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Should bars be given Michelin stars?

Would the prestigious award add kudos to bars or is it too difficult to pin down the elements of what makes a drinking venue great? Two experts go head to head to debate the issue.

An important part of the fine-dining world, Michelin stars place an emphasis on food including the quality of ingredients, skill in preparation and the combination of flavours. Given that the worlds of food and drink often collide, it’s no surprise that the industry has begun to question whether a Michelin-like system could work in bars.

The topic came to light at a P(our) collective event, held in January last year, as part of a wider debate on whether too much emphasis is placed on awards in the on-trade, and whether bars would benefit from the introduction of objective criteria – such as a Michelin Guide.

The bar world already benefits from the highest accolades given to venues around the world in Tales of the Cocktail’s Spirited Awards, and the World’s 50 Best Bars, but would a Michelin star system be too much?

Click through the following pages to see what two top industry experts have to say about the topic.

Ryan Chetiyawardana, founder of Mr Lyan, London

The idea of criticism is great and having people who are professional judges that can be consistent and objective allows us to have things like The World’s 50 Best Bars and the bigger awards. I’m a believer in having judges. If you’re setting out criteria, you have to understand that this is really difficult in the objective world of bars, where you’re trying to say ‘how do I judge out of five a venue’s service?’. There’s no easy way of doing that. Because you can’t say: ‘This is what I like because I had a good time in there.’ It’s a really hard thing. So I’m pro awards but also wary of them.

Awards have become a shortcut to success for a lot of people. People just see the final thing and think that is what makes it good. It’s looking at the final bit without looking at all of the background that’s gone into it. That, to me, is the worry for something like the Michelin star award, that it would just see the final bit without seeing all of the craziness that goes on behind the scene.

The most important thing in my bars is people having a good time. Of course, I want them to have good drinks, and I want to make sure that the food and lighting are right. But it’s the hospitality that makes it totally special and that’s the thing that we really care about. But again, how do you quantify that?

It’s also important to recognise excellence; it’s great that people are doing this wonderful stuff. They’re working their arses off and that’s something that should be celebrated, and as for awards – it doesn’t get any higher than having a Michelin star.

What people want in all circumstances is transparency. If 50 Best went ‘this is where the points went’, ‘this is why Dead Rabbit is number one’, then I think that helps people. Those who are not part of the list or the venues that are second to Dead Rabbit, it helps them to see what people are excited by.

With something that is very focused on trade, like 50 Best, it shows what the industry is looking for, and with Tales Of The Cocktail, where it’s a judged thing, it’s nice to know why something was awarded, what was recognised, and why that particular bar deserved that particular award.

Danilo Tersigni, general manager at Mr Foggs, London

The Michelin star is a way of recognising a business that has certain standards and is innovative. I don’t see why the drinks industry shouldn’t have the same kind of award. As someone who works in the industry, the scary part of winning a Michelin star is that it will divide consumers by suggesting that as a Michelin-­starred restaurant or bar, you’re expensive. If you go to a Michelin­-starred restaurant, you’re going there for an experience, so it’s not for everyone.

For the past three years I’ve been attending the The World’s 50 Best Bars and the Spirited Awards, but they are not awards that stick with you forever. Obviously bars could lose stars as well, that’s why you keep your standard high.

The Michelin star is more visible to consumers, and it gives longevity to a business, whereas things like the 50 Best Bars is more focused on the industry; it gives you the longevity as a bartender but not as a business.

To gain a Michelin star a bar needs to offer a great experience; from the welcoming, to the staff, and the knowledge. And after that comes the menu, which needs to be unique and innovative. So we’re talking about experience, knowledge, quality, innovation. It’s all those points that need to be in place.

There is a lot of emphasis on carrying awards. You want to be the best and that’s what most people want to achieve, especially when you take this seriously as a career. It’s like being a chef in a Michelin-­starred restaurant; that’s your achievement. It’s the same in bars, for bartenders, bar managers, general managers – they have the same aspirations.

Having a Michelin star will separate the high-­end bars from others. If you’re The Savoy then you have the money to become that, rather than a bar that has just been opened by two people who may not have the money to do so. But chefs have been awarded Michelin stars without a lot of money, so anything is possible. That’s why I believe it’s a good thing because it will push people to do something inspirational, rather than copy. Right now its all about copying people to become the best. In a way, a Michelin-­star system will define more or less what a real experience should be in a high-­end bar.

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