With last orders set to be called not only on the year, but on an entire decade, there’s barely enough time to pause and reflect. But in reviewing the past 10 years and pondering the most important shifts in drinking culture, we identified the most influential trends, and the bars that best encapsulated them.
What exactly do we mean by influential? These are the spots that pushed boundaries, ushered in an era of new “norms,” and captured the zeitgeist of the decade. Some of them were notable as a timestamp for the 2010s, while others paved an import path for years (and possibly decades) to come.
You might notice some trends and bars missing from this list that have been prominent in the last decade. These include the revival of the hotel bar (The Connaught), the modernization of tiki (Smuggler’s Cove), and the proliferation of speakeasies (Milk & Honey, PDT). None are featured here as each of those bars opened before the beginning of 2010 and the trends were already in motion at the beginning of the decade.
Here is VinePair’s list of the five most influential cocktail bars of the last 10 years and how they defined the decade in drinks.
The Aviary champions avant-garde cocktails and molecular techniques.
When Grant Achatz, one of the country’s most celebrated, innovative chefs, opened Chicago’s revolutionary Aviary bar in 2011, his first rebellious act was to remove the bar entirely. It was a bold, left-field move, but just one of a number of ways in which the Aviary reinvented the traditional cocktail bar.
Drinks from the Aviary’s range of tasting menus are prepared inside the bar’s kitchen, where a group of “cooks,” led by a “chef,” work wizardry behind a large metal cage. Their mysterious creations are then delivered to patrons in 30-or-so different custom-made vessels. Many are finished table-side and some arrive with aroma-filled plastic bags to enhance the experience.
The Aviary’s ice program is similarly innovative. In a sprawling basement beneath the bar, dedicated ice chefs create 39 different forms of frozen H2O. Some will be used as serving vessels, and others are infused with substances that add to a drink’s flavor, rather than dilute it as they melt.
Since its 2011 launch, the Aviary has scooped up dozens of high-profile awards, including “World’s Best Cocktail Menu,” awarded by the Tales of the Cocktail Foundation in 2014. The bar launched a second location in New York in September 2018. Situated on the 35th floor of the Mandarin Oriental Hotel, the bar enjoys a birds-eye view of the city’s Central Park.
The Aviary’s much-anticipated cocktail book followed in October of the same year. Four years in the making, it mapped multiple iterations of each of its legendary drinks. Recipes change depending on whether the cocktail is being made for a single recipe or a batch, with different variations for professional bars and adaptations for (daring) home cocktail enthusiasts.
The Aviary was, and continues to be, influential not for spawning an army of imitators, but for introducing ideals and techniques that would be adopted and adapted by some of the decade’s highest-profile bars. With paired food and cocktail tasting menus, and the transformation of Lewis Carroll-esque fiction into imbibable reality, the Aviary did not say, “This is how it’s done,” but instead showed what could be done.
The Dead Rabbit introduces world-class cocktails to the (relative) masses.
New York’s 22-square-mile Manhattan island boasts more than 120 Irish bars, though none of them are quite like The Dead Rabbit. Launched by Belfast natives Sean Muldoon and Jack McGarry in 2013, The Dead Rabbit is split over three levels, with a 2019 expansion doubling its overall size.
In the downstairs Taproom, traditional Irish hospitality is recreated in the form of a sawdust-littered floor, warming (read: boozy) Irish punch, and the bar’s now-famous Irish coffee. The Guinness is as good as it gets this side of the pond, and the bar’s 145-strong Irish whiskey collection is the largest in North America. (Dead Rabbit even launched its own Irish whiskey in 2018.)
But this bar is about more than comforting hospitality. Climb the stairs to its Parlor bar, and you’ll see why The Dead Rabbit topped the list of The World’s 50 Best Bars in 2016. Bar manager Jillian Vose oversees a vast cocktail program that’s presented in an illustrated graphic novel. Categorized into shades, the drinks start light (a reference to their alcohol content) then get progressively stronger as the menu proceeds. No matter the shade, each is a triumphant execution of harmony and in-depth understanding of their ingredients.
The Dead Rabbit launched at a time when New York’s best cocktails were almost exclusively consigned to dimly lit, limited- capacity venues. In the seven years since, it’s proved that world-class drinks can be found anywhere; perhaps where you least expect them, like a traditional-looking Irish bar that pours exceptional Guinness. If the craft cocktail renaissance of the early aughts rediscovered classic concoctions, and elevated the act of imbibing cocktails to its former heyday, The Dead Rabbit has succeeded in serving those ideals to the (relative) masses.
Notable bars that exemplified/furthered the trend: Canon (Seattle, WA); Herbs & Rye (Las Vegas, NV); La Factoria (San Juan, Puerto Rico); Polite Provisions (San Diego, CA); Trick Dog (San Francisco, CA)
Dante becomes the epicenter of international aperitivo culture.
