CLASS Bar Awards returns to celebrate the achievements of the UK bar industry. We attend the ceremony at EartH to recognise this year’s winners.
Accidents happen and people make mistakes. One such blunder occurred with CLASS magazine’s printers, who sent out the latest issue (including the award results) three days before the event…Understandably, the CLASS team were a bit p-ed off, to say the least, but on they pressed, delivering a night of stellar cocktails, mighty fine canapés to line the stomachs of the boozed up masses, and jubilant celebrations.
Brand sponsored bars ensured that drinks flowed freely throughout the night, with carefully crafted cocktails such as Fentimans’ highball Girl Power (Woodford Reserve, pineapple infused Sauvignon Blanc, Everleaf, pineapple syrup, Fentimans soda), a palate-robing Patrón Añejo Old Fashioned, Grand Marnier’s twist on a Sazerac, and a beetroot martini from Ramsbury Vodka that changed colour and flavour as time went on.
As the room filled with familiar chatting faces, it became clear that most people knew the results but – in true hospo style – that wasn’t going to stop them from partying and bigging up their shortlisted friends.
We took a break from trying to chase down servers carrying Pork Belly Bao Buns and made our way to the stage, on which CLASS’s Editor Hamish Smith was standing. He was soon joined by co-host Tristan Stephenson (Co-owner of Black Rock and Whistling Shop, and author of Curious Bartender), who naturally joked about the balls up, before moving on to the first category of the evening.
CLASS Bar Awards Winners 2020
Tristan announced 2020’s Bar Back Star of the Year as Sexy Fish’s Geovanni Andrés Marenco Rodriguez, before moving to the Front of House Star of the Year, the inimitable Georgi Radev of Laki Kane.
Continuing with the people-focused awards, Emerging Bartender of the Year was snapped up by Sam Boevey (London Cocktail Club), who beat Hedonist’s Joe Brooke and Connor Michael Smith (newly moved from Coupette to Swift).
The shortlist for Bar Manager of the Year was happily made up of individuals from Leeds (Daniel Crowther of Hedonist) and Cardiff (Lab 22’s Alex Mills), as well as lovely, London-based Anna Sebastian (Artesian), who took the title. Artesian also later snatched up the coveted Drinks Menu of the Year for their “simple” two-ingredient cocktails concept, beating both Tayēr + Elementary and The Beaufort Bar at The Savoy.
Cahoots took the prize for Social Media Presence of the Year with the ever-proliferating Mr Fogg’s running just behind them. Whilst it didn’t win, a true underdog and champion of our hearts was Funkidory – a small independent haven in Peckham, known for dealing out funky tunes, fantastic cocktails and genuine hospitality. Whilst Mr Fogg’s and Cahoots’ teams of social media gurus have done marvels, the South-London funkster’s ability to hold its own against comparable giants is testament to its easy charm and industrious spirit.
With London venues still very much dominating the shortlists, it was great to see Bournemouth’s Terroir Tapas recognised with the Sustainable Practices Award. Here, bartenders and chefs work closely with farmers within 8km of the space to eliminate waste and reduce their carbon footprint.
Similarly-minded disruptors looking to question and improve the industry, followed in the form of Tayēr + Elementary, who rightfully won the Bar Food Menu of the Year award. This was no doubt due in no small part to the cult-like adoration of Tā Tā Eatery’s Iberian Pork Katsu Sando.
Whilst this edible Instagram Influencer has done its part to insight pilgrimages to the venue, the absolute dream duo of Alex Kratena (ex-Artesian) and Monica Berg (ex-Himkok) were never going to create anything other than an exceptional bar. Visionaries to the core, the pair work closely with farmers and producers to source the freshest ingredients and limit waste in their bar; recently co-founded Muyu liqueurs; created an online safe space called Backofhouse.info; and continue to run their non-profit educational platform P(our). As such, it seems only right that they also walk away with Bar Innovator(s) of the Year.
Restaurant Bar of the Year saw two Hawksmoor locations in the shortlist battling against London’s Sexy Fish. The original Hawksmoor site in Spitalfields won out, followed by Erik Lorincz’s much-anticipated Kwānt taking home New Bar of the Year, and the undying industry darling, Swift, securing Bar of the Year.
Co-host Tristan’s own Black Rock (London) was awarded Specialist Bar of the Year for the fourth year in a row in an amusing moment where he was joined on stage by his business partners. The subterranean bar is a firm favourite for those looking for a whisky den without dusty pomp and standoffish menus, and the team recently opened a new venue in Bristol. Other bars up for the category were the agave-focused Hacha in Dalston – whose simple yet stunning Mirror Margarita was named Cocktail of the Year – and the swanky, Sexy Fish.
Like most of the previous categories, the shortlist for Bartender of the Year was fantastic, including Tayēr + Elementary’s Monica Berg (who was rightly named Bartender’s Bartender at last year’s 50 Best Bars) as well as the personable and super-talented Nicole Skyes (Satan’s Whiskers). Whilst this was some serious competition with all nominees well-deserving of praise, the prize went to Pippa Guy, recently moved from The Savoy’s The American Bar to Crown Shy in New York. Her previous home at The Savoy also walked away with Hotel Bar of the Year, beating Artesian and Connaught Bar.
With all categories called bar one, the winner of the Lifetime Achievement Award was bestowed on Tomas Estes. An important influencer in tequila, he has opened 17 restaurants and bars around the world (including Cafe Pacifico), as well as creating the single estate Tequila Ocho. Sadly, Tomas was unable to attend the ceremony, instead recording a thank you video and sending his son, Jesse Estes (Tequila Ocho) to collect the award on his behalf.
The awards roll-call finished, the venue emptied, with hangers-on doing their best to help relieve bartenders of their final cocktails. As we look back, we happily reflect on CLASS Bar Awards 2020 as a night of merriment and supportiveness, if not surprise, with deserving winners, a room full of talent and too many cocktails to count.