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Food and DrinkThe Strength and Depth of the UK Bar Scene Celebrated as the...

The Strength and Depth of the UK Bar Scene Celebrated as the Class Bar Awards Turn 20

THE STRENGTH AND DEPTH OF THE UK BAR SCENE IS CELEBRATED AS THE CLASS BAR AWARDS TURN 20

  • Bars and bartenders from London, Manchester, Birmingham, Cardiff, Edinburgh and Cornwall are among the winners of the CLASS Bar Awards 2023 as new regional awards debut
  • Schofield’s Bar in Manchester becomes a double winner of Bar of the Year, having been voted as the CLASS Collective’s favourite once again. Joe and Daniel Schofield’s bar also took the inaugural award of Best Bar in the North
  • Female bartenders take three of the top individual prizes, with Mia Kumari of London’s Satan’s Whiskers crowned Bartender of the Year, Courtney Francis of Couch taking Emerging Bartender of the Year and Cristiana Pirinu of the Donovan Bar winning Front of House Star.
  • Tommy Matthews’ Passing Fancies in Birmingham is named Best New Bar and Best Bar in the Midlands & East Anglia.
  • The career of global rum ambassador Ian Burrell is celebrated with the CLASS Bar Awards Outstanding Contribution award

On Tuesday May 23rd, CLASS magazine announced its highly anticipated CLASS Bar Awards 2023. The Awards, which debuted in 2003, is the highest-attended and longest-running UK bar industry ceremony.

Representatives from the UK’s leading bars attended the Awards last night (May 23rd at Battersea Arts Centre, London) along with internationally renowned industry personalities. Judged by the CLASS Collective (a group of 100 bar experts from across the country), the CLASS Bar Awards recognises the talent, achievements and diversity of the UK bar scene.

Schofield’s Bar in Manchester was the choice of the CLASS Collective, winning Best Bar in the North sponsored by The Busker and the nationwide title of Bar of the Year sponsored by Stauning. Opened in spring 2021, Joe and Daniel Schofield’s debut bar set in Manchester’s Sunlight House, has become an instant classic, winning plaudits across the UK. Its period, classy looks – with dark woods and touches of green – and focus on five-star service makes it the UK’s best bar 2023. It is the only the third time since 2003 that a bar has won consecutive Bar of the Year titles.

Elsewhere in the newly launched regional awards, Passing Fancies was voted Best Bar in the Midlands & East Anglia sponsored by The Busker and also New Bar of the Year sponsored by Hapusa Gin, having only launched last autumn by Tommy Matthews, Matt Arnold and Eve Green. The bar is billed as having the casual vibes of a “kitchen at a house party”, but serves ingredient-led cocktails that draw on the latest bar lab techniques. A finalist in this field, Couch in Birmingham, went on to shine in the Emerging Bartender of the Year category sponsored by La Hechicera, with the bar’s Courtney Francis taking the award.

In the Best Bar in Scotland & NI sponsored by The Busker category, Hey Palu took the gong. Alex Palumbo’s stylish Edinburgh cocktail haunt presents a modern take on Italian aperitivo culture, with classic cocktails, warm hospitality and amaro and vermouth aplenty. Finalist in that category, Panda & Sons, didn’t leave empty handed as its owner Iain McPherson took Bar Innovator of the Year sponsored by Paragon, chiefly for his work on his bar’s Transcend menu, which delves into sub-zero flavour creation.

Best Bar in London & the South East sponsored by The Busker saw some heavyweight bars compete, with Satan’s Whiskers coming out top in the vote. At almost a decade old, Kevin Armstrong’s evergreen Bethnal Green classic has mastered the fundamentals – drinks, hospitality and atmosphere – like few others.

Fellow London finalists Tayēr + Elementary and Swift also had their time on stage, both winning awards. Tayēr + Elementary took Bar Food Menu of the Year sponsored by Altamura Vodka for its revolving bevy of cocktail-paired small plates, while Swift took Cocktail of the Year sponsored by Lanique for its famous Irish Coffee, having been a finalist last year.

Meanwhile the Best Bar in Wales & West sponsored by The Busker saw Lab 22 from Cardiff triumph. A beacon of bar culture in Wales, Tani Hasa’s venue has made its name through ever more creative cocktail making. Meanwhile Adam Handling’s Ugly Butterfly in Cornwall was a beaten finalist in this regional category, but did take home the Sustainable Practices Award sponsored by Avallen Calvados, thanks to an approach that places local ingredients on a pedestal, while making an enemy of waste.

Connaught Bar in London once again took the gong for Hotel Bar of the Year sponsored by Everleaf Drinks. Famed for its sparkling art-deco décor, Connaught Bar’s cocktails carefully bridge classicism with modernism, while its service is elevated to an artform.

Elsewhere in the London hotel bar landscape, Donovan Bar’s Cristiana Pirinu was awarded Front of House Star sponsored by Rabbit Hole for her impeccable hosting skills, while the American Bar at the Savoy’s former charge, Mia Kumari, was voted Bartender of the Year sponsored by Savoia Americano. Now at Satan’s Whiskers, the British bartender has seen a meteoric rise, with a series of cocktail competition wins, catapulting her to bar-world stardom.

Ryan Chetiyawardana’s Southbank hotel bar Lyaness at Sea Containers was also among the winners. James Wheeler, who has been integral to much of the bar’s success in recent years, won Bar Manager of the Year sponsored by Italicus, while the bar also took home the trophy for Drinks Menu of the Year sponsored by Franklin & Sons. Lyaness’ Ancestral Cookbook menu goes beyond a cocktail list to explore how food and drink has shaped culture, with five new ingredients created as a base for the 15-cocktail menu.

The award for Specialist Bar of the Year sponsored by Sipello went to Deano Moncrieffe and Emma Murphy’s Hacha – now with sites in Brixton and Dalston – for the second year running. The agaveria offers a chic and contemporary take on Mexican décor and cocktails – not least its former Cocktail of the Year, the Mirror Margarita – a revolving back bar of 25 handpicked agave bottles and authentic Oaxacan food. 

The title of Bar Employer of the Year sponsored by The Lost Explorer was awarded to Speakeasy Entertainment, whose stable includes Nightjar, Oriole and Swift. With development plans for every employee in the business, four-day weeks, away days and staff feedback surveys, the group’s 50-plus staff are well looked after. A finalist in this category Junkyard Golf instead won Social Media Presence of the Year sponsored by Villa Sandi, after impressing judges with its laser-targeted campaigns that have brought in real-world customers.

The ceremony climaxed with the Outstanding Contribution Award sponsored by Master of Malt Trade which went to Ian Burrell. The self-titled global rum ambassador has spent almost thirty years in the service of rum, promoting its interests and educating bartenders globally on the spirit’s diversity, authenticity and quality. His work has made an invaluable contribution to the global drinks industry.

Hamish Smith, editor of Class and co-host of the Class Bar Awards, said: “The 78 finalists this year were the strongest and most geographically diverse since we relaunched the Awards in 2017.

“London remains strong but the Bar of the Year is in Manchester again, the New Bar of the Year is in Birmingham, the Bar Innovator of the Year is in Edinburgh and the bar leading sustainable practices is in Cornwall – there are countless other bars up and down the UK propelling the industry forward.

“Not in recent memory has the UK bar scene felt as rich in talent, or as evenly spread. London doesn’t lead the global bar industry anymore, the UK does.”

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