Caffe Dante first opened its doors on New York’s Macdougal Street in 1915. A century later, a trio of Australians took over the space and transformed the fading Italian café into one of the world’s leading cocktail bars.
The renovations were respectful of the café’s past, maintaining its layout and façade, but upgraded its interior to a bright, white-tiled space befitting of the modern-day surrounding Greenwich Village neighborhood. The drinks showcased Italy’s greatest contributions to international cocktail culture, with a much-lauded, revamped Garibaldi and dedicated Negroni and Spritz menus, with dozens of riffs on the classics. (The bar even serves Negronis on draft.)
At the time of reopening, the notion that three Australians would school New Yorkers on Italian aperitivo culture seemed unlikely. But succeed they did, and on a staggering international level. Naren Young, the best known of the trio, has since helmed Dante pop-ups in numerous cities worldwide, including Barcelona, London, Moscow, Sydney, and, most recently, Vancouver. The jewel in the bar’s crown arrived in 2019, when Dante was awarded the No. 1 spot on the list of The World’s 50 Best Bars.
With its dedication to spreading aperitivo culture and reputation for serving some of the finest iterations of the Negroni worldwide (not to mention its Spritzes), Dante captured the cocktail zeitgeist of the 2010s. Its outdoor terrace and open-plan salon serve as further proof that exclusivity is no longer a prerequisite for world-class cocktail bars.
‘Lyan’ bars place sustainability front and center.
On many counts, London’s Ryan Chetiyawardana is one of the most forward-thinking, influential bartenders of the decade. Better known as Mr. Lyan, in 2013 Chetiyawardana opened White Lyan in London’s trendy Hoxton neighborhood. There, he adopted various practices that were pioneering at the time, but have worked their way into the mainstream seven years on.
Chetiyawardana commissioned his own spirits; pre-batched cocktails to cut down on wait times; sold takeaway, bottled versions of those drinks; and — most importantly — placed sustainability front and center at the bar, eliminating waste by doing away with perishables such as citrus and ice (the latter aided by the fact that the pre-batched cocktails could be chilled in fridges and freezers before service).
Chetiyawardana and the bar’s co-owner, Ian Griffiths, shut the doors at White Lyan in 2016, transforming the spot into a creative development space. By this time, they had already opened a second bar, Dandelyan, in a hotel on the South Bank of London’s River Thames. Dandelyan went on to win Tales of the Cocktail’s World’s Best Cocktail Menu in 2016 and 2018, and also topped the list of The World’s 50 Best Bars in 2018 — just two days after the duo had announced the bar was to shut. Various high-profile international pop-ups have followed and the team currently runs two permanent locations (for now): Lyaness, in London, and Super Lyan in Amsterdam.
That Chetiyawardana has operated on the highest level for the best part of a decade is notable enough. Doing so while championing “closed-loop” sustainable practices, many of which have been adopted by other high-profile establishments, leaves an important, enduring legacy. It’s one that should shape the future cocktail landscape for years if not decades to come.
Miracle creates a globally successful pop-up trend.
If you’ve visited any notable New York cocktail bar in the past decade, chances are it’s been influenced or owned by Greg Boehm. Boehm has stakes in some of the city’s finest drinking destinations, including Boilermaker, Mace, Existing Conditions, and Katana Kitten. If you haven’t been to those bars, the bartenders at the spots you have visited were almost certainly using Boehm’s industry-standard cocktail equipment, which he sells through the drinkware company Cocktail Kingdom.
But perhaps Boehm’s most impactful influence on the decade’s cocktail scene — certainly from a global perspective — is the Miracle Christmas pop-up franchise that debuted in 2014.
With construction flagging on his upcoming East Village cocktail bar, Boehm temporarily transformed the unfinished space into a themed pop-up serving holiday-inspired drinks. Crowds flocked to the bar, queuing in the freezing New York winter, for a sip of festive cheer among its kitschy Christmas décor.
When bar industry friends asked if they could recreate the experience the following year, Miracle expanded to four locations. In 2016, the franchise went global, with pop-ups in Greece, Montreal, and Paris. In 2019, Miracle is set to feature more than 100 global outposts, reaching such destinations as Panama, Romania, New Zealand, and Switzerland.
While never intended as a “serious” bar, nor a recurring feature, the incredible, rapid expansion of this pop-up is nothing short of a miracle (sorry!). With its huge social media appeal and the proliferation of pop-ups since, this trend looks set to continue well into the next decade. The fact that drinkers around the world, from Bentonville, AR, to Bucharest, Romania, are right now united through their shared festive libations, is a worthy source of Christmas cheer and warming thought to close the decade.
Notable bars that exemplified/furthered the trend: Broken Shaker (Started as a pop-up in Miami, FL; now has permanent locations in Chicago, IL; Los Angeles, CA; Miami, FL; and New York, NY, and has hosted international pop-ups.)