At this time of year, we might be starting to plan a few nights out to ease us into the party season. One of the most popular evening destinations over the past decade has been the classic cocktail bar, which has enjoyed a huge resurgence in recent times. Even the pandemic hasn’t dampened down demand for this sophisticated yet fun night out.
So can you pin down that je ne sais quoi, that magic essence, which distinguishes a merely good cocktail bar from a truly great one? Maybe not, but here are some of the factors to look out for.
Are you made to feel welcome?
There’s nothing worse than walking into a bar and being met with hostile glances, or just completely ignored. Good bar staff will try to greet each guest individually, and be friendly and welcoming without being too pushy and in your face. Even if you walked in full of the cares of the day, you will soon start to feel at ease and happy in a great cocktail bar.
The staff will be attentive, and of course take pride in their skill and knowledge of the art of shaking and mixing drinks. They will be happy to talk to you, make recommendations, and answer your questions about the drinks, without making you feel ignorant or demanding. They will be keen to demonstrate their trade without being overly showy and obtrusive.
The table service with be courteous and efficient, and the waiters will notice if your glass is empty, or if you do not appear to be enjoying your drink. There will be plenty of water provided, and simple bar snacks will be available to help customers enjoy the alcohol at safe levels.
Does the décor contribute to the atmosphere?
Cocktail bars can be retro or minimalist, but on the whole interesting and unpretentious works better than high-fashion. The lighting will be layered to avoid unflattering overhead glare, but just bright enough for you to comfortably see your companions and enjoy the colourful cocktails.
The seating should be comfortable, so you are not perched on high stools or slouching in low slung armchairs which make it difficult to move elegantly in and out of. The ventilation and temperature should be controlled to a pleasant ambience, and the noise levels should not be overwhelming.
Does the drinks menu measure up?
Of course, you can’t really call a cocktail bar truly great without weighing up the quality of the drinks on offer. There should be a good choice of classic cocktails, and a few specialities which you may not have sampled before. This is a sign of well-trained and creative bar staff, who are confident enough to experiment with their own signature drinks.
The drinks should be served in glassware appropriate to the beverage, such as Martini glasses, coupé glasses, or Collins glasses. The glass should be sparkling clean, and the contents served with a generous amount of ice, and a fresh garnish.