Illustrated tomes, interactive contraptions, storytelling descriptions: bars are turning out menus with more creativity than ever before. We can now reveal the finalists for Imbibe’s Drinks List of the Year 2019
Armed with menus from all over the country, our judges spent an afternoon trawling through the offerings of some of the UK’s best, newest and most exciting bars. After much consideration – and a few Mezcal Spritzes at Soho’s Trade members’ club – they whittled down over 150 entries to find the finalists for 2019’s Drinks List of the Year competition, organised in partnership with Nero Premium Vodka and Highland Park Whisky.
Avant garde drinks list of the year
In partnership with Franklin & Sons
The most well-appointed of this year’s categories, avant garde was also the most decisive, with little um-ing or ah-ing when it came to choosing the contenders. ‘This shortlist consists of a number of bars that are pushing the boundaries around the country, and their lists reflect that,’ commented drinks writer Clinton Cawood. ‘There were some visionary menus here, where concept, content and execution all came together.’ It’s also heartening to see a spread of bars from around the UK within this final list of 12. Unsurprisingly, it’s our friends up north who seem to be trailblazers in this category, with nearly 50% of the venues represented by northern cities. But no matter where they’re from, all of these bars gave the judges something they had not seen before.
Artesian, The Langham, London
Below Stairs, Leeds
The Blue Bar, The Berkeley, London
The Milk Thistle, Bristol
Wolf At The Door (formerly Wilderness Bar & Kitchen), Manchester
Classic drinks list of the year
In partnership with Nero Premium Vodka
A classic cocktail is a fine thing. A bar can be made or broken by its ability to turn out something a customer is loyal to or familiar with. While the industry may be constantly changing (not a bad thing), there is something to be said for a bar that can produce drinks that make every customer feel at home. It’s also a category where reinterpretation and creativity can be the most difficult – but these bars have shown that there’s definitely room for experimentation. ‘A focus on the classics doesn’t mean there’s any lack of innovation in this category,’ explained Cawood. The venues on this list were chosen for their ability to present those drinks familiar to both cocktail beginners and connoisseurs, with elegance, simplicity and reliability.
American Bar, The Stafford Hotel, London
Anthracite, Great Northern Hotel, London
Bar Americain, Brasserie Zédel, London
The Edgbaston, Birmingham
The Punch Room, London Edition, London
Group drinks list of the year
In partnership with Maker’s Mark
When it comes to crafting menus for multiple sites, it takes a certain (high) amount of creativity to produce lists that can stand their ground. ‘Consumer hunger for authenticity in restaurant and bar choices is becoming even more apparent,’ Imbibe acting editor Millie Milliken noted. And that makes the job of a bar group even harder than it already is. Luckily, we had entries that showed that there can be a sense of individuality when it comes to multiple bars helmed by the same company. From groups with brand-new bars to those who continue to nail it with their offering, here are the guys that fly the bar group flag with aplomb.
The Cocktail Trading Co, UK
The Liars Group, Manchester
New World Trading Company, UK
The Umbrella Project, London
The Zetter Group, London
Hotel drinks list of the year
In partnership with Nero Vodka
Making a hotel bar a success is an art. It has to be a destination for tourists and locals alike, a convenient and comfortable place to imbibe for guests and often a place to do business.
While they need to appeal to – literally – a world of tastes, they also need to keep up with their non-hotel-dwelling counterparts – and often excel them. The successful finalists in this year’s competition manage to satisfy all the criteria. ‘The entries for this category all had menus that excel and overcome the nuances of creating a hotel bar menu – the finalists, however, did that and more,’ commented Milliken of the six bars to make this year’s cut.
American Bar, The Savoy, London
Bassoon Bar, The Corinthia, London
Connaught Bar, The Connaught, London
The Donovan Bar, Brown’s Hotel, London
Mandarin Bar, Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park, London
Mezzanine, The Stratford, London
Themed drinks list of the year
This category is usually the one that sees some seriously creative menu designs – and this year is no exception. ‘These shortlisted bars thoroughly explore a range of themes, resulting in lists that are not only engaging and packed with great drinks, but seriously good-looking too,’ explained Cawood. From pull-out contraptions to clever artwork, this year’s entries showcased how effective storytelling can be in presenting a menu of drinks. They’re full of personality, hard work and – most importantly – fun.
Berners Tavern, London
Bokan 38 Bar, London
Callooh Callay, London
Chambers Cocktail Company, Norwich
Doctor Ink’s Curiosities, Exeter
Lab 22, Cardiff
Opium Dim Sum Parlour, London
Panda & Sons, Edinburgh
Scarfes Bar, Rosewood London, London
Gin list of the year
In partnership with Copenhagen Distillery
‘In a category as saturated as gin, it is all too easy to go overboard and adopt a quantity-over-quality mindset,’ noted Imbibe reporter Kate Malczewski. Indeed, these days, it is narrowing a gin list down that shows real consideration. The finalists here have managed to curate their selection thoughtfully, offering customers more than just a rundown of brands and in some cases, including descriptors to better help the drinker understand exactly what they’re ordering.
40 St Paul’s, Birmingham
Bramble Bar & Lounge, Edinburgh
10 Degrees, London
Heads & Tales, Edinburgh
The Leafy Elephant, Wokingham
Neville St Depot, Durham
Rum list of the year
Spiced, aged, solera-style, white, dark, gold: rum comes in many styles, and consumers are starting to learn more about this rapidly expanding category. From rum-dedicated bars to those with a strong leaning towards this exciting spirit, the finalists for Rum List of the Year are bringing their love for rum to the public in an exciting and approachable way. ‘These venues have put together rum lists that are showing customers just how much the category has to offer, demonstrating clear passion for the spirit,’ acknowledged Malczewski.
Island Social Club, London
Laki Kane, London
Whisky list of the year
In partnership with Highland Park
As a customer, approaching a whisky list can sometimes be an intimidating experience, but it can also be an educational one. The job of the person who puts one together is to present their list clearly, competently and in a way that allows for the drinker to discover something new. The entries below did just that. For Cawood: ‘The best here went beyond just encyclopaedic whisky lists, but were instead curated collections, with enough info to guide guests through them.’
The Birmingham Whisky Club, Birmingham
Black Rock, London
Hide Below, London
Sexy Fish, London
Summer Lodge Hotel, Dorchester
Later this month, our panel of industry experts will conduct the final round of judging to determine which of the 60 shortlisted venues will snag the awards. Winners will be announced at an exclusive awards ceremony on 21 October. Follow @imbibeuk and #DLOTY19 on Twitter and Instagram to find out who reigns victorious on the night.
And to all of our finalists, good luck!