Why New Zealand deserves to be named amongst the world's best bars

Wellington's Hawthorn Lounge should be considered among the world's best bars, according to one expert.
Luke Calder

Wellington's Hawthorn Lounge should be considered among the world's best bars, according to one expert.

When it comes to hospitality awards, The World's 50 Best Bars is one of the most sought after. The Michelin Star of drinks, it's usually dominated by the likes of London and New York. The 2017 list, released this month, is no different.   

However, Hospitality New Zealand CEO Vicki Lee, says the bar scene here has a lot to offer on the international stage.

"We are a global market now and people do see what's going on overseas," she says. "That either gets brought back to NZ through customers' expectations, or operators coming come back from industry events fired up about the next new thing. 

Jeremy Smith, MD of Trinity Group says Kiwi hospitality is a big draw.
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Jeremy Smith, MD of Trinity Group says Kiwi hospitality is a big draw.

"It's not unusual to see bars getting regular facelifts or even complete refits every three to five years to ensure they remain on trend." 

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This year the top spot on the World's 50 Best Bars was claimed by American Bar at London's Savoy Hotel, where one drink will set you back at least £20 ($37), with some price tags going into the hundreds.  

Jeremy Smith, managing director of the Trinity group, believes that NZ can not only compete amongst the world's best - we also offer better value for money.  

"I think we create an experience that might not be that super sophisticated, but it's quality. It's got that 'wow factor', without being over the top and you won't be paying $35 for a cocktail.

"For example, at Little Blackwood in Queenstown, the staff were super knowledgeable. You go to Hawthorn Lounge in Wellington - the experience is beautiful. Everything. Very warm, very friendly.

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"Classic Kiwi hospitality is when we get each of those 'wow touchpoints' right - that when you walk in, 'wow this place is good'. It's the right temperature, the music's right, the drinks that I get are great. 

"It's that warmth and that feeling of 'welcome to my home' experience that we're really good at delivering."  

Being a small nation can also work to our advantage, as Smith explains the market breeds quality and innovation.  

"I know it's massively competitive. When the government made it easier to get a liquor licence, numbers grew significantly so there's a lot of competition, but there's also a lot of co-operation between bar owners.

"We're able to share ideas. We're able to lift our standards... and remember because it's a smaller country, smaller markets, we need to adapt to change, very quickly. 

He adds that because New Zealand is tucked away into a corner of the world, people tend to think the "rest of the world is better than us, so we've got to work harder to stay ahead of the game".  

Peter G Lowry, manager at Wellington's Library Bar, agrees proximity plays a part.  

"We are really, really far away from the rest of the world and so we have to be friendly and consistent to retain our customers. There is a passion for quality products on any scale. A true sense of invention and a keen understanding of seasonality." 

Lowry says New Zealanders love to talk about food and this keeps the industry inspired.

Smith agrees that Kiwis are more discerning when it comes to quality of their food. Now, he says, even the most humble of establishments need a strong menu using the best produce it can. 

For the World's Best list, the process for deciding which bars are worthy involves 505 voters, from 55 countries around the globe. 

These kingmakers are a mix of drinks experts, including bartenders, bar managers, drinks consultants, brand ambassadors, drinks writers, historians and cocktail aficionados.

"Around 30 of those voters are from Australasia so you would have hoped New Zealand would have made it on the list somewhere," adds Lee.  

"Putting the invite out there though, if any of the voters are coming to New Zealand, let us know - we can certainly point them in the right direction of great New Zealand bars."

 - Stuff

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