Curious about what the cocktail bars of the future might look like? No need to gaze into crystal balls – the clues are all around you. Here, we take a look at the progressive venues re-shaping the modern bar landscape in 2019 (and beyond)…
“In 1986, there was a little boy at his first job in the Grand Hotel Bayerischer Hof in Munich who saw his first serious bartender with a huge moustache, tie and white jacket,” recalls Klaus St Rainer. “The coolest person in the whole building. ‘That must be the best job in the world,’ I thought to myself. And I was right.”
Since St Rainer, the owner of Munich’s Goldene Bar, had his life-changing encounter all those years ago, the industry has transformed. The legendary barman – who recently joined Jim Meehan for a guest shift during Banks Rums’ Please Do Tell tour – credits Charles Schumann’s 1992 book American Bar for painting bartending as serious profession: paving the way for what he calls “the new golden age of cocktails”.
But despite the incredible technological advancements we’ve witnessed over the course of the last few decades – using a rotovap to extract delicate aroma compounds, for example – very little has actually changed behind the bar. The industry is a stickler for tradition, and there’s an argument, I suppose, that until now, very little has had to.
At its heart, “a bar is a place for people to gather and escape from their daily lives,” says Simone Sanna, bar manager at Lyan Cub in Hoxton. But while the bar’s most basic function hasn’t changed, the attitudes and expectations held by its guests and owners have. As a ‘sustainable drinks-led dining experience’ that approaches food and drink as a ‘united entity’, Cub is a shining example.
“Our main focus is to educate guests about what you can get from your surroundings and take them on a flavour journey,” explains Sanna. “We have all become more conscious of the environmental cost of what we consume, and the ethics behind ingredients will only become more and more important.”
A new project with similar ideals, called Tayēr and Elementary, will join Cub in Old Street this Spring. The brainchild of Monica Berg and Alex Kratena; the venue features two bar concepts and a creative workspace called Outthink that “will encourage collaboration beyond the culinary arts’.
In Elementary, the menu will be dictated by available produce and drinks will be served via a bar system created in collaboration with Oslo bar Taptails for efficient service, while Tayēr – derived from the Spanish word ‘Taller’, meaning workshop – will, like Cub, focus on what is inside the glass and on the plate.
Tayēr’s bar will be stocked not only with selection of products from wine and sake producers, breweries and distillers, but spirits, beer and soft drinks of Berg and Kratena’s own creation. But more interesting is its adaptable station, which has been designed so that ‘the equipment, tools and produce can be placed anywhere based on concept, season, ingredients or any other individual needs’.
Together Berg and Kratena spent more than three years developing the concept, re-evaluating the efficiency and functionality of each aspect of the traditional bar set-up to refine the experience for both the bartender and the guest.
“Several things could be done to make [bartending] more viable [as a] long term profession,” says Berg. “It’s a physical job, so some wear and tear is to be expected, but at the same time, making sure the designs are more ergonomically suitable would help immensely.
“Our stations for example, are higher than what’s been the norm, because much of the bar station design has not been updated for decades. People today are taller than generations before, so it makes sense that they also need higher stations.”
While experience has surely shaped Berg and Kratena’s approach to Tayēr and Elementary – “we have both been very fortunate to work with great people along the way,” Berg says – a love of being behind the bar is the “single most important part”. Making drinks is fun, she adds, but the reward really lies in the interaction with guests. The one aspect of the bar, after all, that can’t be reimagined.
With that said, some venues are certainly playing with the parameters of the ‘bartender’ role. Take bar-slash-off-license hybrid Genuine Liquorette which opened in Fitzrovia last year. It may be headed up by some of the capital’s finest bartenders, but the concept puts the power firmly in the hands of its guests.
You can craft your own bottled cocktail from a host of ingredients usually tucked away behind the bar, dispense one of six ready-made cocktails on tap, invent your own Cha-Chunker – a can of soft drink with a hole cut into the top and a miniature spirit upended into it – or create a personalised drink choosing from spirits labelled by price per gram (the bottle is weighed before and after).
Is this, perhaps, what we should expect from tomorrow’s venues? For the most part, today’s bartenders expect there will be change – but not too much. And maybe robots. “There will be still a mix of everything: high quality classic bars, experimental bars, dive bars, hotel bars, pubs and maybe some robot bars with bionic drinks,” St Rainer reckons.
“I sincerely hope bars will continue to be a social meeting place where strangers, friends, locals and travellers all meet up and have fun,” adds Berg. When it comes to what’s inside the glass, drinks will continue to evolve and adapt; “if we maintain our supply chains, producers, farmers and makers and ingredients, we will continue to drink great cocktails in the future.”
But as ingredient choices shift according to our palate preferences and societal necessities, Sanna remains “truly convinced that people will still order a Dry Martini even if they’re on Mars”. A Martian Martini sounds good to us.