Hotel Bars: The Best for Cocktails
Published: June 2009
By Hugh Garvey
If the bed is the heart of a hotel, then the bar is its soul. From the colonial swagger of the Chater Lounge at the Ritz-Carlton, Hong Kong, to the big-martini, big-cigar bar at Chicago's Four Seasons, the hotel bar is never just an outpost. For travelers it can be an opulent decompression chamber-a halfway point between the quiet refuge of the hotel room and the foreign expanse beyond. For locals, it's a way to leave home without straying too far. So grab a stool, slouch in a lounge chair, or sink into an overstuffed settee and take a trip to the thirties speakeasy, to fifties Hollywood, or to today's latest hangout.
AND GOD CREATED THE COCKTAIL Fernand Petiot concocted the first Bloody Mary at Harry's New York Bar in Paris but perfected it at the St. Regis's King Cole Bar & Lounge, where he was hired after prohibition. There's a Maxfield Parrish mural of Old King Cole snickering with his jesters; oak-paneled walls burnished to a glossy sheen; and stools that hug you with hide. 2 E. 55th St., New York; martini $12.
MONKEY BUSINESS For a taste of post-Prohibition giddiness, stop by the Hotel Elysée's Monkey Bar, the most whimsical period piece among New York's hotel bars. The stools look like oversize martini olives, and simians gambol about on a stylized jungle mural. Soak up the retro feel with a highball. 60 E. 54th St., New York; martini $9.
THE SPY WHO CAME IN FOR A COLD ONE Leave it to Hitchcock to find menace at the Plaza hotel. In North by Northwest Cary Grant, playing a hapless ad exec, is mistaken for a spy at the Oak Bar. Where else, just an olive's throw from Central Park, would debonair businessmen and double agents relax from their respective duties?Today, you're likely to run into trouble at the Oak Bar only if you're wearing shorts. But pass sartorial muster and you can have one of the frosty martinis that fortified Grant before his tussle with a crop duster. 768 Fifth Ave., New York; martini $10.
SUB-ROSA SOUSING Close to all the SoHo shopping but screened from the day-trippers is the bar at New York's Mercer hotel. The waitstaff is decked out in Gucci-style brown-and-gray uniforms-the crowd follows suit. 99 Prince St., New York; martini $9.75.
NOW AND THEN Everything old is new again. Though established less than a decade ago, the Ritz Bar at the Ritz-Carlton, San Francisco, is the epitome of the classic hotel bar: all dark wood paneling, leather club chairs, and plantation shutters. Today, instead of a phalanx of private humidors, it has one of the city's best sushi chefs. 600 Stockton St., San Francisco; martini $9.50.
A favorite of San Franciscans of all stripes, the Tonga Room & Hurricane Bar at the Fairmont Hotel is a Polynesian freak-out on Nob Hill with palm trees, Easter Island-esque monoliths, and a floating thatched bandstand doused hourly by a mechanical rainstorm. 950 Mason St., San Francisco; martini $7.50.
The Hotel Nacional de Cuba once played host to Meyer Lansky, Ava Gardner, and Nat King Cole. And it's still glam. What with today's nuevo latino food-and-drink craze, you don't have to go to Cuba for a mojito (rum, lemon, and bitters), and it's a good thing, too, because you can't--legally, that is. Calle O and Calle 21, Vedado, Havana, Cuba; martini $4.
CALIFORNIA DREAMING Long before ecotourism entered the lexicon, the Clift Hotel in San Francisco built the Redwood Room. Gustav Klimt reproductions and streamlined Art Deco motifs adorn walls lovingly paneled in redwood. 495 Geary St., San Francisco; martini $8.
Our image of the forties is formed by black-and-white movies, but the refurbished Polo Lounge at the Beverly Hills Hotel gives guests a glimpse of the era in color: hunter-green banquettes, lots of pink, and bold palm-leaf patterns. 9641 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles; martini $7.
Peer into the shining grid of L.A. from the windows of the SkyBar at the Mondrian and imagine the city is lit up to salute your admission to Hollywood's inner sanctum of hipness. But the cool white-on-white interior still doesn't make it okay to order a White Russian. 8440 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood, Calif.; martini $10.
BRITISH VOGUE Though it's housed in London's stripped-down Metropolitan hotel, the Met Bar is a riot of color and form, with a curving brushed-metal-and-wood bar, orange banquettes, and lean leather chairs. Only members and hotel guests get to drink here, but the hordes have been storming the ramparts, threatening to make it last year's news. Old Park Lane, London; martini $11.
Just because the bar at Claridge's in London is finally open to the public doesn't mean it's easy to spot. (The street entrance is distinctly demure.) But once inside this neo-Art Deco lounge you'll get perfect cocktails, genteel service, and that most coveted of British privileges-privacy. Brook St. at Davies St., London; martini $12.
