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Hotel Bars That Travel Editors Love

By Ann Shields

Dec 5, 2019

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Where to sit in Charleston’s Living Room? At the bar means a front-row seat to some serious bartending, but lounging with a classic cocktail on a midcentury modern sofa sounds pretty swell, too.

Courtesy of the Living Room at the Dewberry

Where to sit in Charleston’s Living Room? At the bar means a front-row seat to some serious bartending, but lounging with a classic cocktail on a midcentury modern sofa sounds pretty swell, too.

Selflessly sampling the cocktails at lobby bars and rooftop lounges, seated by firepits and before stunning views, AFAR’s travel editors have compiled a list of favorite places to check out when you’re checking in.

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Do you find yourself glancing over your shoulder at the hotel reception desk to check out the lobby bar? Are you the hotel guest who peruses the cocktail menu with as much attention as you give the other amenities? The kind of cocktail lover who visits the bars of hotels you aren’t even staying in? When AFAR editors realized that many of the tips we exchange about upcoming trips are often about hotel bars, we thought you might want to know our favorites, too. From Tokyo to Tucson, here are some of the best places to get the taste of a new destination.

Teddy’s Bar at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, Los Angeles 

There’s no menu here—just share your preferred spirit(s) and flavor profile with the bartender, and he or she will whip something up using house infusions, fresh produce, and herbs that grow right on the counter. I stopped here on my way to watch the season finale of Breaking Bad and received a spicy citrus concoction that paired perfectly with the desert-set show. Freedom to take the cocktail across the lobby to 24-hour burger joint, 25 Degrees, is a huge plus. —Nicole Antonio, Managing Editor  

Claridge’s Bar, London

Slip onto the leather banquette and nurse a cocktail while keeping an eye on the other customers. You’ll feel like you’ve stumbled onto the set of a movie about terribly discreet romances and drama in the lives of London’s beautiful people. A flute of one of the remarkable champagnes available by the glass (Bollinger, Dom Pérignon, Laurent-Perrier, Ruinart, among others) strikes the proper golden note in Claridge’s art deco gem of a bar. —Ann Shields, Managing Editor, Guides 

With discreet occult imagery in the decor and decidedly potent drinks, Bar Marilou offers a very New Orleans experience.

Bar Marilou at Maison de la Luz, New Orleans

Before you order a cocktail at this sumptuous bar at Maison de la Luz, you’ll have to decide where to sit: There are the tiger-print stools at the bar, the jewel-toned velvet couches, or my favorite—the secret living room behind a bookcase, reserved just for hotel guests. Since the drinks veer very boozy, order a few bites for the table. You’ll want at least one order (or seven) of the Pommes Marilou—crispy layered potatoes topped with crème fraîche and caviar. —Lyndsey Matthews, Destination News Editor 

George Washington Bar at the Freehand NYC

Need a place in Manhattan to meet your very cool uncle for a drink? This dark, library-paneled room, overseen by an oil portrait of the first president hanging behind the carved wood bar, should be your go-to. The intimate space is classic without being stuffy or formal—that’s vintage De La Soul on the sound system and, holy Mount Vernon, can those bartenders mix their way into your heart (order a Georgie’s Hatchet cocktail and thank me later). —AS 

Sit on the deck of the Phum Baitang bar and enjoy an expansive view of the Cambodian countryside.

Cigar & Cocktail Lounge at Phum Baitang Resort, Siem Reap, Cambodia

Housed in a century-old farmhouse furnished with rattan wing chairs and Oriental carpets, this open-sided bar is set on stilts over the vast rice paddies of Phum Baitang, providing only-in-Cambodia views. Go at sunset, grab a seat on the deck, and sip your cocktail while watching the hotel’s resident water buffalos graze in the fields.—Natalie Beauregard, Guides Editor

