Simone Caporale and Marc Álvarez have been involved with venues previously ranked The World’s Best Bar and The World’s Best Restaurant respectively. Together, they make one of the most formidable teams in global hospitality and are the masterminds behind revolutionary Barcelona bar, Sips. François Monti meets both men to speak about their recent Nikka Highest Climber win at The World’s 50 Best Bars 2022 and how they have taken the traditional bar concept apart and rebuilt it, drink by drink
Sips has been open for less than 18 months but it has already become a cocktail landmark. After barely six months in operation, the Barcelona bar led by international cocktail legends Marc Álvarez and Simone Caporale broke into The World’s 50 Best Bars 2021 list at an impressive No.37 position. Less than a year on, at the 2022 ceremony in Barcelona, Sips landed at No.3 in the ranking, receiving the Nikka Highest Climber Award as it did so. An impressive feat, especially for a bar opened in June 2021, when the pandemic was still raging.
“I’m still digesting it. We had hoped to place in the mid-twenties,” says Caporale. “In fact,” quips Álvarez, “we were starting to think they had made a mistake and we weren’t actually on the list. And then they named us third.” It was a big moment for them, one “that changes nothing but changes everything at the same time,” he adds. “It’s something that helps us forget the sacrifices we had to make to get here.”
Caporale and Álvarez are not exactly newcomers to the upper echelons of the global bar scene. The former rose to fame in London as one half of the creative team that led Artesian to four consecutive World’s Best Bar titles between 2012 and 2015. The latter spent almost a decade working side by side with chef Albert Adrià, formerly of Best of the Best restaurant El Bulli, in Roses, near Barcelona.
When Caporale relocated to the Catalonian city after leaving London, both men got to know each other and decided to launch a project. As the collective brainchild of two men with some of the best resumes in the bar industry, expectations were high for Sips. If we go by the bar’s performance on The World’s 50 Best Bars list in 2021 and 2022, it did not disappoint. “I think we managed to get this high because we did not get distracted this past year,” says Caporale. “This is something that we constantly remind the rest of our team: let’s do our thing and follow our philosophy.”
Álvarez (left) and Caporale joined forces in Barcelona to launch Sips with a wealth of hospitality experience behind them
This, among other things, meant not taking Sips on the road. Unlike many bars who spread the word through guest shifts or takeovers, Caporale argues that Sips is about what happens within Sips: “We think the future of the bar is inside the bar.” Álvarez is simpatico: “What we do at Sips is difficult to export.” So instead of travelling globally to represent their brand, the duo offered internships at Sips. Overall, 15 different ‘stagiaires’ discovered the bar from the inside, staying between three weeks and a month, with some later becoming permanent members of the team.
Defining the undefinable
But what exactly is Sips? “It's more than a bar, it’s a way to share our knowledge and passion,” explains Álvarez. “We do high-couture cocktails at prêt-à-porter prices.” While they see many bars with a tendency towards florid drinks, Caporale says their focus is applied to “making the difficult simple. We work by removing, not by adding.”
A couple of drinks from the opening menu have already become iconic serves. Krypta (clarified kiwi, calvados and gin) is one of the most Instagrammed cocktails at the bar: it comes served into a bespoke oval-shaped vessel with an opening into which drinkers must introduce their nose and mouth. “It’s a statement of what we are about,” Álvarez explains. “You see a lot of nice and shiny glasses, but this one has a function: it enhances the flavours of the drink.” Another one is Bubble (vodka, passion fruit, vanilla, bubbles), which is finished tableside with a spectacular flavoured bubble. It never fails to catch the attention. “People are having so much fun when we do that, and we tend to forget that’s why they go to bars,” Álvarez argues.
The Krypta is designed to trick you – where fresh tarragon, bay leaf and thyme exist only in aroma
This doesn’t mean that Sips doesn't do hifalutin concepts – Caporale mentions the Frida Kahlo (tequila, Mexican corn liqueur, fino sherry, tomatillo), a cocktail inspired by “the geometry of the house” of the famed painter. The pair’s focus is on making their creativity relatable and the space’s design is a big part of that. Sips is a bar without… a bar (which is perhaps why they call it a ‘drinkery house’ instead). Cocktails are prepared on a small island placed centrally so that it doesn’t act as a barrier between guests and staff, and then finished at the table.
“We wanted to be the most democratic bar in the world," says Álvarez. "From every single seat in the bar, you can see what happens at the workstation,” he adds. Caporale echoes their mission: “By not having the bar act as a barrier, you can invest into the human aspect of the experience. We never ask the guests if they like their drink. We ask them if they’re having a good time.” By breaking up the normal structure of what guests expect a cocktail bar to look like, Sips is offering an experience that owes a lot to fine dining, as Álvarez readily admits. “Service is one of the jewels of Sips. We take care of every single second and every single detail of what’s happening to the guest.” But, and this is very important to underline, the attentive service is never overbearing and doesn’t get in the way of what a bar experience should be. “We’re selling moments more than drinks,” Álvarez adds.
The duo has recently announced their first venture outside of Barcelona, with Glass by Sips due to open shortly in Madrid, within the Urban Hotel. “Glass used to be the hotel’s iconic bar,” says Caporale. “Let’s say that Glass is the car and the engine is Sips – we plug in certain standards and concepts. You’ll recognise certain things if you’ve been to Barcelona but it won’t be cut and paste and it certainly won’t be a franchise.” The two men have also taken over the management of Boadas, one of Barcelona’s truly historic bars, where they plan to stay true to its history and heritage with the redesign.
Sips will soon house a second bar within its current location — but don't call it a speakeasy
However, Álvarez and Caporale’s most eye-catching news is the opening of a second bar within Sips – just don’t call it a speakeasy: “The room at the end of the corridor is not a hidden bar; it’s just the room at the end of the corridor,” quips Caporale. Esencia, as the space is called, will offer an immersive cocktail experience to 14 guests at a time. Both men remain quite coy about what to expect, but creativity and innovation are bound to be recurrent tropes. “It’s a space to go beyond certain limits,” muses Caporale. “Our creativity will be a bit more introspective,” Álvarez adds. “It’s going to be ‘outside of the box’, at least compared to what you usually see in a cocktail scenario.”
With Esencia at the back and the Drinkery House at the front, Sips is becoming one bar with two souls. Will this intriguing concept propel them higher up The World’s 50 Best Bars list next year? “We’ll talk about next year next year,” Álvarez tells us. “For now, we have one year to celebrate the Nikka Highest Climber Award 2022.” And well they should.
Relive The World's 50 Best Bars Awards 2022 ceremony in Barcelona below:
The list of The World’s 50 Best Bars 2022, sponsored by Perrier, was announced on Tuesday, 4th October at a live awards ceremony in Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain. To stay up to date with all news and announcements, browse the website and follow us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube.