For the first time, The World’s 50 Best Bars has created an academy for the Middle East region and it is set to be headed by a familiar face to those in the industry, Rebecca Sturt.
Sturt has been a Caterer Middle East Awards judge for the past 10 years (and will do so again this year) and as well as setting up the Dubai Bartenders Club, which has over 6,500 members, she has recently been appointed as Remy Cointreau marketing manager for the Middle East and India.
In her new role with World’s 50 Best Bars, she is tasked with choosing the judging panel that will vote for the bars in the region that should make the organisation’s prestigious list.
The Middle East hasn’t had much representation on the list in recent years, with just Zuma Dubai and Central Station in Beirut making the top 100 last year, but neither were able to break into the top 50. This year's virtual event to reveal the world's top bars will take place on November 5.
Caterer sat down with Sturt to discuss her role with World’s 50 Best and where she sees the Middle East’s standing in the global drinks industry.
Can you tell us about your new appointment as World’s 50 Best Academy Chair for the Middle East and just what the role entails?
This year, The World’s 50 Best Bars has created 23 new territories all across the world. For each region, an Academy Chair is elected who selects the panellists for that region. Each voter gets 7 votes – 3 of which must come from outside their home country. It’s the first time we have ever had an Academy in the Middle East, so 50 Best is doing it to make sure that the spotlight is shining on the region and they are able to recognise all the brilliant bars we have here on the list, should they get enough votes.
It’s my job to ensure that the make up of the Academy here is reflective of the bar scene in the Middle East – I have chosen a mix of industry professionals who are bartenders and bar owners, drinks writers and cocktail experts. All of these voters must remain anonymous so that they don’t receive special treatment when they go into bars. We are asked by 50 Best to change 25% of the voters each year in order to get fresh voices casting votes.
Can you give us a brief on your background and the knowledge and expertise you bring to the role?
With over 25 years in the spirits and bar industry, I have had the privilege to work across 5 continents and travel the world visiting bars and bartenders, tasting a vast array of cocktails, analysing menus and soaking up experiences. I have been based here in Dubai for the last 14 years, I have watched this city grow into a world class hospitality destination. Over the years I have worked in a variety of beverage related roles and gained vast experience in understanding what makes a world’s best bar, by working in the trade as a consultant and also as an educator I have shared my knowledge with over 10,000 members of F&B and have helped consult on over 80 F&B projects in the region, as a key member of the industry I also sit on the education committee for Tales of the Cocktail and I have been a judge for caterer awards for over 10 years.
How will you be using the role to promote the region’s bars and bartenders?
I’ll be keeping on the lookout for emerging talents in the bar scene and people who I believe who might make good voters in the future. I’ll also be informing The World’s 50 Best Bars team about any exciting news and developments in the Middle East so they are able to report on it and spread our news to the world.
Where do you think the region stands globally when it comes to our bar industry?
I’ve seen a lot of changes since I first came to Dubai. Lots of world-leading international bartenders are now taking up roles in our bars and really pushing the envelope in terms of what we’ve come to expect from a bar experience. I would say that the Middle East and Dubai in particular is catching up with cities such as London, Singapore and New York in terms of the three or four seriously good bars we have here. If we keep supporting talent in the way that we have in recent years, I can certainly see one or two bars making The World’s 50 Best Bars list in future editions. Do keep an eye out for the virtual ceremony broadcast on 50 Best Facebook page on 5th November when we will find out if any of our home grown bars have made it!
It’s obviously a tough time, but are you positive about the future?
Yes, without a doubt I think the bar industry will bounce back stronger than ever. All over the world, bartenders and bars have been thinking creatively in order to pursue new revenue streams while they were in periods of enforced closure. Now that most are able to reopen, these revenue streams are going to continue. I hope that in roughly a year’s time, things will begin to feel ‘normal’. To get back to this position, it’s absolutely vital that guests go out and support their favourite bars and start building confidence back up.
People will also cherish these hospitality experiences a lot more – lockdown was hard on everyone. Now people appreciate how lucky we are to have great bars and restaurants to go in and enjoy in a way perhaps they didn’t before.