What Makes a Rum Bar Great?

What Makes a Rum Bar Great?

It would be very easy to list a few of my favourite Rum bars and call it a day, but what sets these aside? Why do I think they are good, and are they ‘always’ going to be good?

Here are the 'must haves' and 'key details' to tip a good Rum bar into the very best.

The X-factor

An absolute ‘must have’ for any bar is that ‘X-factor’- the general appeal and ambience that makes you want to go back. Any bar that only has one-time visitors is not likely to survive very long. Footfall is the lifeblood – assuming its patrons are spending money – bars are a business after all.

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The devil’s in the detail, and perhaps location, decoration and even the music all combine in that special way. Of course, if you don’t have the Rums, or the staff that know about them, then you’re never going to cut it.

So, can a specialist spirits bar – in our case Rum lead – get away with not being quite as complete? And the answer is ‘no’ – in fact being a specialist probably makes it all the harder.

The Right Staff

Knowledgeable and enthusiastic staff are also the common denominator for any successful bar, but balancing enthusiasm with the ability to be unbiased, or not obviously brand lead is key. Engendering a sense of trust means that the guests are more likely to feel the desire to explore styles and specific Rums.

I have a vivid recollection of just this as one of my earliest visits to Trailer Happiness may have started with cocktails, but quickly lead to perusing the Rum selection on the menu.

Being lost in the endless possibilities and unable to make a decision, I simply asked for the bartender’s choice, which arrived at our table with a quick explanation of the key details and was duly consumed in short order. Buoyed by the success of the first, I repeated this request...

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The third Rum arrived in the company of the bartender himself – keen to verify the selections sent had been well received, and we chatted for a while (and a friendship was made). I suspect he won’t remember the moment, but it not only reinforced my growing love for Rum, it also firmly nailed down my love for the bar. So, thank you James Winn-Williams – you’re a star!

Must-Have: Knowledge and enthusiasm
Key detail: The ability to be unbiased and work with Rummies of all experience.

Sufficient Rum

So, is having lots (and lots) of different bottles sufficient to be the best Rum bar? A truism applies that quality over quantity is probably best.

The Merchant House of Bow Lane has an immense selection of amazing Rum, a good proportion of which are rare, difficult to get hold of and therefore expensive, but the bar’s policy is that if a Rum doesn’t feature – then it’s because it doesn’t offer something to the greater good.

It’s not the same as saying that they only have one Barbadian Rum (because they have a number), but it needs to have a unique selling point - be it producer, age, or presentation strength. And perhaps the Gargano Classification can help us there?

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Having lots of light, modern Rum is actually economically easy to achieve, but isn’t going to convince anyone that you’re serious.

Having some pure pot still Rums, alongside some pot/column blends, alongside some traditional spirit column Rums is the key, then factoring in molasses as a base vs. cane juice (or agricole), and then Cachaça varieties. Moreover, having Jamaican pure single Rums, alongside Barbados pure single Rums allows you to explore the difference in regional styles, and that’s important.

Access to hard to source, expensive and rare stock – the sort of things your personal budget perhaps can’t stretch to, but you’d like the option to taste - are the icing on the cake. But even when the top end stuff isn’t what you’re looking to explore, a good bar will be encouraging conversation and exploration by offering the occasional tiny taster of something you’ve not explored before.

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Must have: An extensive range – try as you might, you’re not Rum bar without Rum!
Key details: Avoiding the dross, and ensuring you’ve covered all the bases.

Conclusion? Unbiased bartenders and an appropriately curated backbar should be enough to make the bar stand out as being one of the very best.

Which are your favourite Rum bars and why? Share with us.

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