This year's categories for the Tales of the Cocktail Spirited Awards—the cocktail world's premier honor—have been announced and the nomination form is open, reminding us to share our favorites from the last year.
Though we've been enjoying fantastic drinks and great service for years, 2013 marks a new high in the availability of a quality cocktail experience. Bartenders and—significantly—entire bar teams around the world are doing some of the best work we've ever seen. It is a second golden age of the cocktail, which we encourage you to get out and enjoy!
Pleasing as all those top-notch options are, they do make picking favorites very, very difficult. We are definitely not in 'if you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all' mode here; omission does not imply a lack of recommendation. Even with that caveat, we throw up our hands in defeat at naming best bartenders. Bravo to all and carry on.
With regard to bars we are slightly more opinionated. In the past, there have often been clear standouts, but now so many bars are operating at such a high level (and we've been fortunate in the past year to visit so many of them), that the choice of a winner has begun to rely on a broader set of criteria. Without breaking a sweat we could name a dozen world-class bars, but to distinguish between them requires consideration of more than the quality of the drinks, the skill of the bartenders making them, and the look and feel of the space. In choosing the best this year, our deciding factor was the often unsung part of the team: the barbacks, hosts, and other service staff who quietly keep everything moving smoothly. Our two winners exemplify this, which is why they're also our nominees for the new Spirited Award (great minds think alike?) for Best Bar Team. From the moment we walk in the door and at every interaction the full team of these bars makes us feel welcome, personally appreciated, and incredibly well cared for. They embody the finest tradition of bartending in their warm hosting, leaving even the most physically beautiful of bars with gliding, silent, supermodel servers rather chilly in comparison.
Best American Cocktail Bar: Comstock Saloon, San Francisco, California
Best International Cocktail Bar: Le Lion Bar de Paris, Hamburg, Germany
It was a busy travel year, so we can report that menus and execution in hotel bars in general are improving. Likewise the options at many airports. Above this general good news, the top hotel bars are displaying glorious style, creativity, and in our international winner's case, a huge sense of fun.
Best American Hotel Bar: Lantern's Keep, Iroquois Hotel, New York, New York
Best International Hotel Bar: Artesian, Langham Hotel, London, England
This year we can commend this nominee not only for the way their publication has entertained us, but also for its usefulness as a research tool, very handy in our work on The Art of the Shim.
Best Cocktail & Spirits Publication: Imbibe Magazine
As we're competitors for the Best New Cocktail/Bartending Book category we are not making a nomination here, but do encourage everyone to check out the finalists for this and past years. The cocktail renaissance is on the printed page as well as in the glass!