Looking for a Good Cocktail? Try a Hotel


Photo Courtesy of The Water Club

Trying to find Sasha Petraske's bars can humble even the most dedicated drinkers. His speakeasy-inspired establishments are some of the best in the world, serving expertly mixed pre-Prohibition cocktails made with hand-chipped ice, premium spirits, and freshly squeezed juice. Petraske's new bar DrinkShop in Atlanta, which opened in April, is no exception, offering a full menu of tasty classics. But unlike Petraske's other bars this one is hidden in plain sight--it's inside a W Hotel. Not only is it open to guests of the hotel, but also to the public.

Getting a drink at the hotel bar is a time honored tradition for travelers. But for many years you couldn't hope for much more than a watery rum and Coke or a screwdriver made with orange juice from concentrate. Fortunately, because of the rebirth of the cocktail, hotel bars from New York to London to Dubai have been given a gourmet makeover. Now in many cities some of the best watering holes can once again be found inside hotels. DrinkShop's menu proclaims it to be "a true hotel bar, as hotel bars were before ice machines, soda guns, canned juices, and pre-made mixers." Thirsty tourists in Washington, D.C. can find another Petraske bar in the new W across from the White House.

Many hotels are hiring experts to retrain their bar staffs. A few years ago, Marriott started a program that centered on switching to fresh-squeezed juice from pre-made mixers.

A few years ago, hotel restaurants were given a similar makeover and quickly went from drab to four-star. It's no coincidence. A celebrity chef or a popular lounge can keep guests on property (spending money) and can even attract locals. Both are important profit producing amenities, especially during this recession when hotels are struggling to stay open. The strategy seems to be working. In 2008, according to PKF Hospitality Research, alcoholic beverage sales in hotel lounges, bars and nightclubs grew by 10.7 percent over the previous year.

One reason the big chains have gotten serious about cocktails is the success of the W Hotels' chic cocktails bars. Just as the W's boutique style, including its palette of earth tones and modern furniture, was adopted by the industry, so too was its focus on creating a vibrant nightlife scene.

At about the same time in New York, San Francisco, and London a number of pioneering cocktail bars opened, offering excellent drinks and also functioning as impromptu bartending schools. This was very important, since the fine art of shaking cocktails had been largely forgotten. Out of this scene came a talented society of international bartenders who went on to open their own places. There are now a number of professional training programs (written about recently in the Wall Street Journal) that are helping to teach bartenders around the country the craft of mixology.

To keep up, many hotels are hiring top experts to retrain their bar staffs. A few years ago, Marriott started an extensive program with master mixologist Dale DeGroff, which centered on switching to fresh-squeezed juice from pre-made mixers.

Fairmont has partnered with Kathy Casey's Liquid Kitchen to hold clinics in dozens of its hotels around the world. Talented bartenders like Ryan Magarian, Christy Pope, and Chad Solomon are dispatched to a property to teach the bartenders about the history of cocktails, correct techniques, the proper way to serve a drink, and how to setup and manage a bar. "It's a total program," says Mariano Stellner, Fairmont's corporate director of food and beverage. "Not just a recipe book."

Hotels are also expanding their menus. Just a couple of years ago, the Merrion in the center of Dublin offered guests 20 cocktails. The posh Georgian hotel currently serves more than twice as many drinks, including 16 on a new special "Martinis at The Merrion" menu. The signature cocktail is, naturally, the James Joyce that calls for Bushmills whiskey, sweet vermouth, Cointreau and fresh lime juice.

Of course, to go with your bespoke cocktails you need more than just peanuts and stale pretzels. The Sunroom Lounge at The Water Club in Atlantic City has a cocktail menu created by Allen Katz, director of mixology and spirits education for Southern Wine and Spirits of New York, and also a food menu created by famed chef Geoffrey Zakarian. Guests can pair their Improved Hemingway Daiquiri with a goat cheese and arugula salad or a chicken curry tartine.

Not to be outdone, the ritzy Dorchester Collection, which includes The Dorchester in London and the Beverly Hills Hotel, this past spring introduced a new cocktail and mocktail menu for all seven of its properties. (Each hotel will still offer its own bar menu with other drinks.) And for guests who are craving more than just an ice cold elixir, you can sign up for a personalized mixology class with a bartender. Students get to brush up on their techniques and create a signature cocktail recipe. Can't make it to one of the hotels? There's a YouTube channel with instructional videos of the Collection's bar managers making their signature drinks. Finally, a legitimate excuse to visit the site.