World's Greatest Hotel Bartenders
New cocktail joints may be mushrooming from Melbourne to St. Mark’s Square, but as finicky drinkers demand better martinis, the real bastions of great drinks mixing aren’t these pop-up stand-alone spots-they’re the (often unheralded) bars hidden inside hotels.
"Hotel bars have always led the pack. There doesn’t seem to be any pretense when it comes to hotel bartenders," explains Charlotte Voisey, a transatlantic cocktail jockey who has designed drinks for New York’s Gramercy Park Hotel and London’s Dorchester, among others. That may be because there’s no one manning the velvet rope or controlling the door inside a hotel; after the doorman, the hotel bartender is often the first person a customer will encounter. "You never know when the King of Dubai’s son will walk in," says Voisey, "so you have to assume everyone is a valued guest-and rightly so. It’s about delicacy, discretion, and genuine service."
Voisey explains that hotel bars became cocktail oases during the Prohibition era, when fugitive mixologists like Harry Craddock fled America and set up bolt-holes in European institutions (Craddock landed at the Savoy and was the brains behind its iconic American Bar). Indeed, London is still a hotel-bar hotbed, notably thanks to Giuliano Morandin, the mastermind at the Dorchester.
Today, tucked in the sheltering bastion of a hotel, hotel bars remain reasonably impervious to economic ups and downs, giving them equal parts longevity and kudos. "They’re protected from the economy and the fads and trends that other bars fall victim to," says Voisey. "And because of that support, hotel bars usually have a much tighter training program, along with more investment and expertise."
So, with Voisey’s wisdom on hand, we’ve guzzled our way around the globe to corral a list of the world’s best hotel bartenders. These men and women preside over hotel watering holes from Sydney to San Francisco; some bars are minimalist chic, while others evoke an English country house; a few are storied legends, but most are new, under-the-radar favorites.
At Bemelmans Bar in the Carlyle Hotel in New York City, for example, Brian Van Flandern’s creative, purist approach to bartending includes concocting his own tonic with imported quinine. And at Beijing’s edgy new design hotel, The Opposite House, Aussie cocktail wunderkind Milan Sekmulic mixes delicious drinks with cheeky names like Herbie Goes Detox in the hotel’s bar, Punk and Mesh. What all these hot spots share, though, is a commitment to the perfect cocktail, thanks to the passion and skill of their mixologists.
When it comes to testing a hotel barkeep, Voisey says you should expect them to acknowledge you moments after entering. “It doesn’t take half a second to look up, smile, or wink to acknowledge a guest,” she says. And the best test cocktail? A daiquiri, which every mixologist has heard of but not all have mastered. "It’s a very simple drink," says Voisey, “but it shows whether a bartender can balance sweet and sour."
Hotel: The Dorchester
Bar: The Dorchester Bar
Gloriously old school, the dapper and charming Morandin has been a Dorchester fixture for more than 30 years—but still nabs accolades; he was recently named Bar Manager of the Year at the Class Awards (the Oscars for cocktail masters). He was also chosen for a Tanqueray ad campaign featuring the world’s 10 Best Bartenders, hotel-based or otherwise. Morandin was a crucial partner overseeing the bar’s recent revamp (in concert with designer Thierry Despont), including the sinewy, showstopping long bar.
Signature Cocktail: The Martinez
- 1 oz. Dorchester Old Tom Gin
- 1 1/2 oz. Punt e Mes
- 1/2 oz. Maraschino Luxardo
- Dash of Dorchester Boker’s bitters
Shake together and strain into a martini glass. Squeeze an orange twist and drop into drink.
Hotel: The Hilton Sydney
Bar: Zeta Bar
Britain-born, America-trained, and Australia-based Collins is a global cocktail force. He’s consulted on bars and lists from New Jersey to Kuala Lumpur, and is known for his knack for reinventing classic cocktails—in one case, deconstructing a Cuba Libre so that the lime-cola mix was a giant frozen cube and the rum slowly melted it (translation: the faster you drink, the stronger the cocktail). The best place to taste his creations, though, is at the sexy, low-lit bar at the Hilton Sydney, where you’ll often find Collins tweaking new concepts.
