I’ve been very lucky this year. After six years of working at some of the best bars in New York, I took a year off and have done a lot of travelling. I’ve found myself as far south as the Straits of Magellan and as far north as glaciers in Iceland. I’ve seen amazing pisco selections in Santiago and an unparalleled aquavit list in Copenhagen. What truly amazes and inspires me, though, is the dedication to excellence I have seen from the men and women behind these bars.
In Stockholm I was blown away by Micke Karlsson, Johan Sjodin, and Hampus Thunholm’s Ling Long pop-up in the Story Hotel. Their drinks were amazing, and I have seen a real progression away from meticulously recreated classics into some exceptional modern cocktails, in terms of both ingredients and techniques. The Julab was an incredible mix of chocolate, eucalyptus and tequila that made me yearn for a thin mint. For the Double Ducked cocktail, they are fat- washing vodka with smoked duck fat and mixing that with a floral jasmine flavoured shochu, and turning that into a traditional Sour. I love seeing the classic influences in modern drinks, and these guys do it gracefully.
I stopped in at Mikkeller beer bar, Sweden’s only branch of the popular Danish chain. I loved the atmosphere and thought the bartender was quirkily funny in just the right way. Of course, I also visited the excellent Tjoget/Linje Tio, where all the drinks are delicious and the bartenders are top of the line. The same goes for Little Quarter and the Gold Bar at Nobis.
This trip took me to Vienna as well, a town with a real respect for the old, coupled with a drive to innovate. Every excellent bar I visited had one thing in common – they all loved Erich Wassicek. Nearly everyone I spoke to seemed to credit him and his family’s excellent Halbestadt Bar with heavily influencing their careers. I made my way around the Gürtel and found Halbestadt under the elevated train. The bar itself is built into one of the supporting arches for the train track, and the wall behind the bar is lined with an inordinate amount of rum and scotch. Spirit selection aside, Wassicek made an excellent Gran Boulevardier, substituting Gran Classico for the usual Campari, and served it in a beautiful tumbler on one solid block of ice.
I also visited Kan Zuo at The Sign Lounge, where he serves a drink in a statue that pees into a glass, and puts a mechanical fish in a fishbowl of gin & tonic kicked up with fino sherry, peach, and eucalyptus. Watching this guy was like watching Willy Wonka in his research room. One of my favourites was his Gringo Sour, a mezcal and lime sour, served with some truly delicious chapulines (a Mexican delicacy – fried grasshoppers). Kan’s cocktail menu is one of the strangest I have ever seen, but his presentations are artful, and his cocktails are delicious.
I stopped at the eponymous Roberto and was charmed by its Chanel-inspired interior. I really enjoyed my time here, and hung out with a regular who really made me laugh and suggested I not miss visiting Babylon while I was in town. When I asked what Babylon was, he laughed and said “Our finest whorehouse”. Maybe next time Vienna.
I finished my trip in Iceland, where Asgeir Bjornsson and his staff at Slippbarrin made some great drinks. The Hip-Hop-opotamus combines gin, whiskey, hopped grapefruit, IPA reduction, and tonic wine to make one of the best drinks I have tasted all year.
I am happy to see the cocktail world through the lenses of all these bartenders and bars, and to see what hospitality means to different people.