space is arguably just as vital. A memorable decor and aesthetic lift a bar beyond the realm of the ordinary. The vibe should suit the drinks, with every architectural detail cohesively coming together. Lighting is deployed thoughtfully to create an atmosphere that flatters guests. The furniture invites conversation and connection. Music choices, art, textures - all enhance the desired mood. There's an intangible X factor, almost like visiting a bar within a dream.
Yet despite the meticulous crafting of each element, the world's best bars never feel stuffy. On the contrary, they feel alive, humming with energy and a sense of celebration. Laughter peals out over the clinking glasses; strangers become friends. The bartenders exude hospitality and charm. Instead of merely mixing drinks, they aim to forge memories for everyone who walks through the door. It's an alchemy that cannot be manufactured.
Raising the Bar: The World's Top Cocktail Lounges of 2023 - Artisanal Ingredients Take Cocktails to New Heights
Across the globe, world-class bars are taking their cocktails to dizzying new heights through the use of artisanal, small-batch ingredients. Mass-produced liquors and syrups are being ditched in favor of unique, nuanced options that provide depth and complexity. From bitters to vermouths, the bars ranked among 2022's best intricately craft every component that goes into their drinks.
This artisanal approach shines at Atlas Bar in Singapore, which claims the number two spot this year. Atlas makes its own gins, tonics, sodas, liqueurs, and vermouths in-house, allowing head bartender Vijay Mudaliar complete control in crafting cocktails. "When you make everything from scratch, you unlock possibilities that are just not achievable otherwise," says Mudaliar. "I can tweak the gin's botanical recipe to accentuate certain flavors, or reduce the sugar in sodas by 75% without sacrificing texture." The results are libations with brightness and balance unlike anything you've tasted.
Further embracing the artisanal ethos is Little Red Door in Paris. Ranked number five this year, Little Red Door infuses local botanicals like elderflower and roasted pineapple into its spirits, while its bitters are crafted from foraged roots, barks, and mushrooms. "We are telling the story of our regional terroir through these ingredients," explains head bartender Marlene BÃ©lilos. "In Paris, people crave authenticity." Even Little Red Door's ice is specially filtered to remove impurities that can taint cocktails.
Meanwhile, in Melbourne, Maybe Sammy utilizes native Australian produce like lemon myrtle, anise myrtle, and river mint to add quintessentially Australian flair to its drinks. The "Bush Tucker Martini" stars finger lime and wattleseed gin, evoking the bushland that surrounds Australia's cities. Maybe Sammy forages for some ingredients themselves and partners with local farmers to grow others, ensuring peak freshness and flavor.
Top bars in tropical locales like Guadeloupe's La Rhumerie exemplify this artisanal approach as well. Surrounded by sugar cane fields, La Rhumerie makes their own rums, syrups, and juices, allowing customers to "taste the soul of Guadeloupe." The Rhum Punch features eight types of rum aged in bourbon barrels, passionfruit juice, and a housemade hibiscus syrup.
Of course, acquiring these quality ingredients does not come cheap. "Paying $20 for bespoke bitters rather than $3 for mass-produced ones certainly affects margins," admits Ryan Chetiyawardana of London's Cub, ranked number eight this year. "But it transforms the complexity of the final product. Once guests try these drinks, they understand why we pay such close attention to sourcing." For bartenders pursuing perfection, there are no shortcuts when it comes to ingredients.
Raising the Bar: The World's Top Cocktail Lounges of 2022 - Sensory Experiences Reign Supreme
The world's premier bars understand that truly memorable drinking experiences engage all the senses, not just taste. From the visual beauty of the space to the texture of glassware, top mixologists obsess over sensory details that collectively immerse guests in a feeling of warmth, intimacy and delight.
"We want people to feel transported when they walk through our doors," explains head bartender Jean-Sébastien Méreu of The SG Club in Tokyo, ranked number three this year. "The lighting, music, scents, everything is carefully orchestrated to create an atmosphere that soothes and seduces." Soft jazz floats through the richly appointed space, mixing with the aroma of fresh citrus and botanicals muddled for cocktails. Tactile accents like velvet banquettes, leather-bound menus and weighted crystal glasses make every sense come alive.
