“We never thought we’d actually win it”: Lab 22’s Max Hayward on having the world’s best cocktail menu

17 August, 2022

As the submission deadline approaches for the World’s 50 Best Bars Siete Misterios Best Cocktail Menu, Drinks International sat down with Lab 22 head bartender Max Hayward to reflect on what the accolade has meant for the bar.

At an awards ceremony in London’s Roundhouse back in December, the World’s 50 Best Bars of 2021 were announced and while the ceremony was unique for several reasons, particularly involving international travel restrictions, it also represented the debut of a new award category.

The Siete Misterios Best Cocktail Menu, decided by 50 Best and its academy chairs, assesses cocktail menus based on five key elements: design and layout, storytelling, innovation, range of drinks, and sustainability. And from the 190 bars that entered from 43 countries, it was Cardiff’s Lab 22’s Theories + Frontiers that took home the crown.

“When we were announced in the final five and we were celebrating that like we’d bloody won the thing. Just to see our bar next to names like Little Red Door and Himkok was amazing, actually winning was absolutely mental.

“Since we got the award, it’s been crazy. We've had various journalists and publications wanting to get in touch, we've had a big increase in footfall in the bar, we’ve had takeovers with bars from around the world, the news spread like wildfire. It’s all been really nice that people are coming in because they want to see something you've made. It's really humbling.”

The result may have been a shock to the unwise too who might expect the best cocktail menu to be found in New York, Singapore, or London but to those in the know, it’s less surprising.

“Our mantra is nice drinks for nice people. We want everyone to be able to come in and enjoy a drink, so you get a massively diverse crowd.

“The bar is based on three pillars, accessibility, community and transparency. We want the bar to be the hub of the community, like the pub of old, and to give back so a couple of drinks on all the menus donate to charity. We use local and Welsh ingredients and produce, we want all the guests to know exactly what’s in their drink and not feel intimidated. Cocktail bars can be a bit gatekeep-y and wanted to remove that for our guests.

“The previous two menus won best theme menu at another awards, but Theories + Frontiers didn’t win that award which surprised us as we thought it was really good so at that point we thought screw it, let’s enter it, if you don’t buy a ticket, you don’t win the lottery.”

As the bar’s name might suggest, the focus of the winning menu is rooted in science.

“Theories + Frontiers is the last in a trilogy of menus. The first was Discovery + Progress, which was about hammering down a science theme properly, getting the theme into the drinks and onto the menu itself rather than just serving a drink in a beaker.

“The second menu, Pioneers + Revolutionaries played homage to the scientists of the past. We had drinks based on Archimedes, Isaac Newton and we did an equal split between male and female scientists as a lot of female scientists either had their work stolen by men or just weren’t recognised so we had a drink based on Rosalind Franklin and Ada Lovelace.

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