Rhythm King

The world’s best bar, Artesian, has a new leader in Pip Hanson. Hamish smith finds out where the bar is headed post Alex Kratena


IT’S A CURIOUS THING. Artesian at the Langham Hotel is officially the best bar in the world; it exists in a plush five-star hotel in central London, is universally revered by the trade and public and probably pays a half-decent salary. Yet the prospect of taking over from head bartender Alex Kratena and his team is, to say the least, not universally appealing. This is the bar industry’s equivalent of running Manchester United after Alex Ferguson.

But Pip Hanson is no David Moyes. The American bartender is not a mini-me destined to underwhelm. Largely he is an unknown, but having spoken to him days into his tenure, he is worldly, interesting and bright. Aware of the boots he will fill, he is looking forward to trying them on for size. 

So what can we expect? Well, Hanson is something of a creative. He played drums in what Rock ’n’ Roll Magazine in 2009 called one of “Japan’s best bands”. He lived in Tokyo for two-and-half years playing music and bartending in a Hyatt-owned high-rise place not dissimilar to that in Lost in Translation.

He rarely was. Indeed Hanson’s language skills saw him translate books and magazines from Japanese into English. In his spare time he would travel to Ginza to learn from the masters of Japanese bartending. 

This is a man who knows how to hold a bar spoon. But more than fastidious techniques, he took back to the states an appreciation for the Japanese mindset. At Marvel in Minneapolis, he received plaudits for his menu work and as of now he has a decade of bartending experience.

The run-up to Christmas will see him dance the previous regime’s tune. “There’s not a lot of documentation,” he says, with a laugh, as if being handed a flat-pack of the Taj Mahal without any instructions. But at some time in the New Year (very much TBC) he will “gradually” bring his influence to bear.

His drinks will likely be more minimal than flamboyant. “It will be about a year before we can begin to operate at the level I want,” he says. Ever the drummer: “It takes time to learn the rhythm.”

At this juncture Hanson is something of an enigma, but parachuted onto the greatest stage of all, there will be no hiding from the spotlight.