Since the inception of The World’s 50 Best Bars in 2009, the holder of the coveted best bar title has usually been a toss-up between establishments in London and New York. The streak was finally broken last year by Paradiso. Now, with fellow Barcelona bar Sips claiming victory this year, it seems like the gears are turning in favour of the Catalan city.
It is a refreshing change, albeit long overdue. After the pandemic, The World’s 50 Best Bars have been showing signs of inching out of their comfort zones. Last year, the awards ceremony finally uprooted itself from London, switching it up for a night of merriment in Barcelona. A few weeks ago, this year’s event gathered the industry’s foremost mixologists in Singapore, marking its first foray outside of Europe in its 14-year history.
At the decommissioned 1950s Pasir Panjang Power Station where the celebrated affair was held, representatives of bars from 28 cities — up from last year’s 26 — sashayed in with red scarves and million-dollar smiles. The biggest event in the industry doubled as a reunion for most and a chance to meet fresh blood. This year, there were 11 new entries across Bangkok, Berlin, Dubai, London, Melbourne, New Orleans, Paris, Rome, Seoul, Singapore and Stockholm.
“At 50 Best, we take great pride in highlighting the unparalleled diversity of the global industry and we extend our sincere congratulations to each bar that has earned a place on this illustrious ranking,” says director of content William Drew. “We have once again seen the number of cocktail cities represented here increase, and hope this list continues to ignite the spark of wanderlust for cocktail lovers around the world.”
Coming in second place is New York’s Double Chicken Please, followed by Mexico City’s Handshake Speakeasy. Paradiso dropped to No 4 while London’s Connaught Bar rose three places to No 5. In Asia, Bangkok’s BKK Social Club took the top spot at No 13, followed by the host city’s Jigger & Pony at No 14. They were joined by Seoul newcomer Zest, winner of this year’s Highest New Entry award, at No 18. Unfortunately, no Malaysian establishments made the cut.
As for the bar of the hour, Drew says Sips was destined for greatness. In 2021, it rocketed up the list to No 37, collecting the Highest Climber award along the way. Last year, it made a substantial leap to No 3 before clinching the top spot this time round. “The bar seamlessly translates contemporary innovation and technical precision into a playful cocktail programme, accompanied by the warmest hospitality, making it a worthy winner of The World’s Best Bar 2023 title,” he says.
Located in the heart of Barcelona’s L’Antiga Esquerra de l’Eixample district, Sips is an intimate 33-seater bolt hole that has a penchant and adroitness for doozy creations, or what they call “high couture cocktails”. It is a stylish little place, where the mellifluous clink of the glass acts almost like a metronome for the skilful hands and wildly creative minds behind the counter.
Sips was dreamed up by Simone Caporale and Marc Álvarez, industry titans who have spent years drawing lessons from some of the world’s most elite bars and restaurants. Caporale was one half of the creative duo that led London’s Artesian to victory at The World’s 50 Best Bars four times in a row, while Álvarez spent almost a decade at Spanish chef Albert Adrià’s revolutionary elBarri restaurant group, which unfortunately dissolved in the throes of Covid-19.
“Sips Drinkery House was thought of way before the pandemic and like everybody else, we went through it,” says Caporale at a press conference after the ceremony. “We opened during very uncertain times but what we promised ourselves to do was prove to ourselves that we could do something.”
The duo took on a disruptive approach to mixology, voracious for newness and untapped creativity but not forgetting the enjoyment it has to bring to the guests ensconced before them. “I think the most important challenge is to make every single customer that comes to the bar happy,” says Álvarez.
Delight is most often elicited through Sips’ unorthodox presentation. Its Primordial — a blend of 12YO scotch, ruby port and Asian pear — is served to visitors in a metal cast of two hands, rather than a glass, while the Daiquiri Heliodora arrives via an elaborate hand-turned contraption, which delivers grapefruit shaved ice as an oversized pipette drops sherry into a glass of rum and lime. It is all part of Sips’ aim to create a multi-sensory, immersive and quite unforgettable drinking experience for guests.
When asked about Barcelona’s second victory, the duo puffed up with pride. “Barcelona is not a huge city. It’s not a metropolis,” Caporale starts. “That’s why we chose to open Sips over there. But the fact that there are eyes on the city, that’s already a win for us because Barcelona deserves attention.”
Álvarez adds, “We have the responsibility to keep working hard so that the people coming are drinking and eating well.”
It is a key component to success, Caporale chimes in. His advice: “When you put your passion into the business or community, things become magic. No matter what you do, be yourself, be natural, be real and keep working. You need to work hard.
“Come to Barcelona. It’s a beautiful city for drinks, gastronomy, art and weather. And you will have the best time of your life. If you don’t like it, speak to me and Marc, and we will make it happen for you.”
You do not have to ask us twice.
This article first appeared on Oct 30, 2023 in The Edge Malaysia.