The Cocktail Lovers Magazine Issue 49



What makes a classic cocktail bar?

ByThe Cocktail Lovers


Above: Georgie Bell

We asked six Brand Ambassadors who travel the world for work, to share their thoughts and name their favourites…

Georgie Bell, Luxury Malts Ambassador – Mortlach

For me, a classic bar is a bar that just works – every time. It’s friendly, welcoming, unpretentious, and does what it sets out to do, right – whether this be all cocktails, beer, a wine bar…it’s the whole deal. The atmosphere. The team. The owners. The ethos.

Bramble in Edinburgh will always and forever be my classic bar of choice; hip-hop DJ’s every weekend (the original haunt of LuckyMeRecords), award winning cocktails, the birth-bar of many well-known global faces (from bar owners to global ambassadors), a well thought out and selective back bar with a rotating cocktail menu, and, only a seven minute walk from my flat! I’ve even done a few floor shifts there.

It’s been my local since 2008, for a cocktail, a bottle of Brooklyn or a Mortlach Rare Old. Paired with some awesome beats, it’s the perfect place to spend a Friday night with friends, while also being the ideal spot to enjoy laid back pre/post dinner cocktails during the week. Over the years I’ve regularly perched on a bar stool sipping their latest creation, trying weird and wonderful new spirits, and chatting to the team, who have all been great friends of mine. Every person behind that bar, and on the floor, is super talented; not to forget the owners, Mike and Jas, who are true legends.

Joe McCanta, Grey Goose Global Brand Ambassador 

For me, I don’t look at bars that are classics, but bars that emulate the ethos of the great classic bars of the past – and that’s the ability to instantly make every guest feel welcome.

The intuitive, brilliant reviver of the ‘classic bar ethos’ –  the late Sasha Petraske – used to muse that before you’ve even stepped into a bar you’ve started to judge it. How do these bars become second homes for dozens of guests in any number of moods, ensuring that each walks out fully satisfied with their experience? That’s the magic of the great classic bars.

It’s recognition – welcoming eyes and smiles from the bartender and, indeed, all the staff. It’s guidance – not condescension – through spirits, ingredients or the cocktail list. It’s attention to every detail – the senses experience; Smell: woods, leather, carpet, spirits and citrus, perfuming the air. Sound: the enticing (but not unnecessary) movement of bottles, ice and tins, and mixing glasses, the music or lack there of, the hum of the whole place (or delightful lack there of!). Touch: the feel of the bartop your hand rests on, the coaster or napkin, your glass, and the bartender’s handshake as you head off. And most of all taste: perfect balance in the glass, but also across the evening, what you’re having now, where you’ll go next, thoughtful service of food that accompanies your sips. The word ‘tend’ comes from the old French ‘tendre’ meaning ‘to stretch or move in a direction.’ So at the end of the day a great classic bar moves you: stretches your senses, your moments, and your smiles.

The Bars that have always done this for me:

The Connaught in London; Dead Rabbit in NYC; Paris in Rio; Herbs & Rye in Las Vegas; Beaufort Bar at the Savoy; Artesian in London; Employees Only in NYC; High Five in Tokyo; Dandelyan in London.

Rebecca Asseline, Global Ambassador, Courvoisier

There is a magic about classic cocktail bars, wherever you might find them around the world. There is a fundamental way they make you feel, as if you’re the most important person in the room, without being intrusive.

The experience starts with acute attention to detail; the welcome, the look and feel, and an incredible ability to make every step between you and your cocktail so very smooth.

A glass of water neatly placed in front of you… and a smile…

Even before the drink arrives, there is a sense of composure and a strong understanding of human behaviour, which is at the heart of the hospitality business we live and breathe; it’s about the person in front of you and how quickly you can make them feel comfortable and privileged to be there.

As much as I have my favourite classics, the Sazerac being my number one, I love involving the ‘maker’, sharing my aroma panel with them and encouraging a spur of the moment creation or a twist on a classic. I also adore places that offer very simple serves and put just as much passion into them as they would a complex drink.

I would mention The Savoy and Connaught as delivering absolutely all of the above, as well as Milk and Honey for delivering precisely the same standard as a hotel bar, as well as some outstanding variations.