Signature Cocktail: Cytrus Sorbet Gimlet
- 2 1/2 oz. Belvedere Cytrus
- 1/2 oz. lime cordial
- Dash of sugar syrup
- 1 scoop homemade lemon & lime sorbet*
Shake very well and fine strain into a martini glass. Garnish first with a lemon twist and top with a citrus “air” or emulsion.**
* To make 1/2 liter of lemon & lime sorbet:
- 1 scoop of dry ice
- 2 oz. lemon juice
- 2 oz. lime cordial
- 2 oz. sugar syrup
- 3/4 oz. lemonade
Blend for 30 seconds until sorbet consistency, then super freeze (-20 degrees Celsius) and store.
** To make the citrus emulsion:
- 3 egg whites
- 2 oz. lime cordial
- 1 oz. sugar syrup
Whisk with hand blender for 90 seconds, then scoop “air,” or foam, off the top.
Hotel: The Opposite House
Bar: Punk and Mesh
Twenty-four-year-old Australian Milan Sekmulic is a liquor world wunderkind, who nabbed his first job in an Italian restaurant back home in Canberra at the age of 15 and was managing the bar there a year later. He went on to win his first cocktail-making contest at the age of 21, and was headhunted to open the splashy new bars at one of Beijing’s new boutique hotels, The Opposite House, in 2008. He’s known for his exotic recipes—leaning heavily on gin—as well as his witty cocktail names, like Herbie Goes to Detox and One Handed Lover.
Signature Cocktail: Apple & Ginger Aviation
- 3 thin slices of ginger
- 1/4 green apple
- 2 oz. Tanqueray Gin
- 1/2 oz. apple juice
- 1/2 oz. lemon juice
- 1/4 oz. violet syrup
- 1/4 oz. sugar syrup
Muddle fresh ingredients in shaker, then add remaining ingredients. Shake heavily and double strain. Serve in a martini glass and garnish with pickled ginger.
Roger BlaisNew Orleans
Hotel: The Windsor Court
Bar: The Polo Club Lounge
For classic cocktails prepared to perfection, hole up at this second-floor lounge in downtown New Orleans, presided over by Roger Blais for the last 15 years. Born in Michigan, Blais is a former staffer at the fabled Studio 54 in New York; he first came to the Big Easy to work in the oil business and was then lured back to bartending. He’s a scotch and cognac buff known for exceptional skill in making iconic drinks like the Pimm’s Cup, as well as inventing new classics like his decade-old favorite, the French Kiss Martini.
Signature Cocktail: French Kiss Martini
- 1 1/2 oz. Grey Goose Vodka
- 1/3 oz. Cointreau
- 1 1/2 oz. Lillet Blonde
Pour ingredients in a martini shaker over ice, shake, and strain into martini glass. Garnish with a slice of orange.
Hotel: The Plaza Athénée
Bar: Le Bar du Plaza Athénée
Paris-born-and-trained Hernandez (who was working at the storied George V hotel soon after his 16th birthday) is one of the gurus of molecular mixology. He shot to fame 10 years ago with his playful tweaks on classics—geléed cocktails served on glass plates with wooden skewers, canapé-style—as well as more space-age touches, including drinks served with flavored atomizers whose mist should be spritzed mid-gulp to provide the final garnish.
Signature Cocktail: Black Mojito
- 10 fresh mint leaves
- 1 teaspoon white crystal sugar
- 1 fresh lime
- 6 fresh blackberries
- 1 oz. Blavod vodka
- 1/2 oz. blackberry liqueur
- 1/2 oz. lemon juice
- 1 oz. soda water
Muddle fresh mint, sugar, lime, and blackberries in glass. Add the Blavod and stir, then add six ice cubes and stir. Fill glass with soda water and stir again. Pour in highball glass, garnish with fresh mint and slice of lime, and serve.
Brian Van FlandernNew York City
Hotel: The Carlyle
Bar: Bemelmans Bar
Van Flandern is a rarity among barkeeps, as his background is blue-chip Michelin (he helmed the bar when Thomas Keller’s Per Se opened in New York in 2004). It wasn’t long before such flair-filled, first-class skills led the storied Bemelmans Bar to poach him and turn over its cocktail list. Known for making food-friendly cocktails, Van Flandern likes to pay special attention to ingredients; he cooks up homemade tonic water using quinine powder imported from Brazil, and even scours the Internet for rare 19th-century bitters to use in re-creating classic recipes.
