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Class bar awards turn 20

Published:  25 May, 2023

On Tuesday (May 23), Class magazine announced the winners of the Class Bar Awards 2023, two decades after the first ceremony took place, celebrating the UK bar industry.

Judged by the Class Collective (a group of 100 bar experts from across the country), the awards recognise the talent, achievements and diversity of the UK bar scene. 

The ceremony took place at Battersea Arts Centre, London with bars and bartenders from Manchester, Birmingham, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Cornwall and London among the winners on the night.

Schofield’s Bar in Manchester scooped up two awards for Bar of the Year and Best Bar in the North. Opening in spring 2021, Joe and Daniel Schofield’s debut bar set in Manchester’s Sunlight House has won plaudits for its classy interior and five-star service. It is only the third time since 2003 that a bar has won consecutive Bar of the Year titles. 

Elsewhere in the newly launched regional awards, Passing Fancies was voted Best Bar in the Midlands & East Anglia and also New Bar of the Year, having only launched last autumn by Tommy Matthews, Matt Arnold and Eve Green. The bar is billed as having the casual vibes of a “kitchen at a house party”, but serves ingredient-led cocktails that draw on the latest bar lab techniques. A finalist in this field, Couch in Birmingham, went on to shine in the Emerging Bartender of the Year category, with the bar’s Courtney Francis taking the award. 

In the Best Bar in Scotland & NI, Hey Palu took the gong. Alex Palumbo’s stylish Edinburgh cocktail haunt presents a modern take on Italian aperitivo culture, with classic cocktails, warm hospitality and amaro and vermouth aplenty. Finalist in that category, Panda & Sons, didn’t leave empty-handed as its owner Iain McPherson took Bar Innovator of the Year for his work on his bar’s Transcend menu, which delves into sub-zero flavour creation. 

Best Bar in London & the South East saw some heavyweight bars compete, with Satan’s Whiskers coming out top in the vote. At almost a decade old, Kevin Armstrong’s evergreen Bethnal Green classic has mastered the fundamentals – drinks, hospitality and atmosphere – like few others. 

Fellow London finalists Tayēr + Elementary and Swift also had their time on stage, both winning awards. Tayēr + Elementary took Bar Food Menu of the Year sponsored by Altamura Vodka for its revolving bevvy of cocktail-paired small plates, while Swift took Cocktail of the Year sponsored by Lanique for its famous Irish Coffee, having been a finalist last year.

Meanwhile, the Best Bar in Wales & West saw Lab 22 from Cardiff triumph. A beacon of bar culture in Wales, Tani Hasa’s venue has made its name through ever more creative cocktail making.

Adam Handling’s Ugly Butterfly in Cornwall was a beaten finalist in this regional category, but did take home the Sustainable Practices Award, thanks to an approach that places local ingredients on a pedestal while making an enemy of waste. 

The ceremony concluded with the Outstanding Contribution Award which went to Ian Burrell. The self-titled global rum ambassador has spent almost thirty years in the service of rum, promoting its interests and educating bartenders globally on the spirit’s diversity, authenticity and quality. His work has made an invaluable contribution to the global drinks industry.

Hamish Smith, editor of Class and co-host of the Class Bar Awards, said: “The 78 finalists this year were the strongest and most geographically diverse since we relaunched the Awards in 2017. 

“London remains strong but the Bar of the Year is in Manchester again, the New Bar of the Year is in Birmingham, the Bar Innovator of the Year is in Edinburgh and the bar leading sustainable practices is in Cornwall – there are countless other bars up and down the UK propelling the industry forward. 

“Not in recent memory has the UK bar scene felt as rich in talent, or as evenly spread. London doesn’t lead the global bar industry anymore, the UK does.”