KOOL KATS Early in this century, a tiger apparently wandered into the Long Bar at Raffles Hotel in Singapore and was shot. Its ghost is kept company by those of such literary lions as Somerset Maugham, Rudyard Kipling, Noël Coward, and Joseph Conrad, who frequented the home of the treacly Singapore sling (the bar still serves 1,000 of the drinks every day). 1 Beach Rd., Singapore; martini $9.25.
PLAY IT AGAIN Though the term piano bar conjures weepy divorcées and interminable medleys, New York's Café Carlyle, with resident entertainers Bobby Short and Woody Allen (backed up by the Eddy Davis New Orleans Jazz Band), couldn't be farther from that particular circle of hell. 981 Madison Ave., New York; martini $10.50; cover $50.
STARCKERS In Philippe Starck's world, not all bars require a bar. At Morgan's Bar in Manhattan's Morgans hotel, a simple counter cuts a diagonal swath through a candlelit space filled with dark velvet banquettes and comfy chairs. The waitstaff delivers drinks mixed in a back room. 237 Madison Ave., New York; martini $10.
At the Starck-designed Delano in Miami Beach, chandeliers dangle above the orange counter at the Rose Bar; floor-to-ceiling curtains are all that separate it from the lobby. 1685 Collins Ave., Miami Beach; martini $10.50.
With the rooftop Felix at Hong Kong's Peninsula, all flowing drapery, candles, and mod mood, Starck has made his mark at the highest levels. It looks out over the Kowloon Peninsula and Victoria Harbour. Salisbury Rd., Kowloon, Hong Kong; martini $10.
THREE SHEETS TO THE WINDY CITY Why tipple in the lobby at the Drake Hotel in Chicago and risk bumping into Guido the Killer Pimp (as Tom Cruise did in Risky Business), when you can duck into the Coq d'Or for a more civilized drink?140 E. Walton Place, Chicago; martini $5.75.
DR. MIXOLOGY A Bellini at Cip's, in the Hotel Cipriani on the Venetian lagoon, can be as invigorating as a sea cure. Giudecca 10, Venice; martini $12.
For the less-than-year-old Oasis bar at W New York, designer David Rockwell created an urban New Age look. It embraces an earth-friendly aesthetic with pillow-strewn adobe-toned couches and rough-hewn tables. 541 Lexington Ave., New York; martini $12.
MOVERS AND SHAKERS Though Hemingway preferred Les Deux Magots to the bar named after him at Paris's Hôtel Ritz, where else but at the Hemingway Bar can you watch careless royals sipping Kir Royales?15 Place Vendôme, Paris; martini $18.
At the four-year-old Hôtel Costes, with its Napoleon III look, models and movie stars pad across red plush velvet in the lobby bar to drape themselves over more red velvet. 239 Rue St.-Honoré, Paris; martini $10.
You'll probably have to wait in line behind media titans and models to get a table at Fifty Seven Fifty Seven at New York's Four Seasons, but once you do, bask in the spare elegance and contemplate the soothing properties of tan, gray, and disposable income. 57 E. 57th St., New York, N.Y.; martini $15.
In the Chinnery, on the first floor of the Mandarin Oriental, Hong Kong, British expats indulge in Asia's most extensive collection of single malts-120 of them. At Vong, on the 25th floor of the hotel, the city skyline shimmers at night beyond the glass windows. Young bankers, brokers, and hangers-on call for magnums of Dom Pérignon, but the cocktail menu is as sure a bet as Jean-Georges Vongerichten's cuisine. 5 Connaught Rd., Central, Hong Kong; martini $9.50 at Chinnery, $12.65 at Vong.
Crying over spilled drinks
When my first novel, City of Glass, was nominated for a prize, my publisher came from L.A. for the awards ceremony in New York. After it was over we went to the Algonquin, of course. We were all very broke, but ordered champagne anyway. When the waiter opened the bottle, the champagne spurted all over my only good suit. I haven't been back since.
--Paul Auster, author of Timbuktu: A Novel
I've had more breakups and heart-wrenchers at the Oak Bar than anywhere else-which is odd, since I'm more of a Monkey Bar kind of girl.
--Amy Bloom, author of Love Invents Us
A funny thing happened on the way to the hotel bar
I was at the Delano in South Beach for the Miami Book Fair, and I'd arrived early to meet another writer. I was planning to hang out in the bar, but stopped at the men's room. It was several minutes before I could figure out where the sink was, and then I couldn't understand how to turn on the water. (The next guy who came in had to show me.) By that time, I decided I was better off at a bar up the street.
--Ethan Canin, author of For Kings and Planets
Hugh Garvey originated the Village Voice's bar review column, Liquid City, and is the editor of the U.S. version of the London on-line magazine boom.