Signature Cocktail: Agave Gingerita
- 1 egg white
- 1/2 oz. fresh lime juice
- 2 oz. Don Julio Blanco 100% Agave
- 1 oz. fresh-squeezed ginger juice
- 1/2 oz. agave nectar
- 1/16 oz. Amaretto
Shake egg white and lime juice in Boston shaker tin until frothy. Add ice and remaining ingredients and shake vigorously again. Serve in rocks glass with candied ginger garnish.
Marcovaldo DionysosSan Francisco
Hotel: The Westin St. Francis
Bar: The Clock Bar
Trained in Portland, Oregon, Dionysos was such a local legend that his defection to San Francisco 13 years ago sparked a tongue-in-cheek obit in the local alternative weekly. Now he’s a liquor fixture in this foodie city, one of the founding members of the local chapter of the United States Bartenders’ Guild, and a self-admitted cocktail geek who’s accrued a collection of more than 300 vintage cocktail books.
Signature Cocktail: Chartreuse Swizzle
- 1 1/4 oz. green chartreuse
- 1/2 oz. Velvet Falernum
- 1 oz. pineapple juice
- 3/4 oz. lime
Build in a tall glass, add crushed ice, and stir. Garnish with a mint sprig and nutmeg.
Patricia RichardsLas Vegas
Hotel: Wynn Encore
Bar: The East Side Lounge
The Vancouver-born Richards started out as a line cook in restaurants before joining the front of house as a bartender. The tequila-loving, seven-year veteran now masterminds the lists at Wynn Encore’s entire bar collection—a 26-strong clutch of venues—but she’s most often found mixing margaritas with fresh sour mix (no bottled juices, thank you very much) at the East Side Lounge in the new Encore annex.
Signature Cocktail: Sinatra Smash
- 4 fresh blackberries
- 1 1/2 oz. fresh Sweet & Sour
- 1/4 oz. Sonoma Vanilla–infused simple syrup
- 1/2 oz. Briotett Crème de Cassis
- 1 1/2 oz. Gentleman Jack Tennessee Whiskey
In a mixing glass, muddle blackberries and Sweet & Sour. Add remaining ingredients and shake with ice until chilled. Strain over crushed ice in an old-fashioned glass. Garnish with mint sprig dusted with powdered sugar and serve.
Hotel: The Peninsula, Tokyo
More than anywhere else, Japan’s rarefied, retro bartending scene is strictly an all-boys’ club, which makes Kamata’s commanding position as bar czar at the sky-high bar on top of the new Peninsula hotel all the more impressive. In the last 10 years, she’s risen from waitress to mixologist, passing the rigorous certification from the Hotel Bartenders Association and acing several local cocktail contests. Kamata is well known for her Tokyo Joe cocktail, which features a slug of Humphrey Bogart’s much-loved Drambuie and is served by the hotel in a specially designed glass.
Signature Cocktail: Tokyo Joe
- 3/4 oz. Bombay Sapphire Gin
- 1/2 oz. Drambuie
- 3/4 oz. ume liquor
- 1 1/2 oz. cranberry juice
- 1/2 oz. fresh lemon juice
Pour all ingredients into a cocktail shaker, top with ice, shake well, and strain into a martini glass.
Hotel: The Delano
Bar: The Florida Room
Now reigning over the retro, Cuba-inspired basement den designed by Lenny Kravitz, 27-year veteran Lermayer was first lured to Miami from New York’s Hamptons with the chance to run the bar behind much-mourned nightclub Groove Jet. He’s a whiskey-loving standout who snagged first place in the Bar Chef Challenge at 2008’s Tales of the Cocktail (mixologists’ booze-sodden answer to the Olympics).
Signature Cocktail: Jackie Rose
- 1 1/2 oz. Jack Daniels
- 1 oz. rosemary simple
- 1/2 oz. lemon juice
- 2 dash maple syrup
- 1 1/2 oz. apple cider
Shake, strain over ice into cut-crystal rocks glass, garnish with rosemary sprig and Amareno cherry, and serve.