At Atlas Bar in Singapore, Vijay Mudaliar has pioneered a "multi-sensory mixology" that includes serving drinks in custom glassware etched with fractal patterns that refract light as guests sip. "The glassware becomes an integral part of the experience, not just a vessel," he explains. Atlas also partners with a local perfume house to create scents for different sections of the bar, so the aroma changes as patrons move through the space.
New York's BlackTail matches the tastes and scents of cocktails to the sounds of live Latin jazz that fills the room. "We want the sensory experiences to harmonize," says head bartender Giuseppe González. "Our Spiced Pear Sour bursts with the bright sweetness of pear paired with warming cardamom and cinnamon, in sync with the energetic rhythms of the band."
Meanwhile in Paris, Little Red Door tempts the eye with drinks served in vintage crystal and garnished with flowers and herbs. The bar's interior gleams with accents of its signature shade, and a scarlet neon sign beckons patrons from the street. "Red has an energy that arouses the senses," explains Marlene Bélilos.
Yet taste remains paramount at the end of the day. "You can have the most ravishing space in the world, but if the drinks disappoint, you have failed," says Ryan Chetiyawardana of London's Cub. His menu entices with cocktail names like "Strawberries & Cream Soda" and "Rhubarb and Custard Fizz" that telegraph the flavors within. Still, Chetiyawardana incorporates savory ingredients like mushroom vinegar into drinks for surprising flourishes. "We aim to be both comforting and provocative," he says.
Raising the Bar: The World's Top Cocktail Lounges of 2023 - Emerging Trends: Cocktails Go Zero Proof
A growing wellness movement has spurred more mindful drinking habits worldwide. As a result, many imbibers now opt for low- or no-alcohol cocktails as refined alternatives to sugary sodas. Recognizing this seismic shift, innovative bars at the forefront of mixology are responding with extensive menus of zero proof libations. Far from being boring, these sophisticated creations prove booze-free can still be unforgettably delicious.
"There's been incredible innovation recently using ingredients like teas, shrubs, botanicals, spices, vinegars and oils to provide depth and complexity without alcohol," explains Julia Momose of Kumiko in Chicago, ranked number seven this year. Momose starts by distilling non-alcoholic spirits in-house, giving her a base to build complex flavors. Her Spirit-Free Gin and Tonic features housemade distillates of juniper, citrus and yuzu blended with spirits, bitters, tonics and Japanese sodas. "It has all the spice and crispness you'd expect from a classic G&T, but people are amazed it contains zero alcohol," says Momose.
Even classic "virgin" cocktails are getting gourmet makeovers, like the Juniper 75 at Atlas Bar in Singapore. A virgin take on a French 75, it stars sophisticated juniper cordial, clarified lime, ginger ale and a thyme sprig. "We use only the finest ingredients to create something memorable, regardless of alcohol content," says head bartender Vijay Mudaliar.
These meticulously crafted zero proof cocktails command the same prices as their alcoholic counterparts. "Labor costs are identical, we use premium ingredients, and provide the same level of hospitality," explains Mudaliar. "Guests appreciate that we take the non-alcoholic options just as seriously." Some bars are even retaining prior two-drink minimums, except with alcohol-free options.
While some places tuck their zero proof drinks away on a separate menu, forward-thinking bars like Maybe Sammy in Australia integrate them seamlessly. "We want to normalize not always drinking alcohol," explains owner Kristen Lee. Maybe Sammy spotlights brightly colored mocktails like the lychee and finger lime laden Pandanary alongside boozy options. "You can now have an upscale night out that's still fun and delicious without the hangover," says Lee, who estimates one third of Maybe Sammy's orders are now zero proof.
