At Forbes Travel Guide, one of our favorite traveling rituals is grabbing a cocktail at the hotel bar. A welcoming beacon for people in search of a place to unwind, conversation and, of course, drinks, the hotel bar has played a crucial role in the evolution of cocktails.
“It’s the place where cocktails stayed alive, particularly old grand hotels through Prohibition and into the ’50s, and when we didn’t know how to drink anymore, like the ’80s, the time of Sex on the Beach,” says drinks historian Elizabeth Pearce, who is the drinks curator at the Southern Food and Beverage Museum and owner of DrinkAndLearn.com. Leading up to Prohibition, New York passed the Raines law to limit booze consumption, banning drinking on Sundays (the only day people had off from the six-day workweek) unless the alcohol was served in a hotel and with food. The law caused many saloons in the city to convert into makeshift hotels.
Pearce says that the breadth of every hotel’s clientele forces bartenders to have a vast arsenal of tipples, and that’s what kept cocktails going after Prohibition. “Even as fads changed and people weren’t really drinking Old Fashioneds anymore, you still had older people coming in and asking for it. And they have to make guests happy,” she says. “The hotel bar is the constant reminder of the original function of the saloon or tavern, a place where you’re made to feel welcome, comforted and attended to. It’s your place to escape work, possibly escape your family and cares at home, and the focus is on the guest and not the drink.”
Whether you crave a classic cocktail or an avant-garde liquidless libation, there’s nothing like enjoying a drink at a hotel bar after a long flight or a day of meetings or to cap off your evening. This is by no means an all-encompassing roster, since our cocktail bucket list changes constantly, but here’s what’s making us thirsty right now:
Cocktail: The Camouflage
The Bar: The Langham, London’s Artesian
At this excellent London cocktail den—which often is hailed as among the best in the world—it’s hard to choose from the innovative menu (plus, most selections come in attention-getting bespoke vessels). But the Camouflage, the bar’s most popular cocktail, will catch your eye and your nose. Served in a large, gleaming golden pineapple, the aromatic drink mixes Tanqueray No. Ten, Americano, lime, cold-pressed carrot juice, sandalwood syrup and kombucha tea. The light and refreshing drink offers hints of juniper, white tea and citrus that are offset by carrot and a touch of smoke. Relish the long-lasting sandalwood finish.
The Bar: Market Pavilion Hotel’s Grill 225
A sexy plume of smoke swirls around the Nitrotini, the signature sip at this small Charleston bar. The trick is that specially trained bartenders infuse it with liquid nitrogen, which cools the cocktail to minus 320 degrees. Pick among 30 different varieties, including sweet tea (Firefly Sweet Tea vodka, fresh lemonade and a lemon wheel propped on the rim), lychee nut (Stoli Vanil vodka, essence of rose petal nectar, lychee juice and a lychee nut fruit garnish) and ice wine (Nachtgold Eiswein and Stoli vodka with frozen grapes). Our favorite is the effervescent French 225, a smoking martini glass filled with Tanqueray gin, St-Germain Elderflower, fresh lemon and champagne.
Cocktail: Vieux Carre
The Bar: Hotel Monteleone’s Carousel Bar & Lounge
In 1939, a few years after Prohibition ended but in the midst of the Great Depression, Hotel Monteleone bartender Walter Bergeron thought a new cocktail could spur some business. So he invented the Vieux Carré (Benedictine, cognac, Sazerac rye, sweet vermouth, and drops of Angostura and Peychaud bitters over ice with a twist of lemon), which tastes like a cross between an Old Fashioned and a Manhattan. Bergeron was right—it brought in visitors, and the New Orleans hotel has been serving it ever since. Take a spin on the hotel’s rotating Carousel Bar & Lounge to try the beloved cocktail.
Cocktail: Ilikea Mai Tai
The Bar: Trump International Hotel Waikiki Beach Walk’s Wai’olu Ocean View Lounge
Every tropical bar worth its sand serves a mai tai. But this Five-Star hotel clinched the World’s Best Mai Tai title in an international competition at the 2011 Don the Beachcomber’s Mai Tai Festival. The winning handcrafted mai tai comes with Bacardi 8-year-old rum, amaretto, Canton ginger liqueur, kaffir lime sour, caramelized pineapple puree, Bacardi Select and a scoop of the irresistible house-made pineapple-Bacardi Gold Rum sorbet on top. The sorbet will keep you cool as you gaze at ocean and sunset vistas in the Honolulu hotel’s hot alfresco lounge.