XR Bar at the Crossroads Hotel, Kansas City, MO

Kansas City has great selling points—fine arts, historic landmarks, and legendary barbecue options—but the city’s recently reclaimed the reputation it held during Prohibition when jazz and speakeasies flourished and boozy comradery reigned. One venue that pays homage to that history, XR, invites hotel guests and locals in for a drink or for the whole evening. This speakeasy hiding in plain sight offers an inventive cocktail menu, decor dominated by ornate light fixtures, and the insider sensation that you’re partaking in one of the city’s favorite pastimes. —Laney Boland, Luxury Sales Manager 

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Broken Shaker at the Freehand Miami

Thank the gods for Broken Shaker. The craft cocktail bar within a high-end hostel gives you a reason to be at a pool party in South Beach without having to wear anything tight or shiny. In fact, you can kick back with an old-fashioned—the actual best I’ve ever had—in a lounge chair beneath twinkle lights and not feel totally idiosyncratic. It’s a bit of Havana, a bit of Portland, Oregon, and entirely special. —Laura Dannen Redman, Director of Digital Content 

Café Gray Bar, The Upper House, Hong Kong

Hong Kong has my favorite skyline in the world—and few places allow me to enjoy it as stylishly as the chic and moody Café Gray Bar on the 49th floor of the Upper House hotel in the city’s bustling Admiralty neighborhood. Ask for a windowside seat and order the Earl Grey Martini—Beefeater gin infused with tea, lemon, and orange—and nibble on creations such as foie gras pineapple buns from the kitchen of the adjoining Café Gray Deluxe restaurant. —Jennifer Flowers, Deputy Editor

The Living Room at the Dewberry, Charleston, SC

The bar’s fantastic: Think embossed ice cubes and the best version of classic cocktails you’ve ever had, served in a roomy setting full of vintage midcentury furniture. Lit by the floor-to-ceiling windows during the day and at night by romantic lights gleaming off polished wood and brushed gold surfaces, the Living Room is the chicest spot in Charleston.—LM 

An in-crowd scene near Covent Garden calls for a fireplace and a well-balanced cocktail.

Scarfes Bar, Rosewood London

You know those places that are new but feel like they’ve always been part of the fabric of a city? Scarfes Bar, which opened in 2014 with the debut of Rosewood London, has already achieved that  clubby status. It’s easy to see why: The cocktails are top notch, there’s live jazz seven nights a week, and the decor pays homage to British caricaturist Gerald Scarfe, whose work adorns the walls. My favorite touch: a fireplace to warm the bones on drizzly London evenings. —JF

The Granary Bar at Spring Creek Ranch, Jackson, WY

The cocktails are fine, the wine list is decent, but the mountain views are why you come to this particular hotel bar, set up on a high butte outside Jackson Hole. Instead of facing a wall lined with liquor bottles when you sit at the bar, the seats face a high bank of windows that offer uninterrupted views across the National Elk Refuge in the valley below, sweeping all the way up to the glorious peaks of the Grand Tetons. You’ll feel tipsy even before you take a sip. —AS

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Get the full Gotham view from a Williamsburg rooftop.

Westlight at the William Vale, Brooklyn

The best way to get a breathtaking view of Manhattan is to leave Manhattan. If you can snag a sunset reservation at this Williamsburg rooftop spot, you’re in for a treat. Request a table on the western side of the bar, order one of its craft cocktails, and marvel at the skyline across the East River and points beyond. —Ciera Velarde, Newsletter Engagement Editor  

Tiger’s Tap Room at Hotel Congress, Tucson, AZ

The 101-year-old Hotel Congress has three on-site bars, the most treasured of which is Tiger’s Tap Room, a small bar helmed by 86-year-old Thomas “Tiger” Ziegler. He’s been pouring drinks there for nearly 60 years, so long that his name was added to the bar for his 80th birthday. Visit him between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. from Monday through Thursday, order your favorite drink, and ask Tiger for a ghost story or two. —Sara Button, Assistant Editor 

Bemelmans offers the kind of Jazz Age Manhattan glamour usually only found in movies.

Bemelmans Bar at the Carlyle, New York City

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Bemelmans Bar might as well be the birthplace of “ooh!”—that sound you make when you walk into a memorable room. It inspires utter delight, whether you’re a fan of Ludwig Bemelmans’s Madeline characters frolicking on the walls (rabbits picnic, elephants ice skate), or the old-school NYC vibe manifest as leather banquettes in a shade of “man cave brown” and a gold-leaf ceiling. Or you just happened upon Lady Gaga playing a surprise set. There’s live music—and a sense of serendipity—every night. —LDR 

Benjamin Cooper at Hotel G San Francisco

Benjamin Cooper mixes old-time San Francisco (a gold-framed daguerreotype of the bar’s fictional namesake) with cool-kid vibes (a painting of Clint Eastwood). The place was dreamed up by two veterans of the San Francisco cocktail scene, and mixology nerds will love the balanced and inventive drinks. Order from the ever-changing menu or opt for a custom cocktail: These bartenders know exactly what you want, even if you don’t. The Union Square space is small and can get a little loud after work, but it’s great on Saturdays. —Maggie Fuller, Associate Editor 

New York Bar at the Park Hyatt Tokyo

You can credit Sofia Coppola for this Tokyo bar’s iconic status, thanks to her 2003 film Lost in Translation, starring Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson. But the New York Bar, located on the 52nd floor of the Park Hyatt Tokyo, has a magic of its own beyond the silver screen. Picture yourself tucked away at one of the floor-to-ceiling windows and staring down at the twinkling lights of the city below, while tasting a rare Japanese whiskey (its selection is impressive) and listening to jazz played on the grand piano. —JF

The American Bar at the Savoy, London

The longest surviving cocktail bar in London opened in 1889 to import American-style cocktails to the city. And while that tradition lives on today (they make a mean old-fashioned), the art deco–inspired bar—which underwent a $280 million renovation in 2017 and was voted World’s Best Bar the same year by World’s 50 Best—now pays homage to famous regulars. One standout to try: the Mick Jagger–inspired Pinstripe (Grey Goose vodka, apricot liqueur, and tea-infused muscat with a dash of lavender). —JF 

The Elysian Bar at Hotel Peter and Paul, New Orleans

The Elysian Bar is worth every bit of hype it’s received since it opened on the ground floor of the 1875 rectory of the church-turned-Hotel Peter and Paul. You can choose to sit at the bar, in the courtyard, or in the living room–like lobby space in an overstuffed gingham-print chair. Go for Aperitivo Hour from 3 to 6 p.m. to try the full menu of spritzes and vermouth and tonics. The well-curated bar menu is mostly small plates, so you might as well order the Duck Egg Omelette (served with triple cream cheese and chives) and the Chicken Liver Pâté with a stack of grilled Bellegarde bread. —LM

In the wee, small hours of the morning, the true comfortable nature of the Lobby Bar awakens.

The Lobby Bar at the Ace Hotel, New York City

When I stay at the Ace, I often use the Lobby Bar to meet up with photographers. Honestly, though, it’s at its best around 3 a.m. when laptops are closed, the crowds filter out, and all that hipster energy dies down. The dark room becomes just cozy enough and almost romantic, with a few people lingering over nightcaps before heading upstairs or back home. This is my favorite hour for that last Negroni and quiet conversation with the poor soul I won’t let go to bed.  —Tara Guertin, Director of Photography

Charmaine’s at the Proper Hotel, San Francisco

In 2017, when Charmaine’s opened atop the Proper Hotel in downtown San Francisco, it made waves. As there aren’t many rooftop spots in this foggy town, locals, visitors, and hotel guests still flock like moths to Charmaine’s firepits. As one of San Francisco’s scenier spots, there can be a line to get in, but the wait’s worth the chance to sip cocktails while also drinking in some of the best views in the city. —MF 

>>Next: Find the Best AFAR Recommended Hotel for Your Next Trip

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