Dynamic and exciting. Demanding and exhausting.
Whether you ask at the beginning of a shift or at the end of a 60hr week, opinions about the bar industries in London and New York vary, but many of the superlatives are the same.
The parallel bloom of talent and ideas in New York and London may have spurred the growth of a global cocktail renaissance, but there are two distinct cultures at play.
When London took home enough Spirited Awards to stock a kitchen cupboard this year, I began to wonder how we might understand those differences, and how they impact those of us who love both cities equally and abidingly.
Perhaps the simple question is this: who would you rather meet every day for a negroni at the end of a long shift – London, with her self-effacing sense of humour, her old-fashioned elegance, and her barely hidden wild side; or brash, beautiful and alarmingly intelligent New York?
No doubt, these two phenomenal bar communities are both high maintenance. They demand your attention, and neither is willing to settle for second place. Indeed, the competition between them is fierce and unending, but it is also affectionate and inspiring. They are driven to innovate and excel, and they both look great doing it.
But which one is long-term relationship material?
Full disclosure: London and I were together for a long time, and in many ways I know her better than I know my own hometown. If you were to meet London for a quiet drink after work, she would surprise you with her early arrival, and her quiet, bookish beauty.
Her maturity and elegance lull you into a false sense of security. When you finally stumble home two days later, you wonder what happened and whose clothes you’re wearing. You want to see her again, but no – London likes her beauty sleep, and she decides when and how hard she parties.
The London bar industry is not supported by four-figure nightly tips, which makes it harder for her to commit to full-time, 24/7 self-promotion. Perhaps this turns her inward, to focus on growing and nurturing her talent – which may be why she was so awarded this year.
New York, the aforementioned hometown, and my current taskmistress, would be the kind of date that turns every head in the room, arriving, as she does, an hour late. When you first meet her, you find yourself wondering: “can I keep up?” (Hint: the answer is no.)
Sexy, successful, oozing wealth, she knows precisely how hot she is, and she wants to make sure that everyone else knows it too. It isn’t arrogance – it is the confidence of knowing that everyone wants a piece of you, and that you can pick and choose your suitors.
Okay, it is also arrogance, but let’s be honest – we don’t really mind. Yes, New York is about as subtle as your mum when she asks: “when are you going to get a real job?”
But the city that never sleeps also drinks too much of her own Fernet-infused Koolaid, believing the hype and being so self-absorbed that other cities seem mere satellites. Yet you still love her because she just doesn’t stop. Ever. Her devotees, always teetering on the edge of boredom, adore her because she puts their need for ‘something else’ ahead of her own passion for the craft.
There is always somewhere to go, and some new mischief to be had in New York. Even if she wanted to slow down, she wouldn’t know how.
I’ll be honest – I am no closer to choosing between these two grand dames than I was before I began this rather silly exercise. Thank god and Richard Branson (hang on – has anyone ever never seen those two in the same room?) we can continue to enjoy all that both New York and London have to offer, without making such an impossible decision.
Now, if only we could get Melbourne to move a little closer…