The past eighteen months have been merciless for the hospitality industry—particularly the early months of the pandemic, when lockdowns forced bars and other “non-essential businesses” to shutter. Bars not essential? Tell that to the countless workers whose watering holes didn’t reopen for months—if at all—or the millions of patrons who needed a drink more than ever last year.
But for Tales of the Cocktail, the 19-year-old New Orleans-based foundation dedicated to celebrating and supporting the industry, 202o was a year overflowing with inspirational stories of perseverance and entrepreneurial creativity.
So when it came time to stage the annual Spirited Awards—established in 2007 to honor the world’s best bars, bartenders, brands and spirits-focused journalism—the Tales asked itself who and what exactly it should be celebrating from the past year. (Full disclosure: Forbes is the official media partner of the Spirited Awards.)
“As we looked back on 2020, we realized that there really was no way to award bars or bartenders on an even playing field,” says Eileen Wayner, the newly appointed CEO of Tales of the Cocktail Foundation. “Bars were closed—and many bartenders and staff were out of work for extended periods of time. And globally, the restrictions for bars varied drastically.”
Plus: Tales of the Cocktail Launches Interactive Map of the World’s Best Bars
This summer, the foundation built an interactive map of the world’s best bars to celebrate the hundreds of past winners and nominees, but a best bar was not named for 2021. “Instead, Tales leadership decided it would be much more appropriate for the industry to reflect on the past year, focus on recovery, and find a path forward,” Wayner says. “For the bars that were able to remain open and navigate closures and capacity restrictions, mask and vaccination mandates, we tip our hats. And we raise our glass to the staff that is working tirelessly to provide hospitality in the most difficult of circumstances.”
As Charlotte Voisey, chair of the 2021 Spirited Awards, explained during tonight’s ceremony from New Orleans, “The committee reached a consensus on the right way to pay homage to this past year. We introduced five themes: community, digital experience, drinks culture, industry advocacy, and innovative pivots. We believe these things represent the resilience of our community all over the world and hope that these examples can offer guidance to bars and bartenders still facing challenges.”
In addition to writing and media awards, the committee handed out several special honors, including the Helen David Lifetime Achievement Award (to Mixellany Limited founders Anistatia Miller and Jared Brown), the Timeless U.S. and International awards for classic bars (Tommy’s Mexican Restaurant in San Francisco and Dukes Bar in London), and the Pioneer Award (to Bacardi’s LGBTQ+ ambassador, Chris Cabrera). There were also two new inductees to the Dame Hall of Fame—Lauren Paylor, R&D production chief at Silver Lyan, and Sandrae Lawrence, founder and editor of The Cocktail Lovers magazine.
Though the Spirited Awards have always recognized distinguished media coverage of the hospitality industry, this year’s focus was different. In addition to the usual mix of reviews and bartender profiles, much of the 2020 coverage addressed tough topics that the foundation has tried to shine a light on, including race relations in the hospitality industry, the lack of representation of women and LGBTQ+ individuals and subpar compensation or untenable workplace conditions.
For instance, Wayne Curtis, recipient of this year’s Best Cocktail & Spirits Writing award, wrote “The Myth of the Peaceful Plantation” for the Daily Beast’s Half Full, chronicling the whitewashing of the word plantation despite its obvious links to slavery. Curtis makes the argument that this insensitive word should be retired from the hospitality world, even if it means that Plantation rum will need to rebrand itself.
And Plantation got the message: “Evolving our name is our top priority and has probably been the most difficult exercise that we’ve experienced this far. We are a relatively small family company with no trademark or legal department and we’re doing our best working around the clock as there are myriad complex legal and production details involved that we are learning about,” says Alexandre Gabriel, Plantation’s founder and master blender. “We are committed to do the right thing and we want to do it well, once and for all, for the many decades to come. We ask for patience from our supporters and friends while we make this momentous move.”
Meanwhile, The Daily Beast’s Half Full editor Noah Rothbaum and the author and cocktail historian David Wondrich produced a number of provocative episodes on their podcast, Life Behind Bars, including a special miniseries called “What I’ve Learned,” which examined the many pandemic-related problems the hospitality industry faced last year.
Rothbaum and Wondrich talked to industry veterans such as Brooklyn Brewery’s Garrett Oliver, Katana Kitten’s Masa Urushido and ABV’s Ryan Fitzgerald about solutions to some of the existential crises their businesses faced in 2020. Their conversations addressed a broad number of relevant, if uncomfortable, realities: “Fostering Diversity in the Beer and Spirits World,” “The Fight to Get People to Wear Face Masks in Bars” and “Staffing Up During a Pandemic.”
In the books category, Ivy Mix, founder of the Spirited Award-winning Brooklyn bar Leyenda, and co-author James Carpenter took home the award for Best New Book on Drinks Culture, History, or Spirits for Spirits of Latin America: A Celebration of Culture and Cocktails. The beautifully-illustrated tome delivers important historical information about the many spirits in that part of the world—while also schooling readers on how to use them in cocktails.
In the Special Awards category, Dukes Bar in London (helmed by the acclaimed Alessandro Palazzi) won the coveted Timeless International Award. The St. James’ bar, which has long been a temple to the Martini—James Bond author Ian Fleming was a regular—and has been serving up exceptional hospitality for more than a century.
“Whenever you come to London, you must go to Dukes,” said Agostino Perrone, master mixologist at the Spirited Award-winning Connaught Bar in London, praising the competition. “You have the bartender in front of you with the white jacket, the smart personality. They make your day the best day of your life.”
See the full list winners from the 15th Annual Sprited Awards below.
TALES OF THE COCKTAIL SPIRITED AWARDS 2021
WRITING AND MEDIA WINNERS
Best Cocktail & Spirits Publication: Imbibe Magazine
Best Broadcast, Podcast, or Online Video Series: Life Behind Bars with Noah Rothbaum & David Wondrich
Best Cocktail & Spirits Writing: “The Myth of the Peaceful Plantation” by Wayne Curtis, Half Full (The Daily Beast)
Best New Cocktail or Bartending Book: Drinking French: The Iconic Cocktails, Apéritifs, and Café Traditions of France, with 160 Recipes by David Lebovitz (Ten Speed Press)
Best New Book on Drinks Culture, History, or Spirits: Spirits of Latin America by Ivy Mix with James Carpenter (Ten Speed Press)
Helen David Lifetime Achievement Award: Jared Brown and Anistatia Miller and Douglas Ankrah
Timeless U.S. Award: Tommy’s Mexican Restaurant, San Francisco
Timeless International Award: Dukes Bar at the Dukes Hotel, London
Pioneer Award: Chris Cabrera
DAME HALL OF FAME INDUCTEES
Dame Hall of Fame (United States): Lauren Paylor
Dame Hall of Fame (International): Sandrae Lawrence