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Last Saturday night, in the Grand Ballroom of the Sheraton Hotel in New Orleans’s French Quarter, the best bartenders, mixologists, master blenders, and distributors of every spirit known to man, from every corner of the globe, gathered to celebrate their achievements over the last twelve months in cocktail culture. Not only did New York City’s Dead Rabbit (30 Water Street, 646-422-7906) take away the top prize, but the establishment can also add World’s Best Cocktail Menu, 2015, to its already impressive list of accolades.
Thousands attend the Spirited Awards every July, filling the streets of the French Quarter with even more intoxicated tourists than usual. The gala ceremony, considered the Oscars of the cocktail community, represents the climactic end of five grueling days of drinking at the annual Tales of the Cocktail industry conference.
This is the first time in four years the coveted World’s Best Bar award has been on U.S. soil, with the Artesian at the Langham Hotel in London winning the past two years and the Connaught, also in London, winning in 2012.
Speaking to the Village Voice after the event, Dead Rabbit co-founder and managing partner Jack McGarry said, “Being on that stage was like one chapter of our career finishing, and the start of a very new one. We’re still over the moon and delirious, but now we’re focused on the next projects and how to make this place even better.”
Sean Muldoon, McGarry’s Dead Rabbit other half, adds, “There was a whole period of uncertainty that Jack and I went through. We gave up a lot in Belfast to come here and do this. It was the hardest period and darkest period of my life — there were times when I was ready to go home.
“The only thing that kept us going was that we had one image — the image of the man that’s by our door,” Muldoon goes on. “We had that image drawn before we even came here, and it was like our holy picture that we used to look at every single day. We had a vision of that thing hanging outside our pub long before we had any idea what the pub would even be.”
Named after an Irish-American street gang from the 1850s, the bar is no stranger to being in the spotlight of the spirit world, having won Best American Cocktail Bar and World’s Best Drink Selection at last year’s Spirited Awards and World’s Best New Cocktail Bar and World’s Best Cocktail Menu the year before. New York magazine awarded it Best Everyman’s Bar in 2013. And it was the Village Voice‘s pick for Best New Bar that same year.
“Best Bar in the World” is a bold claim, but Muldoon believes they’re worthy of it. “I think in the sense that it’s our interpretation of the best bar in the world. When we came over here, we set out to really change the image of the Irish pub. They may be great places, but they’re not exactly synonymous to world-class service. So we wanted to shake up the cocktail world and get rid of the pretentiousness. There are different versions…but this is our version,” he says.
To secure the World’s Best Cocktail Menu award, the nineteenth-century-themed bar on Water Street beat some fierce competition, including the Artesian and the Beaufort Bar in London and the Trick Dog in San Francisco. In fact, London once again featured heavily this year, scooping up over half of the awards in the international categories.
“In London, the cocktail movement began in the late 1990s and I was a real advocate. Then I think of bars here in New York like Milk & Honey, PDT, and the speakeasy thing, and that’s when I think New York took it back. Then everyone got tired of this and I think London has taken it back again with the hotel bars. So there’s an interesting tug-of-war going on between the two cities,” Muldoon says.
“There’s this whole East Coast versus West Coast argument, but I just think New York has more great bars. I’d say that I could go to four or five really good bars in New York, but I don’t think I could go to four or five really good bars in the same city somewhere else in America,” says McGarry.
One of the industry’s rising stars, Jillian Vose, was previously at Brooklyn’s Clover Club then Death & Co. in Manhattan’s East Village before becoming head bartender at the Dead Rabbit. “It’s been really great working with Jillian, and both awards are really testament to the whole team. Every emotion, every thought, every conversation all came to a conclusion. It was like we finally felt we actually did what we wanted to do, which was to come here to be the best bar in the world,” Muldoon says.
Other winners from NYC included the retro, Prohibition-style Employees Only in the West Village, winning Best American Bar Team and Best American High-Volume Cocktail Bar; and Ivy Mix, co-owner and head bartender of Leyenda, the pan-Latin cocktail bar in Brooklyn’s Carroll Gardens, winning American Bartender of the Year. Jim Meehan, the man behind speakeasy-themed Please Don’t Tell in the East Village, collected Best Bar Mentor. A full list of the winners can be found at Tales of the Cocktail.