Unwinding in a hotel bar might be an act of comfortable convenience. If you are a weary traveler, it is surely the shortest distance from your drink to your bed. If you are lucky, you will find yourself ensconced at the likes of Dandelyan at the Mondrian on London's South Bank, or Sable Kitchen & Bar at the Hotel Palomar in Chicago, where well-made drinks served amid swanky surroundings promise memorable imbibing experiences for locals and itinerant interlopers. But not everyone holed up in a hotel for the evening has the luxury of discovering a lauded cocktail bar just off their lobby.
Still, says Abigail Gullo, head bartender of Compère Lapin at the Old No. 77 Hotel & Chandlery in New Orleans — among those revered lairs turning out tipples like the bourbon-apple brandy Louisville Slugger with chicory and smoked vanilla — it's possible to drink well at a hotel bar. With a sharp eye and a few friendly questions, a joyful night can be yours.
1. Talk to your bartender.
Gullo suggests striking up a conversation with the bartender. "Ask them to guide you to a drink that matches your desires — refreshing, sour, bitter, spirit-forward — on the menu," she says.
2. You can't go wrong with whiskey.
If confidence in the bartender's cocktail capabilities is low, you can still turn the evening into a win. Gullo says that whiskey, served neat, is a wise gamble — especially for ice snobs.
3. Consider the wine list.
For those who crave something lighter, Gullo suggests giving the wine selections a gander. "I look for interesting grape varieties, and if they have a sherry list I am instantly in love," she adds.
4. Skip the bubbles.
A bright Cava might seem a likely go-to when stumped over what to order, but Gullo actually shies away from bubbles. "I worry about it staying fresh," she says, which is why she enjoys seeing small, well-edited wine lists instead of sprawling, misguided ones.
5. Look for lost spirits.
Another boon to the hotel bar is an oft-eclectic stash: "They can have some interesting lost spirits, like an old Bols," says Gullo. "Once, I found an amazing bottle of mezcal at a hotel bar. The price was wrong, or they didn't know what they had on their hands because the cost was quite reasonable. It was like finding a designer dress at the thrift store."
Do you have a go-to drink when you're propping up a hotel bar?