Cocktail: The Siren
The Bar: The Ritz-Carlton, Sarasota’s Jack Dusty
If you despise when melting ice dilutes your cocktail, you won’t have that problem with the Siren. At the Sarasota, Florida, bar, lead bartender Ingi Sigurdsson (who’s worked at Sixteen and Alinea in Chicago) makes grapefruit, cranberry and flower ice cubes so that your tipple gets more flavorful as the night wears on. He shakes up Ketel One vodka or Hendrick’s Gin, St-Germain Elderflower liqueur and fresh lemon juice; pours it over the ice cubes in a balloon wine glass; then tops it with a splash of prosecco. The Siren is the ultimate summer sipper.
The Bar: The Ritz-Carlton, Bachelor Gulch’s Bachelors Lounge
When the team at this luxurious Beaver Creek lounge tried to brainstorm a drink that would pair well with its menu of cigars and hookahs, it wanted a concoction that offered wonderful flavors, a bit of a buzz and an intriguing experience. The result was the vaportini, an avant-garde cocktail that you inhale rather than sip. A candle is lit under a globe with liquor. As it heats up, vaporized alcohol with the spirit’s flavors fill the globe. Then breathe in the warm smoke, which gives you a faster buzz, as it goes straight into your bloodstream. One of the most popular varieties is an after-dinner vaportini with Godiva Chocolate liqueur, Belvedere vodka and Grand Marnier, but there are many on offer. Without any calories and no hangover, the vaportini just may be the perfect cocktail.
Cocktail: Old Fashioned
The Bar: Galaxy Hotel‘s The Macallan Whisky Bar & Lounge
Sometimes you want a good, stiff drink without the fuss. That’s when you head into this handsome, gentleman’s-club-like bar inside the Four-Star Macau hotel for its take on an Old Fashioned. What better place to visit for whiskey than Macallan, which blends the spirit with bitters, sugar, a squeeze of lemon and places an orange peel on top for a citrusy aroma in the Old Fashioned. The top-selling tipple comes in a rock glass with an ice ball that will keep it chilled without watering it down. Savor this classic slowly: The strong cocktail has a long finish and a sweet kick at the end.
Cocktail: Corpse Reviver No. 2
The Bar: The Savoy’s American Bar
Back in the 1930s, legendary bartender Harry Craddock created this classic at the famed American Bar, which is credited for making American-style drinks (a.k.a. cocktails) popular in London. The gin-based libation carries a hint of orange liqueur and aromatized wine that’s balanced with fresh lemon juice and a few drops of absinthe to give it some zest. But beware of overdoing it on this refreshing drink; in his 1930 Savoy Cocktail Book—which remains essential reading among bartenders—Craddock warned, “Four of these taken in swift succession will unrevive the corpse again.”
Cocktail: Five-Star Martini
The Bar: Select Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star hotels
To toast our top-rated hotels, we partnered with an elite group of properties to create the Five-Star Martini—chilled Double Cross Vodka shaken over ice with vermouth and adorned with colossal Sottocenere al Tartufo-stuffed green olives. According to Château du Sureau, it’s been a favorite among visitors to the Oakhurst, California, hotel, and you can find it at Mandarin Oriental, Las Vegas’ Mandarin Bar as well. Four Seasons Resort Palm Beach serves it at chic Italian restaurant Jové Kitchen & Bar and as a welcome amenity to hotel guests (you can order a second round via room service, too). Mandarin Oriental, Miami’s MO Bar + Lounge gives it an exotic and bubbly twist with its version (Double Cross Vodka, lychee, hibiscus, St. George pear, prosecco). And The Beverly Hills Hotel makes it a decadent sip and snack, with savory cucumber-and-dill-infused Double Cross Vodka and dry vermouth served in a stainless-steel martini glass accompanied by a lobster, caviar and avocado parfait, a real Five-Star treat.
