You can tell a lot about a spot at the back — the collection of dots that are illuminated behind the bartender’s head. This is where a business advertises its pricing spirits, specialties and discussion points. A well-constructed rear beam speaks volumes. But one that has been done badly is the Tower of Babel – a cacophony of conflicting brands. And this is one of the reasons why some of the world’s most interesting bars are now putting the rear beam on ‘mute’. The Bauhaus-inspired interior of the Bar with shapes for a name in east London has no backrest. Instead, the leadwood alcove where the bottles should be is left empty, as a “frame” for curiosities such as the chess set belonging to co-owner Remy Savage. “When you put 300 bottles in front of people, they just go after what they know,” says Savage, who is also creative director of The syndicate in Paris, “but in this way you can have a conversation with them. The less information you give them, the more attention you get.”
Down the road at Tayer & Elementary, the industrial-style drinking hole that belongs to the bar stars Alex Kratena and Monica Berg, the usual beauty parade with bottles is also nowhere to be seen. “I personally do not want to pollute the space we put so much effort into designing and building with hundreds of brands,” says Kratena. However, the couple’s own brand, which includes bottles of cocktails and lifestyle ephemera, has been discreetly proven – a sign of the increasingly strong commercial identity that some bartenders now carry.
Operation dagger in Singapore was one of the first to be backless. “I wanted to bring back that element of surprise that made me fall in love with bars at the beginning of my career,” says co-founder Luke Whearty. His new venture Byrdi, in Melbourne, also does not have a backrest – design, he says, “to shift the focus more from the spirits and alcohol to the seasonal products we use in an effort to bring small producers in Australia into the spotlight farm.”
A bar without well-known brands can be disorienting – and some use it a lot. At the mysterious Berlin speakeasy Buck and BreckAll the spirits are served from bottles with an identical appearance, marked with stripes coded with color, understood only by the staff. Buying a drink becomes an act of trust.
For the exciting clinical bar of Hong Kong Penicillin, the motive for getting rid of the backrest was not only aesthetic – it was also environmentally important. The bar has signed up with Ecospirits, a company that distributes spirits in refillable barrels — an eco-friendly format that I am almost certain we will see more of in the future.
It turns out that a little silence is also a great way to make yourself heard.