Every hotel bar is imbued with potential excitement and significance. Each should carry a sign, as if adapted from some faux Irish pub, saying: “Lovers are strangers waiting to happen,” or some such. They are, by definition, transitory places, and yet permanent. The fellow passenger who catches your eye skipping through departures is departing for somewhere else. The lingerer at the hotel bar may linger longer.
Governments have been formed in hotel bars, deals struck, artistic ideas of culture-shifting consequence exchanged.
Certain cities excel in creating hotel bars as destinations as and of themselves. London is one. England owes its cocktail culture to the American Bar at the Savoy Hotel. Hotel bars in Dublin are sewn into its rich literary fabric.
Amsterdam’s like to flaunt with fame while Turin’s keep with tradition by offering early-evening aperitivi in the city of their invention. Geneva’s have tradition, plus lakeside and Alpine views, and now add contemporary invention to the drinks options.
Sophisticated, cosmopolitan and dang expensive Geneva has inventive hotel bars to match the setting. Prime spot N’vY combines cutting-edge mixology with contemporary art, DJ sessions and snacks such as hand-cut beef tartare and assorted Swiss cheeses. Imbibery-wise, look out for house creations such as the Smokey N’vY with Rémy Martin cognac, Calvados and cigar fumes, and the Swiss Geisha. Winner at Geneva Cocktail Week 2016—yes, there is such a thing—this tea-infused concoction has as its spirit base Nginious gin, a herbal domestic blend from Rümlang, smoked and salted.
If splashing Swiss francs isn’t an issue, go whole hog at the Living Room Bar at five-star Hôtel de la Paix. With the Lake Geneva on one side and the Alps on the other, $22 for a Genev(a) Tonic of Corenwyn genever gin, home-made ricola syrup and Fentiman’s herbal tonic probably constitutes a bargain. Alternatively, Switzerland’s premier contemporary craft beer, Chopfab from Winterthur, goes for under $10.
Approaching its 200th anniversary, the stately Shelbourne Hotel, suitably fronted by Europe’s largest garden square, St Stephen’s Green, houses a hostelry of almost equal stature. True, the Irish Constitution wasn’t drafted in the shiny wooden surroundings of the Horseshoe Bar – that was in room 112 – but you can bet your boots the signees raised a Guinness afterwards. Maybe even a Black Velvet—it was said to have been invented here in the 1870s. Literary connections too numerous to list include a namecheck in ‘Ulysses’, while Cagney, Rock Hudson and Laurel & Hardy number among the cinematic carousers.
For contemporary cocktails, stay southside but a stagger from the Liffey—the impeccable Mint Bar at The Westin Dublin should still be offering its 16 Rising selection. Representing a journey through the Dublin of 1916 legend, this cocktail collation also celebrates the long history of the Westin building itself.
With everything so virtual these days, why not have a hotel called Hotel not Hotel, and in it a bar called … Kevin Bacon? “We don’t need to be all that special—we’re Kevin Bacon,” claims the bar promo but cocktails in this west Amsterdam locale are as stand-out as Bacon in JFK. Vodka-based combinations Alone In Kyoto with Matcha tea powder and Napoleon Speaks Mandarin with mandarin liqueur and cane-sugar syrup can’t be found elsewhere—that’s right, drinks (and food) at Kevin Bacon hop around the Far East.
If Kevin Bacon has a Bacon number of six, then the Hotel Prins Hendrik, facing the grand façade of Centraal Station, has a significant Baker factor. It was here that doomed jazzster Chet plunged to his death from a second-floor window in May 1988. The terrace bar of this modest but affordable three-star allows you to raise a Heineken to that heartbreaking rendition of “My Funny Valentine” beneath Baker’s plaque.
Capital of Piedmont, north-west Italy, Turin invented the aperitivo. At the appointed hour, usually 6 p.m., a sumptuous array of prime cold cuts, cheeses and quiches are spread amid a chic clientele sipping on glasses of Cinzano, a local creation of 250 years standing. During aperitivi, your pricier drinks allow access to the buffet, to be perused with taste not devoured like the Tasmanian Devil.
The American Bar at the Grand Hotel Sitea, a century-old pile on prominent via Carlo Alberto, may not match the glitz of the gilded Caffe Platti but provides a relaxed lead-in to the evening after a hard day’s gallery gawping.
With once grand local hotels now just links in international chains, it’s a relief to find one in Turin that’s independent, arty and individual – with a bar to match. Take a bow, Hotel Boston Torino, whose Bar Fibonnaci is quirky, slick with its mixed drinks and gives out onto a pretty, private garden. All ten minutes from the bustle of main Porta Nuova train station.
Harry Craddock brought cocktail drinking to England. A barman at hotels in New York, this Gloucestershire-born emigré left the States after Prohibition and arrived in London with an American accent. Taken on by The Savoy, Craddock creates hundreds of varieties, served to London’s pre-war glitterati, gaining the American Bar global profile. His own Savoy Cocktail Book since ran to six editions—though Craddock himself died in poverty, unrewarded. So, the American Bar. Like the historic lodging itself, this Art Deco landmark was reopened in 2000 after a three-year rebuild, its character retained and enhanced. Craddock-era jazz standards accompany quality Martini sipping as past guest Sinatra looks on in framed-photo form.
For a contemporary yet indisputably classy take on stomping at the Savoy, then the American Bar at The Beaumont is all walnut finish and time-honoured bourbon, not five minutes from Oxford Street.
Image: Hotel de la Paix Genève/ Flickr CC BY-SA
Budapest-based Peterjon Cresswell runs Libero Guide, a worldwide travel guide for soccer fans.