Being that I’m staying in a hotel and doing a fair amount of drinking in a nearby hotel containing a well-known bar (that’d be the Carousel bar at the Monteleone) I felt I’d be remiss if I didn’t attend the “Classic Hotel Bars” seminar.
The focus was mainly on the hotel bars of London, with occasional detours to other cities. Anecdotes abounded, histories were revealed, and as expected, cocktails were served. Here’s a sampling of the wealth of information that was provided…
~ Unlike most “regular” bars, working in a hotel bar makes you realize you have to think beyond local drinking preferences. Your are catering to a varied clientele, and have to be prepared to meet a broad spectrum of expectations drink-wise.
~ Hotel bars have spawned great bartenders, great drinks and great bar guides. Every time you name-drop someone like Jerry Thomas or Hugo Enslin you have a hotel bar to thank. Likewise the Savoy Cocktail Book or Charles Baker’s Around the World With Jigger, Beaker and Flask. Ever had a Pina Colada or Hanky Panky? Just two of many classic cocktails that originated in hotel bars.
~ The Savoy was the first hotel in England equipped with electricity. ( I like to think having a world-class bar on the premises played a role in this).
~ The Criterion bar (which still exists) is the location where Sherlock Holmes and Watson first meet. It also has the distinction of being the first “American style” bar in England.
~ Until recently, bartending in the UK was not considered a reputable occupation, and doing so in a hotel bar was even less prestigious. Fortunately this perception has reversed in recent years and many hotel bars in the UK are leading the way in quality cocktail-crafting.
~ Part of what makes a good hotel bar experience is the idea that it is not only just a drink stop, but also a place where you are taken care of. Some “regular” bars certainly provide this, but it should be a priority for hotel bars.
~ Martini enthusiasts owe it to themselves to make the pilgrimage to Duke’s, which is famous for its exacting, signature Martini preparation which uses no ice, shaking, or stirring. All the ingredients are kept chilled, and are simply, elegantly combined in the glass. Ian Fleming was a regular there, and was fond of these. If they were good enough for him, they should be good enough for you.
~ The Connaught Hotel is another London cocktail destination famous for its attention to detail and tailoring of drinks to the customer’s preference. Connaught bartender Ago Perone says of his customers: “We are not there to tell them what to drink” and puts that idea to practice by offering a selection of bitters for patrons to choose from when ordering a Martini.
~ The concept of the fine cocktail experience goes hand-in-hand with that of the fine dining experience. If a hotel has a top-tier restaurant on he premises, then the bar must be of similar caliber.
Book your room now! (or at least swing by for a cocktail).