These sober cocktails aren't just for pregnant women and designated drivers either. Wellness-focused guests are drinking them for clearer heads, better sleep and fewer calories. While low-ABV cocktails hovering around 5% alcohol have gotten popular too, zero proof allows drinkers to stay fully sober as desired. And non-imbibers need no longer feel out of place at the bar.
Raising the Bar: The World's Top Cocktail Lounges of 2023 - A Global Tour of Top Mixology Talent
What truly sets the world's most exceptional bars apart is the sheer talent behind the counter shaking up transcendent libations. Top mixology requires an obsessive commitment to the craft - honing recipes, elevating techniques, and pushing boundaries through fearless innovation. Yet certain bartenders seem to possess that rare "X factor" - creativity, charm, style and intuition that cannot be taught. They drive trends, inspire legions of fans, and transform their bars into destinations.
Of course, New York's Attaboy must be mentioned here. Legendary owner Sam Ross has an intrinsic gift for flavor alchemy that has spawned some of the world's most iconic cocktails, including the Penicillin (now a staple on menus worldwide). His unconventional style eschews precise measurements for gut instinct, and his rule-breaking ethos gives Attaboy's drinks a wild unpredictability.
Meanwhile, Giuseppe González of BlackTail - this year's highest new entry at number four - has been called the "Maestro of tropical mixology." His decades studying the roots of Cuban cocktails gives his libations an authenticity that transports patrons to vintage Havana. And his outsized personality electrifies the room.
Another creative force is London's Ryan Chetiyawardana, whose boundary-pushing drinks at Cub reflect his insatiable curiosity. A true innovator, Chetiyawardana was one of the first U.K. bartenders to embrace molecular mixology, and his intellectual approach has expanded the possibilities of cocktail craft. Yet he stays grounded, forging genuine bonds with patrons through heartfelt hospitality.
Of course, no discussion of talent would be complete without shouting out the legendary Salvatore "The Maestro" Calabrese. For over three decades, Salvatore defined what a powerhouse bartender could be. His flair for mixing and entertaining dazzled all who stepped into his famed London bar. While he has now retired, legends never truly quit.
And new legends arise, like Vijay Mudaliar at Singapore's Atlas bar. His "multi-sensory mixology" pioneered the idea of incorporating scents and stunning visuals into the drinking experience. Mudaliar also introduced progressive programs like "Cocktails Against Cruelty" to spotlight ethical issues, proving bartenders can be thought leaders too.
In Paris, Marlene Bélilos of Little Red Door embodies French hospitality and charm while crafting cocktails that let premium local ingredients shine. And in Melbourne, Maybe Sammy's Kristen Lee is breaking new ground by fearlessly promoting low- and no-alcohol options on par with alcoholic drinks. The talent driving today's mixology renaissance is reshaping bar culture as we know it.
Raising the Bar: The World's Top Cocktail Lounges of 2023 - Design Details that Elevate the Drinking Experience
Step inside the world’s most exceptional bars and you quickly realize the venue is just as vital to the experience as the drinks themselves. From the lighting and textures to the furniture and glassware, every architectural choice comes together to create an atmosphere that delights the senses. The overall vibe matches the menu, with spaces as meticulously crafted as the cocktails within them.
“We conceptualize the entire environment as an extension of what is in the glass,” explains legendary mixologist Sam Ross of Attaboy in New York City. “The lighting, music, aromas, everything is intended to relax guests and get them in the right headspace.” Attaboy’s speakeasy-inspired interior features plush leather banquettes, flickering candles, a vintage piano - transporting drinkers back to the Jazz Age from which many cocktails originated.
Another New York icon, The NoMad Bar, excels at luxury details like leather-bound cocktail books presented tableside for perusing. Meanwhile in London, punchbowls of cocktails descend gracefully from the ceiling at Dandelyan, swirling theatrically as groups imbibe. It’s a showstopping effect that wows patrons nightly.
