The effects of Covid-19 on 50 Best Bars

The World’s 50 Best Bars reflects travel restrictions and spotlights neighbourhood bars, says Nick Strangeway.

Seeing our industry unite in London for The World’s 50 Best Bars ceremony in December was warming. After such a long period of hiatus it was lovely to catch up with old friends, past colleagues and the great and the good of the industry without wearing masks or worrying about social distancing. Of course, the latest Omicron variant has put a dampener on things, but nevertheless there was a buzz about the whole week in the Big Smoke.

Champagne flowed as Ago Perrone and his team at Connaught Bar were able to physically celebrate a well deserved consecutive top spot after last year’s virtual ceremony, and beneath them was a fascinating list. Tayer + Elementary made it a London top two, but with just one other bar on the list it was a poor outing for traditional scenes such as London and New York, which combined lost seven bars from the list. I don’t believe this has anything to do with the quality of those bars dropping, but the restrictions on travel over the past year has meant fewer members of the trade passing through the major bar hubs around the world. With stricter entry requirements into the US and parts of Asia, mainland Europe benefited and the combination of more fluid borders with shorter travel distances seems influential for countries such as Greece, Spain and Italy, which all shone on the main stage.

However, when people were able to travel they had to be more selective. The days of regular plane journeys across continents remain suspended and therefore bar owners and journalists have been planning which bars to visit, which they do through their phones. This means the ones shouting the most over social media were more likely to get the international attention from incomers.

It’s also no surprise to see a rise in neighbourhood bars on the list, given that people have spent more time in their home cities, paying attention to the top independent bars. This also explains the struggle of the word’s most reputed destination bars, which got less footfall in more remote countries and cities.

While we’ve seen 20 bars disappear from the list this year, even some legendary names, I think it’s provided an opportunity for bars in less-established scenes to flourish and come into the limelight. Of course there will always be iconic settings like Connaught Bar, which deserve every accolade they get, but the recent list suggests to me that people are beginning to better appreciate what’s on their doorstep.