An analysis of The World's 50 Best Bars 2023

Hamish Smith provides the annual analysis of how this year’s World’s 50 Best Bars list has panned out.

Bartending isn’t a game of individuals, but there’s no escaping the fact Simone Caporale has now won the World’s 50 Best Bars five times. He seems to excel as one half of a pair: his four wins at Artesian from 2012-2015 coming with Alex Kratena, and now this year with Sips, which he shares with Marc Alverez. 

We can talk about overarching bar trends and the importance of location as much as you like (and we will) but the bar industry remains one in which good leadership is critical and personality matters.  

Ever the characterful host with a glint in his eye, Caporale has an auteur’s air – he brings his personality to bear on a bar. Just like at Artesian, Sips is a bar that takes its drinks seriously (lab equipment – tick, new techniques – tick) without taking itself too seriously. That, more than almost any dynamic, plays wells with guests – and voters.

In different ways, we can see that the best bars have strong, charismatic leadership. GN Chan and Faye Chen are a striking presence at Double Chicken Please, there’s Eric van Beek at Handshake Speakeasy, Giacomo Giannotti and Margarita Sader at Paradiso, Monica Berg and Alex Kratena at Tayer + Elementary, Ago Perrone, Maura Milia and Giorgio Bargiani at Connaught Bar – the list goes on. Almost all the bars in the 50 you could visually associate with one (or more) leader.

Figureheads who actually work in the bars have an added resonance. So by corollary, if you lose your spiritual leader – as Two Schmucks did last year with the departure of Moe Aljaff –in perception terms, you lose the soul of the bar and more often than not, your place on the list. Bars are made of more than four walls and a ceiling.

Few re-enter the awards circle after such a big loss, though careful recruitment can turn things around. Artesian did indeed stage a comeback after it bombed out of the 2016 list (you-know-who had just left), with Anna Sebastian and Remy Savage joining the bar. Savage had restored confidence once before, when Little Red Door lost Jill Lafond (and its place in the list). 

Timothée Prangé’s bar, now in its 10th list, has gone on to be one of the few to have a string of creative leaders. Consistency of ownership and positioning (LRD is now in its third year of farm-to-glass), and internal recruitment of its creative leaders (Alex Francis being the latest) has been found to be a real recipe for success.

Bar scenes

Until last year, the bar world summit had only ever been conquered by bars from London and New York. Then Barcelona’s Paradiso planted its flag and we wondered what that meant more broadly. Now that Sips has kept the Catalan colours flying, it confirms this was no one-off event. The duopoly held by London and New York is indeed dead, but is it replaced by a triopoly?

With only two bars in the entire list, it’s hard to put Barcelona up there as a metropolis of cocktails with the strength and depth of London and New York, but its performance in these lists does confirm a broader trend. Barcelona is one of a number of cities that boasts the conditions to create world-class bars – chiefly,
it has the demand and can attract (or develop) the talent to supply it. 

That’s something you could also say about cities such as Mexico City, Singapore, Sydney and Hong Kong. As we discussed in this magazine last year, the industry has now moved from a bipolar to a multipolar orientation. And beyond this, there’s a more general globalised levelling up, with smaller cities, some second and third tier, now boasting energetic bar scenes. The pandemic played its part here, with talent floating away from big cities, pollinating new lands.

And this widening of the talent base is borne out by the latest World’s 50 Best Bars list. Seven cities are now represented in the top 10 – Barcelona, New York, Mexico City, London, Paris, Cartagena, Oslo – and 15 cities contributed bars to the top 20.

This trend notwithstanding, London, with five bars in the 2023 list, is still the cocktail capital of the world. In second place is Mexico City this year with four bars, while four cities are home to three bars – Athens, Buenos Aires, New York City and Singapore.  

Widening the lens to countries and the UK has most – Edinburgh’s Panda & Sons adding to London’s five placements, making it six. The US comes in with five (Miami and New Orleans supplementing the contribution of New York). The US has a strong set, but these are vastly diminished numbers to 5-10 years ago. To think that in 2014 the US recorded no fewer than 16 of the World’s 50 Best Bars. The world caught up.

Also contributing five bars to the list is Italy, which you could easily miss as its bars are so well spread – venues from Naples, Milan, Rome and Florence made the list in a record-breaking year for the Southern European country. Four of the 50 are from Mexico while Spain, Greece and Argentina are home to three.

And so to continents. Europe is home to 22 – about par for The World’s 50 Best Bars over the years – while Asia is in second with 12, which is ahead – and not for the first time – of North America, whose fortunes are entwined with the US. Meanwhile, South America has regained ground, buoyed by Buenos Aires, and has five bars in the list. Oceania/Australasia has just two, while Africa once again didn’t register – though you feel its time is coming.