Top bars also invest in premium glassware that feels pleasing in the hand and enhances the tasting experience. “Our Nick and Nora glasses have an elegant elongated silhouette that concentrates aromas,” says Marlene Bélilos of Little Red Door in Paris. The iconic coupe shape of champagne saucers adds retro flair at BlackTail in New York. And at Between Two Places in Manila, short ceramic cups modeled after local morning coffee vessels give a nod to Filipino drink culture.
Clever conversions can also provide an injection of character. Maybe Sammy in Australia is housed in a former auto repair garage, with drinks served in a courtyard centered around a towering Moreton Bay fig tree. Vintage brick and tongue-and-groove paneling feature inside, paying homage to the building’s history. And in Puerto Rico, La Factoría infuses industrial edge into a factory space, complete with exposed pipes and a copper still behind the bar.
These bespoke details wow on social media too, providing patron photo ops that enhance word-of-mouth buzz. But style never outweighs substance. “Amazing drinks and hospitality must remain paramount,” stresses Ross. “The design provides added magic, but only if the fundamentals already excel.”
Perhaps most importantly, these thoughtful interiors invite conversation and connection between guests. "The space should feel intimate yet lively,” says Bélilos. Little Red Door’s scarlet color palette and French bistro-style chairs foster convivial energy. Attaboy’s candlelit corners cocoon couples in cozy tête-à-têtes. And the buzzy back bar at The SG Club in Tokyo encourages guests to mingle.
Raising the Bar: The World's Top Cocktail Lounges of 2023 - Homegrown Hangouts Hold Their Own Against Global Hotspots
In the world of elite mixology, sometimes the most unassuming neighborhood bars can rival glossy downtown hotspots when it comes to delivering an incredible cocktail experience. These homegrown hangouts may lack flashy designer interiors and name brand cachet. But through sincere hospitality, quality libations, and quintessential local character, they hold their own on the global stage.
Look no further than Cafe Katja in Amsterdam, an unpretentious cafe in the hip Jordaan district that feels like everyone’s favorite local dive bar. With its scruffy wooden tables, walls plastered in concert posters, and chilled-out vibe, Cafe Katja is about as far removed from a see-and-be-seen lounge as one can get. Yet the understated charm only adds to the allure for both locals and travelers seeking an authentic Amsterdam experience.
Behind the bar, the excellence of the drinks quickly becomes apparent. The "Bitterballen Old Fashioned" starring barrel-aged genever gin and housemade bitterballen syrup provides a fun riff on a classic. And Cafe Katja's extensive selection of local gins makes it a destination for Netherland's famous spirit. The cozy, candlelit interior invites lingering for hours as patrons banter with the gregarious staff. Cafe Katja proves that sometimes the essence of an incredible bar lies not in trendy features, but in cultivating a place where everyone feels at home.
Half a world away in Melbourne, Maybe Sammy exemplifies a neighborhood joint effortlessly keeping pace with big city players. Tucked away on a leafy corner, its converted auto garage home retains an unpretentious, lived-in feel. Groups spill out into the courtyard dotted with potted trees, while inside, walls display local artwork between vintage tile and wood paneling. Maybe Sammy celebrates Australia through unique ingredients like pepperberries, anise myrtle, and macadamia nut syrups that add indigenous flair to the excellent drinks. It's an urban refuge with a breezy, quintessentially Aussie vibe.
"We cultivate a casual, low-key energy compared to slicker downtown bars," says owner Kristen Lee. "Our regulars appreciate that they can pop in any time and chat with us while we create their favorite tipple." Maybe Sammy's popularity with both locals and tourists proves well-crafted drinks transcend hype and pretense.
Meanwhile in Athens, The Clumsies channels quintessential Greek conviviality with exuberant hospitality in a cozy, tin-ceilinged space. The off-the-beaten-path location only amplifies its neighborhood refuge vibe. But make no mistake, the libations crafted here duel with the finest in the world. For a true taste of Greece, nothing beats sipping The Clumsies' Ouzini Spritz - a riff on Aperol Spritz starring mastika liqueur - amongst lively locals and patrons spilling out onto the sidewalk.