Craft cocktail culture is based on the same principles driving change in the luxury hospitality world today: consumers’ desires for best-quality ingredients, a curated sense of place, and staff conscious of (and connected to) the local scene.
In chronicling the evolution of the luxury traveler, Skift has tracked the transition of consumers’ tastes from desiring the most expensive to the most thoughtful of experiences and goods. It’s a trend that has made its way into the carefully crafted cocktails of the hotel bar — and opened the door for greater communication and community between hotels and the cities they serve.
While the rise of cocktail culture began in places like Sydney, London and New York, its influence today is evident in nightlife and hotel bars in European cities from Paris to St. Petersburg.
Although it is worth reading the New York Times’ chronicle of the slow rise of craft cocktails in Paris and its recognition of hospitality operator Experimental Group as triggering a cocktail revolution in France, we’d argue that the evolution—and its impact on the luxury hotel world—is nowhere more evident than Barcelona.
Skift spoke with the teams behind the bars of high-end hotels and local cocktail lounges to understand the symbiotic relationships, powered ultimately by people, that drives this change.
Luxury Hoteliers Innovate to Meet Guest Expectations
One of the most luxurious of hotels in Barcelona is the Ritz-Carlton property Hotel Arts and its team recognized the cultural shifts and evolving tastes of their guests and embarked on a year-long journey to reimagine their bar offering.
The hotel brought mixologist Diego Baud onboard and last September the started brainstorming the new concept of the bar developed around the 41st parallel. Barcelona has a latitude of 41 degrees — a designation that it shares with other multicultural hubs including Chicago, New York, Istanbul, the main island of Japan and the mountains of China.
“This was our blank canvas and we had to come up with ideas around it,” Paul-Marie Cras-Hatton who joined as food and beverage manager, said.
Cras-Hatton trained in the cocktail culture of Melbourne and Sydney before returning to his European roots. For six months, the team sourced new liquors, glasses and drew inspiration from the cocktail revolution happening outside the hotel.
For example, hotel guests had traditionally complained about exorbitant prices at the bar. The team got rid of the super-expensive and super-cheap liquors and focused on curating a selection of mid-market liquors. Less gin, more tequila and Tito’s Vodka for the overwhelmingly American guest base.
The new concept P41 Bar & Coctelarium opened in February 2018 and output quickly rose from an average of 40 cocktails served per night to more than 100 cocktails. The team hit a new record of 171 cocktails in a single night last month — the city’s busiest month for tourism.
The new space also included a backroom used for group presentations and masterclasses. But Hotel Arts is far from the only high-end hotel in Barcelona upping its cocktail game for its international audience.
The Edition Hotel opened last month in Barcelona and recreated the Punch Room originally conceived at its London property. The hotel’s team designs cocktails to share within a group of people and the bar features a pool table, an unfamiliar site in most Barcelona bars.
“Through the success of Punch Room London, EDITION decided that as we grew the company, it made sense to grow Punch Room as a brand as well, and what better city to launch Punch Room 2.0 than in Barcelona,” says Ana Coles, assistant bar manager at Punch Room Barcelona.
“Over the past few years the cocktail culture in this city has rocketed and there is a lot of excitement as great bars and bartenders are growing. Driven by the local ingredients here and giving the drinks a Mediterranean feel, we are combining the high standards of service known in London alongside one of the most beautifully designed bars one could hope for.”
The Mandarin Oriental’s Banker’s Bar pays tribute to the building’s former use as a bank with a ceiling made from the original security boxes. The bar team crafted cocktails especially for the space including the most popular — the Banker’s Martini.
Other five-star properties in Barcelona set themselves apart by location. The Mercer Hotel Barcelona is a boutique luxury property located in the city’s Gothic Quarter. Stone walls with more than 2,000 years of history house its cocktail bar.
Casa Bonay is one of Barcelona’s most popular hotels. A four-star property designed with outstanding cafe, dining and events spaces and a fundamental dedication to local Catalan suppliers. Their Libertine lounge is part all-day restaurant workspace and part cocktail bar and lounge.
The hotel designed the cocktail menu to highlight the classic cocktails with added inspiration from Japanese cocktails, said Casa Bonay co-founder Inés Miró-Sans.
Barcelona’s Hospitality Communities Come Together
Barcelona always had traditional cocktail bars which were particularly popular from the 1930s through the 1960s for middle to high Catalan society.
Then throughout the last decade hoteliers recognized the shifting landscape outside their doors and their international guests’ desire for more conscious creations on property. They started to respond around 2012 by hiring a semi-famous bartender to redesign the menu or attract guests. However, it is difficult to build a real sense of place based on a single bartender, and more recently, luxury hoteliers have invested in their people to open thoughtful and bespoke cocktail bars — that just happen to sit within their five-star properties.
A 2018 New York Magazine article describes “a full-blown cocktail revolution” in the Catalan capital.
“Hotels are reaching beyond just having a famous bartender designing their menu to creating a real identity. It is a competitive market right now and many cocktail bars are arriving to the standards of hotel bars in terms of service and quality of products. Hotels can’t keep up with that just by employing a known name — you also need a concept,”
Marco Tagliabue, owner of three of Barcelona’s most popular cocktail bars including Creps al Born, said.
What’s interesting is that it is hotel guests, and the rapid rise of tourism in Barcelona, that brought about the rise of the cocktail culture. As tourism increased in Barcelona, so did luxury tourism, drawing big-budget guests that previously visited Paris or London or New York where the service and cocktail culture is more advanced.
“There was a clash or dissonance between was available at the time and the type of traveler that was arriving in Barcelona. Following that trend, people like me came to Barcelona and eventually opened our own bars. We are the first generation to go from cocktail bartender to cocktail bar owner and that’s driven a more personalized service. It created a culture of training within these bars that started to reach luxury levels,” Taglibue said.
Hoteliers are starting to incorporate themselves into this cocktail community, participating with bartenders in cocktail conferences and masterclasses, and resulting in a close and collaborative service industry. It often takes a young and open-minded food and beverage manager to drive this shift in relations.
“In our free time, we’ll go to other bars and restaurants and always try to bring friend and colleagues from the bartending world to P41. We’re building relationships between the bar and our surroundings which makes for a great community,” said Cras-Hatton who is excited about the potential and synchronicities still to come between Barcelona’s luxury hospitality and craft cocktail world.
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Photo credit: P41 Bar and Coctelarium presents a liquid journey of the 41st parallel around the globe. Hotel Arts Barcelona