Everything you need to know about the bar with the finest cocktail menu in the world

Mark Sansom - 28/01/2022


The Siete Misterios Best Cocktail Menu Award had its first outing at The World’s 50 Best Bars 2021, sponsored by Perrier. The inaugural winner was Lab 22 in Cardiff, the capital of Wales in the west of the UK. 50 Best meets the Lab 22 crew to look at the process behind the development of its world-beating menu and how it plans to put Wales on the map in the global cocktail community

The menu is perhaps the most important element of any cocktail bar. Beyond the initial visual cues and welcome, it’s the first contact point a guest has with the venue and will, most likely, be paramount in defining their experience. It’s also a document that a team may spend months, even years, crafting. The research and development process into the drinks, the hours’ painstaking work on the design, the selection of paper stock, colourways and indeed imagery are but a few of the variables that any bar worth its salt rim will consider at length before hitting ‘print’.

In order to give these artistic creations the airtime they deserve – and to show consumers the huge graft that goes into creating them – 50 Best launched the Siete Misterios Best Cocktail Menu Award as part of its 2021 programme. Any bars, anywhere in the world, were able to submit their menu, a supporting statement, multimedia and other information in order for them to be judged by 50 Best’s panel of 28 Academy Chairs from all over the globe.

Over 200 entries were whittled down to a shortlist of five. At the ceremony for The World’s 50 Best Bars in December 2021, all these bars were represented to hear the live announcement of who took the inaugural crown.

To the surprise of many – though certainly not of those who have seen the bar, its menu and met its staff – the diminutive Lab 22 in Cardiff, UK was announced victorious.

“The 50 Best event was up there with the best nights ever,” says Max Hayward, head bartender at Lab 22. “Up against so many other amazing bars we really didn’t expect to win – I don’t think I have ever been so surprised, but obviously ridiculously happy, when our name was announced.”
The Lab 22 team received the Siete Misterios Best Cocktail Menu Award in London at The World's 50 Best Bars 2021

The other bars Hayward refers to are 50 Best list big-hitters Little Red Door, Paris; Himkok, Oslo; Bar Trigona, Kuala Lumpur; and Bövem, Bordeaux. All of them except Bövem had featured in a 50 Best list before.

“The immediate aftermath has been crazy, we’ve had interviews with Japanese magazines, loads of bartenders getting in touch from all over the world to say congratulations, lots of offers for brand partnerships and a load more Instagram followers,” says Hayward.
The Where To Next You Goin' flowchart, supporting local businesses surrounding Lab 22

Immaculate conception

The winning menu for Lab 22 is entitled Theories + Frontiers and comes as the final instalment of a trilogy of cocktail lists that have been released over five years. The Siete Misterios Best Cocktail Menu Award lands just as Lab 22 celebrates its tenth birthday, so marks a special time for Hayward – who’s been with the bar for four years – and its ultra-popular owner, Pajtim Tani Hasa.

The work behind Theories + Frontiers is evident as soon as anyone picks up a copy. Alongside the cocktails themselves – each of which features a bespoke illustration from a local artist – there is a ‘Drop Matrix’, essentially a graph with the drink’s characteristics on the X axis and the cocktail name on the Y axis, which is used to easily interpret its flavour profile and style of drink, be it bitter, sharp, sweet or strong, along with the glassware it’s served in.
Lab 22's menu, Theories + Frontiers includes a 'Drop Matrix', helping guests to decide which cocktail to order

The menu concludes with a hugely innovative trope for cocktail menus: a flowchart entitled Where To Next You Goin’, a play on Welsh vernacular. Essentially, it’s designed to aid guests in their decision of where to head to after their visit to the bar. It helps support local businesses by driving customers and indeed, is the team’s best advice for where to eat and drink in the area – it’s common knowledge across the globe that bartender recommendations are failsafe.

“The Covid lockdown really gave us the opportunity to push ourselves in terms of research,” says Hayward. “Each team member would take a concept and go away and research it for a week. Take our Snakebite Negroni, for example. One of the guys went away and learnt about venom and venom extraction. Meanwhile, another went away to research apple-focussed drinks. When we brought all the information together to start experimenting with flavour profiles, it blew everyone away [Snakebite, a questionable British concoction, traditionally contains a 50/50 mix of cider and lager often topped with blackcurrant cordial, popular among students].”
Lab 22's Snakebite Negroni, illustrated in the Theories + Frontiers menu

Hayward is keen to put across that no one drink has ownership by any one staff member and that each is a team effort. “We have three central pillars behind our ideology as a business,” he explains. “They are community, accessibility and transparency. Everything we do we relates back to these. So for community, we support local producers, suppliers and businesses with every drink, and it extends beyond the cocktails, such as the artists we use, where we print and the local charities we donate to. We see it as in days gone by, where the pub was the centre of the community – there is no reason why a cocktail bar can’t be a modern counterpart.”

He is also keen to pay homage to Lab 22’s host city, the Welsh capital, Cardiff. “The bar community here is so tight knit; everyone helps each other out,” says Hayward. “If you run out of a bottle on a Saturday night, you know you can head down to one of the other independent venues and they’ll be happy to lend it. I’ve heard stories about other cities where a rival bar might say ‘No Espresso Martinis for them tonight…’. There’s no dog-eat-dog attitude; everyone is in it together.”

Lab 22 resides above fast-food outlet Greggs – a mass-market bakery with a mixed reputation in the UK – on a street nicknamed ‘Chip Alley’, for the number of late-night convenience outlets patronised by party-goers leaving bars and nightclubs. The service it has built is recharacterising its city’s bar scene and putting Cardiff on the map as a genuine cocktail destination. “Our motto here is a simple one: ‘nice drinks for nice people’,” says Hayward. “No matter your walk of life, everyone is catered for. We want to show people that good cocktails should not be exclusive and that there’s a drink for everyone.”

The 13th edition of The World’s 50 Best Bars was announced on Tuesday, 7th December, 2021 at a live awards ceremony in London. To stay up to date with all news and announcements, browse the website and follow us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube.