Pouring Over What’s Good With 50 Best Bars’ Head Of Content Emma Sleight

Asia’s 50 Best Bars 2024, to be hosted in Hong Kong for the second year in succession, is coming up in July. So, we checked in with Emma Sleight, Head of Content for 50 Best Bars and Hotels, to discover what makes a bar truly exceptional. Spoiler alert: exceptional is in the eye of each of Asia’s 50 Best Bars 2024’s 265 anonymous members.

Read on in Vietnamese

“Well, that’s the thing,” Emma reminds us. “There is deliberately no criteria assigned to our anonymous judges other than that they like the bar. One might focus on the cocktail menu. Another on the atmosphere. Yet another might focus on the service they received, or the design of the bar, or even where they got their ingredients from. It really is down to what they each individually consider to be ‘best.’”

The Key Is Curating Asia’s 50 Best Bars 2024 Academy Members

One of the keys, then, is in the curation of the Academy members. Overseeing this process are four Asia’s 50 Best Bars Academy Chairs. They’re the people responsible for assembling and annually refreshing the 265-member voting panels. Their goal is to curate a well-balanced group of experts. It’s one that includes drink writers, educators, bartenders, and passionate cocktail enthusiasts. And the aim is to capture a comprehensive view of Asia’s vibrant bar scene.

“Academy chairs, who help source the votes get exactly the same votes as members – their votes have no more impact or influence over the results than the wider Academy – and they don’t get to see which bars have been voted for,” Emma explains.

While Emma can’t say too much exactly about the allocation of judges in each destination, she does promise that it’s in constant review too, including the allocation for Vietnam.

Emma Sleight interviewing Kwame Onwuachi at 50 Best Talks in Vegas
Emma Sleight sure-footedly interviewing Chef Kwame Onwuachi at the recent World’s 50 Best Restaurant’s #50BestTalks.

A Diverse Scope

Besides being 50 Best’s Head of Content for bars and hotels, Emma is a trained sommelier and Associate of Cheese. “So the cheese thing…basically, it’s an accreditation, and we get to test and rate cheeses,” she laughs. It sounds like something of a dream job. As is being Head of Content for 50 Best right now.

Currently back in London, Emma was in Las Vegas last week. There she co-hosted the event’s #50BestTalks. That included sure-footedly interviewing the brilliantly blasé Kwame Onwuachi live on stage (and gently chiding him for not reading the questions in advance and winging it a bit). 

“It’s diverse,” she agrees. “And a big part of it is obviously working towards our many events. But also it’s managing content. And organizing special editions and the side-events that we do around key ones. And that includes those signature sessions and the talks we just had in Las Vegas.” 

Nighthawks Singapore, winner of Bareksten Best Bar Design Award at The World's 50 Best Bars 2024.
This year the Bareksten Best Bar Design Award, won by Night Hawk in Singapore at The World’s 50 Best Bars 2023, and Avondale Bowl at North America’s 50 Best Bars 2024, comes to Asia’s 50 Best Bars.

Constant Evolution

The #50BestTalks provided a glimpse into the minds of some of the innovators of the current and previous The World’s 50 Best Restaurants’ lists. And, although there’s no #50BestTalks for Asia’s 50 Best Bars yet, the dynamism of the list provides lots to talk about. There are new entries and climbers, and side awards, and the expansion in 2021 to include a 51-100 list.

But returning to Hong Kong for the second year in a row and with Coa the deserving but static number one for the last three years – unlike, for example, with The World’s 50 Best Restaurants list where the number one can’t be chosen again and the last three host cities were Las Vegas, Valencia and London – we wonder if the event is losing some of its special energy.

“I would say there’s a lot of factors that go into choosing a host city. We’re excited to be returning to Hong Kong. It has such a vibrant bar scene.”

“And there are no plans, as yet, of creating a Best of the Best, which is how The World’s 50 Best Restaurants categorizes former number ones. But I will say we are constantly reviewing everything and what ways we can make adjustments and improvements.”

Jay Khan from Coa, Hong Kong collecting Asia's Best Bar award for the 3rd time in a row
Coa’s Jay Khan in Hong Kong hearing the announcement that his bar was Asia’s 50 Best Bars’ number one for the third year running.

The Arrival Of The Bareksten Best Bar Design Award Asia

Part of that process, this year, has led to the inclusion of a new award for the region, the Bareksten Best Bar Design Award for Asia. It’s an award already rolled out at at The World’s 50 Best Bars 2023, which was won by Night Hawk in Singapore, and North America’s 50 Best Bars 2024, where Avondale Bowl in Chicago won the award.

In the pre-awards, announced before the Asia’s 50 Best Bars event itself on 16th July, Virtù in Tokyo, which claimed the No.20 spot last year and the Disaronno Highest New Entry Award along with it, has been given the Michter’s Art of Hospitality Award. And, following on from that, Dohyung ‘Demie’ Kim, co-founder of Zest in Seoul, was named as winner of the Altos Bartenders’ Bartender Award 2024.

Besides those awards, on the night there will be handed out the Roku Industry IconKetel One Sustainable BarDisaronno Highest New EntryLondon Essence Best New OpeningNikka Highest ClimberSiete Misterios Best Cocktail MenuCampari One To WatchRémy Martin Legend of the List and the Destination Award Winners, for the best in class for each destination.

Bar Spectre in Singapore
Community connections, “at places like Bar Spectre in Singapore who run events that link mental-wellness activities with cocktail craft.”

Having A Moment

With such a broad view across the 50 Best Bars, Restaurants and Hotels awards globally, Emma gets to spot trends as they’re emerging. “In the bar industry, tomato is definitely having a moment!” Emma laughs.

Jigger & Pony’s ‘Ugly Tomatoes,’ is a drink that celebrates body positivity in tomatoes of all shapes and size. Fura’s ‘Make Local Tomatoes Great Again’ is a reminder of how buying local helps. And Stay Gold Flamingo’s ‘Lucky Bunny’ is a fancy version of the Bloody Mary,” she says, noting the trend for lots of umami and savory cocktails right now.

“Seriously, the bar scene is such a dynamic and rapidly evolving space,” she nods.

Drinks from Stay Gold’s ‘Purple’ menu including their ‘Lucky Bunny’ [left].

“An overarching trend is definitely the approach towards sustainability. And for more of a comprehensive focus on sustainability within bars,” she notes. “So there’s an increasing number of bars that are looking to diversify their drinks menu. They’re looking to provide a more positive impact through using hyper-local ingredients or spirits. There’s a rising interest in where spirits are coming from, but there’s also an interest in reviving traditional spirits: Korean soju, Indonesian arak and Irish poitín. And that’s really giving local craft makers time in the spotlight.”

“But sustainability is so much more than that, so we’re seeing innovation beyond the menu itself. Consumers are looking for more novel but also more meaningful experience. The upshot is, I feel like bars are doing more on the marketing and experiential side to build closer relationships with their customers. A good example of that would be Bar Spectre in Singapore. They run events that link mental-wellness activities with cocktail craft.”

“Low- and no-alcohol is still very important. The pandemic changed people’s behaviors to more healthy and more holistic lifestyles. Young people, especially, are embracing it and so are bars with whole sections of their menus, and not just a drink or two, dedicated to it.”

Fure, Singapore
Fura, Singapore, where their “‘Make Local Tomatoes Great Again’ is a reminder of how buying local helps.”

Debunking Asia’s 50 Best Bars 2024

But there’s still the nagging question: with such an open criteria, what can bars do to get on the list? For bars in emerging markets like Vietnam with aspirations towards a place on Asia’s 50 Best Bars list, Emma offers some sound advice.

“There is really no defined approach to follow for bars that will lead to a guaranteed spot on the list. So, we would happily like to remind bars to simply be the best they can be for their customers and not to focus on the rankings or awards. Awards like Asia’s 50 Best Bars 2024 should, we hope, be a welcome byproduct to their hard work and their time.”

So which un-50 Best Bar would we be most likely to find her at, after work, we ask finally, trying to catch Emma out again. “We believe that there isn’t and nor should there be a type of bar that features on the 50 Best list,” she reminds us, as sure-footed as ever.


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