Cocktail: Singapore Sling
The Bar: Raffles Singapore’s Long Bar
When Hainanese-Chinese bartender Ngiam Tong Boon created the Singapore Sling in 1915, he envisioned it as a ladies’ cocktail, which is why it bears that rosy hue. But the men caught on and also started sipping the fruity sling. Marking its 100th anniversary in 2015, the cocktail has become Singapore’s most iconic tipple. While you can find it virtually anywhere nowadays, go to Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star Raffles for the original (gin, Cherry Heering, Dom Bénédictine, Cointreau, Sarawak pineapple and lime juices, grenadine, a dash of Angostura bitters, and a pineapple slice and cherry garnish).
Cocktail: Cocktail Explosions
The Bar: The NoMad Hotel’s NoMad Bar
You’ll need help finishing off a cocktail explosion at this New York City bar. Served in an oversized, elegant glass jug with a spigot, the drink makes enough for six to eight. “We love that communal aspect of drinking, and wanted to provide our guests with a kind of drink that invites them into sharing an experience,” says head bartender Chris Lowder. But messy punch wasn’t an option. “We wanted a drink that was more deliberate and attractive,” Lowder says. The show-stopping mai tai is certainly attractive, made of rhum agricole, Jamaican rum, Guyanese rum, orgeat, orange liqueur, lime and a pineapple that’s set on fire tableside with a ribbon of Bacardi 151 poured from a flaming champagne flute. Each explosion comes with its own set of glassware and garnishes. For the mai tai, the garnishes include lime wheels, fresh mint and tiny paper umbrellas.
Cocktail: The Red Snapper
The Bar: The St. Regis New York’s King Cole Bar
Bartender Fernand Petiot began conjuring up the Bloody Mary in Paris during the late 1920s. And when he came to the Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star hotel’s King Cole Bar in 1934, he perfected the recipe (Belvedere vodka, tomato juice, lemon juice, celery salt, black pepper, cayenne pepper and Worcestershire sauce). The New York City hotel ditched the name—which was deemed too vulgar for its patrons—and rechristened it the Red Snapper. It became the brand’s signature cocktail, with each hotel offering its own version of the snappy brunch staple. But the original Red Snapper remains the most popular of them all.
The Bar: The Roosevelt New Orleans, a Waldorf Astoria Hotel’s Sazerac Bar
The history of this libation dates back to the 1800s, when Antoine Peychaud made his eponymous bitters from a family recipe in his apothecary. He combined his bitters with cognac, sugar and Herbsaint, and that was the beginning of the cherry-red drink. Peychaud originally sold the cocktail at his Sazerac Coffee House, which was renamed the Sazerac Bar and moved to The Roosevelt in 1949. The hotel continues to be the home of the well-known New Orleans cocktail, a shot of Sazerac rye whiskey, simple syrup, Peychaud bitters, Herbsaint and a lemon twist in a chilled glass. Don’t worry about memorizing the ingredients; when you order the drink, it comes atop a take-home coaster with the recipe. The hotel bar serves more than 40,000 of them each year, making the Sazerac its most-requested cocktail.
Cocktail: Vesper Martini
The Bar: Dukes’ Dukes Bar
Thanks to James Bond, the martini will forever have a debonair connotation. Bond creator Ian Fleming frequented Dukes Bar, and it’s rumored that the London haunt inspired the spy’s “Shaken, not stirred” line. While the bar serves a number of martinis, the Vesper is the one Bond mentions in the 1953 novel Casino Royale. Re-created by head barman Alessandro Palazzi, the Vesper uses No. 3 gin, Potocki vodka, Angostura bitters and amber vermouth. If you want to learn how to shake up your own Bond-worthy libations, the Four-Star hotel gives martini-making classes.
The Bar: ARIA Resort & Casino’s Javier’s
Mexican food begs for a frosty margarita, especially when you manage to grab a leather swivel stool at the wooden bar under an elaborate rope canopy at this Las Vegas hotspot. Javier’s bar produces 14 hand-shaken margaritas, everything from the crisp Pepino (Azunia Silver, agave nectar, lime juice and cucumbers) to the fruity Pina (Herradura reposado, agave nectar, lime juice, St-Germain and pineapple). But the tequila-fueled drink we want to taste is the fiery jalapeño margarita. The top seller is mixed with Corzo reposado, St-Germain, agave nectar, jalapeño, lime juice and a splash of orange juice on the rocks.