We have been extremely lucky to see classic bars evolving in different ways, giving people unique opportunities to adapt their choice of drink to their mood.

Tim Stones, International Brand Ambassador, Beefeater

The classic cocktail bar. That bastion of sophistication. A remnant of an era when it was okay to be called Clarence.

Most decent cocktail bars will bust out any classic cocktail that you care to mention, but there is something about a true classic cocktail bar that just oozes cool.  A throwback to an era when men wore suits, you could smoke inside and no one knew what cranberry juice was.

Modern bartending has come on leaps and bounds and I salute those that are pushing the boundaries, but at the end of a long week talking about gin, there’s nothing better than sinking into an armchair at Dukes and getting on the outside of one (or four) of Alessandro’s Martinis.  In fact, that’s exactly what I’m going to do as soon as I’ve finished writing this.

Classic cocktail bars encourage a sense of calm. There’s often no music, the conversation is kept low, the drinks simple and the service attentive. There’s no smoked trout syrup, vacuum-infused durian fruit mescal. There’s just a well-made Martini, Manhattan or whatever spirit-led drink is your poison. But most of all, they’re a way of transporting yourself back in time without being called Marty and being friends with a Delorean owner.

And on that note, I’m off to see Alessandro.

Three of my favourites:

Dukes Bar, Dukes Hotel, London.
American Bar, Savoy Hotel, London.
Boadas, Carrer dels Tallers, Barcelona.

Daniyel Jones, Brand Ambassador, Angostura

A classic bar is like a time capsule; one where the experience allows for a moment in history to be remembered and appreciated with every sip.

Nowadays we think of any beverage made with liquor as a cocktail whereas in the past, a Mint Julep was a julep, a Sloe Gin Fizz was a fizz; there were also crustas, fixes, sangarees, neguses, scaffas, smashes, cobblers, flips and punches. Eventually the cocktail cannibalized the other categories taking precedence. Classic cocktails had the benefit of utter simplicity. They tasted good and got the job done.

Now, ironic as Prohibition was, it caused a desire for drinking. If you had money and you wanted a good drink, you would travel to Cuba for Mojitos and Cuba Librés. Hence when I walked up the colourful rustic streets into La Bodeguita del Medio, I couldn’t help but feel transported to that era where ‘Classic’ was being defined. The simple ambience intrigues with its depth of history and culture. The bartender’s Mojito ignores the craftsmanship of mixology with its brut simplicity and warm hospitality. Is it the best Mojito I’ve tasted? No, but it is the Mojito I’ve most enjoyed. Salud.

Meimi Sanchez, Havana Club Global Ambassador

A classic bar for me is timeless and one that surpasses trends. It’s consistent in it’s offering through drinks, service and overall experience. It’s a bar that stands for what it believes in and understands that small changes are inevitable, but doesn’t change to fit with current trends.

El Floridita in Cuba depicts this perfectly. It has mastered it’s own individual style. A frozen Daiquiri anywhere else in the world does not fit an experience the way that it does at El Floridita. The Daiquiri that you are served is perfect due to the heat outside, the music inside, the bartenders behind the bar and your expectations of what a Daiquiri would have tasted like in the 30s and 40s when El Floridita first reached its peak. The experience you have today is as good as you imagined it would have been in the past, and as good as you expect it to be in the future.

Bramble in Edinburgh is a bar that I consider to be timeless and that also keeps on surprising. The boys have managed to condense into a small space an atmosphere that you lose time in. The drinks are consistent in structure and balance, but the flavour combinations always test and please. The bartenders are more than capable of making classic drinks, but are also pushing boundaries in search of the next classic cocktail. The music and service is exceptional and leave me wanting to pop down for ‘just one more’, to see what’s happening and what’s new, every time I go to Edinburgh.

From the ‘Classics’ issue of The Cocktail Lovers magazine. Read the full edition here

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The Cocktail Lovers

The Cocktail Lovers are Mr G and Ms S, a man and a woman who share a passion for cocktails. (We also happen to be married, so we’re cocktail lovers in more ways than one…)


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The Cocktail Lovers Magazine Issue 49
The Cocktail Lovers Magazine Issue 49

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