Brighton Bar Awards
Words by Samuel Benson
Photography by ABV Media
There's a phrase I'm thinking of...The Terminator famously used it, it was a line in Jurassic Park and I'm pretty sure Tom Hanks slipped it in before being stuck on a deserted island.
And if THE BRIGHTON BAR AWARDS had a voice it would have almost certainly, to the delight of not just Brighton bartenders but some Londoners, proudly shouted from the rooftops back in 2019..."I'LL BE BACK!"
Unfortunately, as was the case with many hospitality events, the glorious and now huge drinks industry awards ceremony in Brighton was not permitted to go ahead in 2020. Bars closed, bartenders switched to other industries and, tragically, the general public who loyally sat at a bar for an apres-work beverage decided not to be table-served or wear a mask but instead drink at home. This wounded our country's bar culture and so now, 496 days after the month of the first COVID-19 diagnosis, this article is written with great pride to bring Difford's Guide readers the results, the congratulations and commiserations, plus all the exciting highlights of... THE BRIGHTON BAR AWARDS 2021!
And what a welcome back party it was!... The Brighton Bartenders look forward to this event all year and to have the pandemic snatch it away from them in 2020 only charged up the excitement even more for 2021. Extra confetti cannons were put in place, winners were paraded extra high on shoulders and fizz corks were popping/flying extra high (courtesy of headline wine sponsor Signature Wines, LWC's in-house wine brand, who also treated everyone to a free glass of bubbles on entry...thank you LWC!) Organised by the dedicated drinks industry media company ABV Media and presented by local bartending personality Sam Sidgwick, the event was held in one of Brighton's largest, almost stadium-sized function rooms at The Hilton Brighton Metropole and boasted an incredible array of features, including a 4x4 Jeep-turned bar, a delicious vegan food trailer by the guys at Two Wolves Kitchen, a quaint little vintage French Crepe van, an ice sculpture featuring frozen Jägermeister, a beer-pong tournament and even real Canadian wood trophies from headline beer sponsor Moosehead Canadian lager. Alongside Signature wines and Moosehead, the event was kindly serving fantastic spirits from headline spirits sponsor Pernod Ricard and soft drinks from the super cool Artisan Drinks. Plus it was also the official launch of Bounce Back - an interesting new 'aftersocial/pre-sleep' health drink that your body will thank you for in the morning!
Anyway, the results!...Votes poured in for all 20 categories from all over the city/surrounding areas, reaching quadruple figures from both industry and consumers, but mainly from the 16,000 members of the infamous Brighton Bartenders Association (or BNBA) Facebook group. First up was The Artisan Drinks Best Hotel Bar Award scooped up by Brighton legend Anton Atkins and his bar team at Hotel Du Vin. We saw big-name music venue (and hosts of the occasional flair competition), Chalk, take The Jägermeister Best Nightclub Award. Be At One deservedly won The Bonzer Barware Best Bar Team Award and new kids on the block Burnt Orange bar & restaurant absolutely smashing it by taking home not just The Porters Gin Best New Bar Award, but also the highly sought-after Signature Wines Best Restaurant Bar Award...well done Burnt Orange, you're now at the top of my list come date night!
More venues to take home a trophy, were, the very impressive multi-storey Rockwater venue in Hove receiving The Best Outdoor Area Award supported by Naughty Water Hard Seltzer. Another new venue and beautifully stunning Kusaki Japanese vegan Restaurant secured The Ganda Media Best Bar Design Award and the newly refurbished Cricketers Pub achieving The Moosehead Best Pub Award - an incredibly difficult category to win due the sheer amount of quality pubs in Brighton - well done to The Cricketers!
But it's not just venues that can claim some well-deserved glory at this event, bartenders themselves earn top spots, as voted for by the bartending community and their guests. The most notable category and one that has become one of the most honoured accolades to win is The Godfather Award for longstanding achievement. This has been won by some big names in the UK drinks industry over the years and this year, kindly supported by Cocchi Americano, was given to Whisky guru and cocktail bartender Lee Standen for his efforts at Brighton's new signature Whisky shop, interestingly named Cut Your Wolf Loose. Plus, as soon as Lee had collected this award, his name was read out again for The Difford's Guide Know-It-All Award, one of the more tongue-in-cheek awards at the show.
Speaking of Whisky, Chivas Regal also supported the Best Cocktail Award, this year handed to Libby Malandrone from The Twisted Lemon. Mr. Ben Arthur collected The Monkey Shoulder Best Bar Manager Award for his efforts running The Plotting Parlour, a fantastic hidden cocktail bar. Then it was down to The Jack Daniel's Best Bartender Awards, for the lady and gent killing it in cocktail comps and/or putting in extra effort to get the Brighton name out there via the increasingly popular Sussex wine and craft beer scenes. This year young guns Matty Rovai from L'Atelier Du Vin and Tierny Haylock of The Plotting Parlour scooped them up and were both handed a shiny new bottle of Jack Daniel's Single Barrel, with which their name was beautifully engraved.
So, after 19 fantastic prizes and certificates had been awarded, it was time for the final award of the evening. The most anticipated award category that everyone wants proudly on display in their venue...The Havana Club Best Bar Award! This has been achieved by some absolutely stunning venues over the past seven years of The Brighton Bar Awards, last time handed to The Golden Pineapple and so this year presented by General Manager Jack Williams alongside Pernod Ricard hero Tom Waite plus Havana Club meastro Will Case. Nominations this year included L'Atelier Du Vin and also The Plotting Parlour and Gung Ho!..both previous winners. However, with a gorgeous new look and solid team headed up by Will Underwood, and despite having been nominated most years but never bringing home the bacon, it was Bar Valentino who were finally crowned the champions and confetti rained down onto the stage before the DJ cranked up the tunes and the after-party continued into the wee hours of the morning.
Many thanks to all who were involved, all the sponsors of all 20 awards, plus of course ABV Media for yet another successful year. See you in 2022!