Atelier Cocktail Bar

29 Jan. 2019
A cocktail oasis in an unexpected place

The 5 best bars in the world according to World’s 50 Best Bars are hotel bars. Don’t let that fact fool you: it’s much easier to create a great, independent bar than to open a hotel bar. Many clients think twice before heading to a hotel cocktail bar: they feel they’re intruding if they’re not staying at the hotel, and the atmosphere tends to be more stuffy than at your regular bar. For the people behind the bar, while they may expect better wages and less hours if they’re unionised, purchases from a simple bar spoon to new products need to go through administrative hell, creating frustrations, especially for the younger, hipper bartenders. 

But hotel bars have strong pros: captive clients and, for luxury hotels, greater budgets. Canny hoteliers have turned to crafty operators in order to convert their bars into places where people want to come and drink. From the Artesian to the Connaught, the NoMad to the Broken Shaker, the Manhattan to the Punch Room, their ambitious programs and marketing savviness have led them to triumph. 

This approach is not possible everywhere, though. When you look at the best bars lists, hotel bars always seem to be located in big, global cities. That’s why one particular bar caught our attention last summer when Tales of the Cocktail released their regional lists: the top 10 European hotel bars one. As expected, it was filled with London and Paris hotels. The last spot, though, was taken by an unlikely candidate: Atelier Cocktail Bar, in Playa del Inglés. For those who have never heard of the place, it’s a small resort town in the Canary Islands, Spain. And the least we can say, it’s that it’s not known for high-end drinking or dining... The strip along the beach is a succession of paella + rosé bundles, cheap Chinese or German pubs with heavy music. Not a fertile area for a premier cocktail bar, one would think !

That’s  precisely where we would be wrong. It’s not because an offer doesn’t exist that demand isn’t there. « If you build it, they will come »: that was more or less German entrepreneur Rembert Euling bet when he decided to turn an old hotel into the city’s first five stars establishment. His intuition was that he would find enough people willing to pay extra to make it a sensible business proposition. And so Bohemia Suites & Spa was born and awards followed. General Manager Fernando Calvo also decided that he needed top shelf food & beverage.

Initially, Calvo did what everyone does and hired a consultant. Raimondo Palomba, an Italian bartender, had spent a few years honing his skills in London and Madrid. He had decided to check out the Canary Islands, thinking that there would be demand from hotel resorts. He was not wrong, but his clients were not what one would call ambitious until he ran into the Bohemia project. What was meant as a contract for a few months — developing the bar concept, launching it and that’s it — turned into a long term relationship. Instead of hiring a F&B director, Calvo had decided to trust the professional who would work at the bar. The greater flexibility this arrangement offers is instrumental in the bar’s success.

Located on the hotel’s rooftop and offering a stunning view on the sea and the Maspalomas dunes, Atelier was bound to attract a lot of trade. To have people come in is one thing, to have them order cocktails is an altogether different proposition. Palomba went for a double dynamic: the familiar and the surprising. Basically, Atelier offers recognisable cocktails — say a twist of a Piña Colada or a Dry Martini — redone in a way that’s surprising enough to stay in the mind — the Piña Colada is based on a toasted coconut-infused rum mixed with charcoal-grilled spiced pineapple and curry and coconut water syrup. In a way, Palomba takes inspiration from the work of the Nightjar of the early years but with approachable drinks that are still compelling enough to seduce even experienced drinkers. And since this is Spain, every drink comes with a specific small bite. Although they could just as easily have let the chef and his team work on that — next door’s 360 restaurant is excellent — the bartenders actually take responsibility for thinking up and cooking the food that will go with their drink.

Other activities, such as live music every night, are meant to cement Atelier’s place as a destination bar where people not staying at the hotel feel very welcome. But really, for cocktail lovers, the drink program is strong enough on its own to impress. That such a beautiful spot was allowed to blossom in such an unlikely locale should serve as an inspiration: to say that clients are not ready for advanced cocktails is the easy way out; with drive, inspiration and, above all, vision, you can really make it anywhere.

François Monti