Yesterday, Williams & Graham was named one of the World’s 50 Best Bars, becoming the first Denver spot to make the list. We caught up with lead barman and co-owner Sean Kenyon to talk about the prestigious award.
5280: What does it mean to you for Williams & Graham to be one of the World’s 50 Best Bars?
Sean Kenyon: It’s cool for me because I’ve always known that Denver is a well-kept secret. I would hold up the culinary scene to most major cities per capita. The fact that the awards we’ve won—especially this one—put us on the map along with Jen Jasinski winning a [James] Beard Award and what Alex Seidel over at Fruition is doing, then me with Best American Bartender, and now World’s 50 Best Bars, I think it’s really important to our scene all together. Just to see the words “Denver, Colorado” on the list is awesome. We might be one of the smallest cities on there—it’s all New York, Chicago, L.A., San Francisco—but we’re not just a flyover state as far as our culinary scene goes. It doesn’t just have to be the big cities anymore.
5280: In your opinion, what defines the best bar?
SK: The best bar is a culmination of everything that’s happening. It’s not just having the best bartenders or the best recipes. It all boils down to the foundation, which is hospitality. Nobody ever comes to visit a drink. But if [the experience] is warm and welcoming and people treat you well, you’re going to come back. If the staff doesn’t treat you well—no matter how great the drinks were or the atmosphere was—you’re not coming back. All great bars start with great bartenders and hospitality, then it moves on from there. Being called a great bar isn’t about one thing or one person; it is a complete team effort to create a cradle-to-grave experience. From the minute someone walks in the door to the minute they walk out, minding every step is huge. A warm welcome to a cheerful goodbye—everything that happens in between, we can control.
5280: What does hospitality mean to you?
SK: Service and hospitality are two different things, but they have to go together. Executing hospitality takes time and training. It’s on us. The drink-making part is 10 percent of the equation. You can have great drinks in a bunch of different places, but do you feel welcome when you’re there? Are you going to come back? Everybody wants that Cheers feeling, where everyone yells out your name when you walk in the door. Not everyone here is going to yell out your name, but we’re going to recognize you, we’re going to know your name from the time before, and we’re going to know what you drink. The people who work here are conscientious to that point.
5280: What does this award mean for Williams & Graham moving forward?
SK: No award is going to jump off the wall and take care of our guests every night. If we start patting ourselves on the back and forget about the things that brought us to where we are, we’ll just become an afterthought. People will come in with the idea that we’re one of the best bars in the world, so they’re expecting to be blown away by every experience. That puts a little pressure on us, but it’s always been our goal is to blow people away with a great experience.