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Is international bar acclaim worth it? Some of the world’s best bars weigh in

The pros and cons of bar fame

Mirate bar staff.
Adean Studios / Adean Studios

There was a time after Double Chicken Please opened its brick-and-mortar spot in the Lower East Side where you could get in pretty easily. Since, in the wake of numerous accolades, including being named the best bar in North America in 2023, the establishment is routinely swamped. A line stretches from the bouncer at the door along velvet rope several blocks long.

Was it worth it? Is the experience the same after the fame? That all depends on the bar and what the drinker is after. Acclaim like this can change the very nature of a place, turning it from neighborhood hot spot to internationally-coveted destination. Suddenly, it’s not so much about taking in a deftly-made cocktail in a unique setting as, well, saying you’ve been there.

But that’s the imbiber’s side of the coin. We reached out to a few top industry types whose bars placed on this year’s coveted list.

The pros

Library by the Sea cocktail and bites.
Rachel Harrison Communications / Rachel Harrison Communications

The latest World’s Best list named 26 American bars among their top 50 in North America. Mírate in Los Angeles made the grade, a Mexican bar in Los Feliz known for its agave spirit cocktails and tremendous slushies. Max Reis is the beverage director there and says the recognition is an amazing honor. In his words, making the list “not only affected our day-to-day in terms of business at Mírate, but also our staff’s sense of what Mírate is and can be,” he says. “We’ve been blessed with business since we opened in late 2022, and that certainly has not slowed down – the 50 best award only adding to our pace of guests.”

The biggest change so far? Clientele. “People are coming in to experience what we do versus merely seeing a beautiful bar on TikTok,” Reis continues. “They want the full Mírate experience – they want us to take them where we want to take them. Ever since the award, the staff has been over the moon, more eager to learn than ever, and ready to put in the extra work to make this place special. They feel seen and recognized, and the extra work we’ve put in to get here feels more worth it now than ever before.”

This kind of notoriety can take things to new heights. “Recognition like this allows us to take what we are doing to the next level, because it allows our team to feel inspired amongst what can easily become a daily grind,” he says. “I’m so happy for my team and the Mexican producers we support who get to benefit from our success!”

Jim Wrigley is the beverage manager at Library by the Sea in the Cayman Islands. He says that while his place is an airplane ride away for non-locals, he’s still seen a spike in numbers at both the bar and hotel and more and more people referencing the list (they placed 35th). “We quietly launched a new menu that the team had worked on for a year, and now we have the best kind of cocktail tourism – folks returning to see the newest additions to our vintage range, or because we’ve launched a new menu,” he says. “From an operations point of view, we’re always trying to refine and evolve our service, systems, and offering so for the team this simply means curating ridiculously personal and cool experiences that justify our inclusion amongst so many of the best bars in the Americas – and the world!”

Nicolas Torres is the cofounder and beverage director at True Laurel in San Francisco (number 30 on the list). He says he’s honored to be in such company and the placement keeps he and his team focused. “We definitely felt the uptick of business the immediate days and couple of weeks past the announcement,” Torres says. “There have been so many new faces who came in to check out how we do things, and most of these new guests let us take the wheel and guide their whole experience.”

The challenges

True Laurel interior.
Rachel Harrison Communications / Rachel Harrison Communications

“Some challenges, of course, arise from an award such as this,” Reis admits. “People come in with an expectation – some even want you to fail. It’s not always made clear why establishments win these awards, which can allow people’s expectations to run wild.”

Pleasing everybody, of course, is just about impossible. “We are trying to do something special and unique – one that inherently doesn’t resonate with everybody. Our challenge is to be true to ourselves and our mission, to know we are doing the best we can, and to push harder every day,” he adds. “As long as we feel good about that, those who come in for the true Mírate experience will see that, and we will continue to grow and evolve in the Mírate way.”

Keeping the feel and balancing the logistics is an issue as well. “It was, and continues to be, a tricky balance, though, as it is paramount for us to be a neighborhood and San Francisco bar first and foremost,” says Torres. “Maintaining space both at our bar and in our processes, for the neighborhood, regulars, and loyal guests who have supported us from day one is a priority.”

On top of the luck and mystery of it all,  not to mention sticking to your ethos, there can be staffing issues and exhaustion, too. A bar can go from handling a reasonable number of patrons on the average weekend to turning people away or upping staff and efficiency (all while trying to maintain that special feel of the place). It’s a balancing act, to say the least.

Raise a glass to the best bars in the land. From great rooftop bars to dives with a special draw, these places are true gathering places. And while we’re on the topic, check out our features on how to make a Margarita and the best frozen drinks, just in time for summer.

Mark Stock
Mark Stock is a writer from Portland, Oregon. He fell into wine during the Recession and has been fixated on the stuff since…
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