Tips to avoid cultural appropriation in bars

23rd August, 2017 by Annie Hayes

When done well, bars that pay respects to other cultures can offer an amazing taste of another world. Occasionally, however, the result can be crass or downright offensive. The Spirits Business asks world-renowned bartenders and bar owners how to get it right.

Jason Atherton’s London­ based Japanese fusion bar 7 Tales

Chanelling the flavours, identities and cultural aspects of other countries is nothing new in the bar world. Well­ travelled bartenders lift characteristic, ceremonial and stylistic cues from far afield, with the influences from the likes of Japan, China, Indonesia, and the Middle East cropping up in established cocktail cities.

But respectfully appropriating other society’s values and traditions in this way throws up political and social stumbling blocks. Adopting aspects of another culture, particularly in situations where members of a dominant culture take elements from a society that has been systematically oppressed by the dominant group, must be executed with diligence, respect and acknowledgement of existing privilege.

In February Sydney cocktail bar Suey Sins, designed under the theme of “sexy pre-­war Shanghai”, attracted heavy criticism over social media for “fetishising” Asian women and “glamourising” what is widely­-regarded as a traumatic period of Chinese history.

Sadly, it’s far from the first venue to cause offence in this way: last year, Orpheus in Wellington, New Zealand came under fire for its “racist, misogynistic and homophobic” drinks menu, which featured cocktails such as ‘Asian Fetish’. Such harmful concepts endorse wider systems of oppression. They cannot simply be masqueraded as mutual “cultural exchange” or, even worse, shrugged off as “banter”.

While such extremely ill­-conceived judgments are thankfully isolated, there is clearly much for venturesome bar owners to consider. How do you create a bar that embodies another culture’s style effectively?

We put the question to a number of the world’s best-known bartenders and bar owners – click through the following pages for their top tips.


One Response to “Tips to avoid cultural appropriation in bars”

  1. Ryan McCourt says:

    Only an ignorant savage treats aesthetics as if it were ethics.

Leave a Reply to Ryan McCourt

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