Culture: The Best Hotel Bars in America for 2023
There’s something about hotel bars that promises excitement and romance, and maybe a dash of naughtiness. They’re often repositories of history and offer a taste of hotel luxury—even for those who never plan to check in.
This list is the result of visiting several hundred American hotel bars over the decades, plus detailed feedback from trusted friends and colleagues. After all, I’ve been writing about travel, food and drink for 25 years, and have been the food editor of Wine Enthusiast since 2014. But I’ve been an avid traveler and hotel-bar connoisseur for even longer: Forty years ago, I first used a meticulously crafted fake ID to enter the clandestine world of luxe hotel bars during the so-called “decade of decadence.”
This is a very subjective list that bypasses formal methodology, but nonetheless seeks to elevate the escapist charm of the hotel bar. It’s a mix of historic places and new classics, which boast draws like elevated design, transportive atmospheres and thoughtfully-curated drinks that both thrill and satiate. They span casual and fancy spots, those that are mixology or wine list-driven and others that sling humble pints of beer.
These aren’t merely bars that happen to exist on hotel property, but drinking dens that convey a grander sense of place. The best part? They’re uniformly a good time.
Pendry Chicago | Chicago, IL
Housed in a 1929 Art Deco landmark building, Bar Pendry walks the line between irreverent and cheeky. Modern art and a hypnotic double-sided fireplace meet formal details like floor-brushing drapes, leather sofas and deep stay-all-night armchairs. There’s a naughtiness to their signature drinks as well, like the mock-healthy Take Your Vita-Gins cocktail, which mixes gin with turmeric shrub and cucumber tonic.
The Algonquin | New York, NY
Fans of New York arts and culture are almost obligated to visit the Blue Bar at the Algonquin Hotel, where Dorothy Parker’s literary Round Table (aka the “Vicious Circle”) met between world wars, where countless Broadway productions took shape and where the New Yorker magazine was founded. The Blue Bar itself opened when Prohibition ceased in 1933, and today offers an homage to its past even as new creative endeavors are forged. Look for Al Hirschfeld’s celebrity caricatures on the walls, and order classically-minded cocktails with a twist, like The Algonquin (made with rye, dry vermouth, pineapple) or the Dorothy Parker (which features her namesake gin from New York Distilling Company and apricot and orange bitters).
Hotel Bennett | Charleston, SC
A graceful respite to the “masculine” dark-wood-and-leather vibe of so many hotel bars, this Champagne bar vibrates with pink tones in its fabric and marble, magnified by a mirrored bar and ceiling. Champagne and oysters are a default order here for good reason, but the signature cocktails—many of them topped with Champagne—are just as festive and food-friendly. Try the Amuse-Mint, with coconut, elderflower, mint, and a Champagne float. Camellia’s also boasts one of the city’s best afternoon tea services.
Four Seasons Resort Orlando at Walt Disney World Resort | Orlando, FL
This rooftop terrace bar has one of the best views in the city, which means it’s the best (and kid-free!) place to take in the nightly fireworks at Disney World. The panoramic open-air setting and minimalist banquettes let the view take center stage—along with, of course, the Basque/Spanish tapas and cocktails like the Capa Gintonic with apple, lime and floating marigold buds. Most come before or after dining at the adjoining Michelin-starred Capa Steakhouse, but it’s worth a trip in itself.
Hotel Monteleone | New Orleans, LA
Come for the carousel—bar seats do a full rotation around the circular bar every 15 minutes—but stay for the cocktails and the rich history, which dates to 1949. Sure, the Vieux Carré cocktail was invented here, and some famous literary regulars included Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner and Tennessee Williams, but more recent hits include the Oaxacan Midnight (mezcal, maraschino, violet) and visitors like Paul Simon, Nicolas Cage, Quentin Taratino and Rod Stewart.
Cosmopolitan | Las Vegas, NV
Bling seekers will marvel at the bar’s namesake chandelier. At 44 feet tall and 75 feet in diameter, it’s more like a room made of beaded glass than a light fixture. The bar’s three visually-dazzling levels are situated at the bottom, top and inside—yes, inside—the chandelier. The tropical-tinged drinks impress as well, like the All Knight Long, a sort of espresso martini infused with coconut and turmeric. Night owls and early risers should take note that Level 1 is open 24/7.
The Peninsula Beverly Hills | Los Angeles, CA
The aptly-named Club Bar has the feel of a gentleman’s club from Hollywood’s Golden Age. Dress to impress and settle into leather armchairs surrounded by California birch paneling with picture-frame molding. The deep menu of rare spirits is seductive, but there’s also a wine list with two dozen glass pours, including the hotel’s own private-label Pinot Noir made with Sonoma’s Keller Estate. Complimentary house-made bar snacks include marinated olives, smoked almonds and taro chips.
Fairmont Olympic Hotel | Seattle, WA
The Fairmont completed a two-year, $25 million renovation in 2022, which includes a spectacular lobby bar, Bar George. Still, ask about this hidden hotspot, which looks like the movie set of a dim speakeasy, handsomely dressed in mahogany and brass. Its lengthy spirits list includes over 50 Cognacs; check out the “Locker List” of ultra-premium spirits offered in half-, one-, or two-ounce pours. The bar is a welcome bit of formality in a city that normally eschews it.
InterContinental Miami | Miami, FL
The Prohibition-era speakeasy theme might be hackneyed at this stage (and maybe the velvet drapes veer into camp), but few do it as gorgeously as Freddy’s. With a limited capacity of just 12 imbibers—there’s even a secret knock to gain entry—it’s a fantastic option for those not enamored of Miami’s sun-and-fun bar culture. The drinks push the ’20s theme into modern day with offerings like the Green Light (mezcal, Chartreuse, lemon and chocolate bitters) and the Envied Elegance (vodka, lime, ginger, cucumber and peach bitters).
Jupiter NEXT Hotel | Portland, OR
It’s plant-based maximalism at this cheery hotspot, where the lush greenery nods both to tropical jungles and 1970s “fern bars.” Start the party early at afternoon happy hour before moving on to an evening full of fun, vacation-style cocktails (such as a salty mango-oolong mai tai and a margarita with hot honey), mocktails (think ginger-tamarind-sasparilla lemonade and a fresh watermelon agua fresca) and terrific food (which includes a vegan ceviche and smoked oyster Caesar salad).
Hotel Jerome | Aspen, CO
Many a deal has been struck over burgers and martinis at this bar, whose Wild West vibe points to its 19th-century origins. The irreverent space melds rich leather and carved wood with beer-bottle chandeliera and the original Chinese Chippendale till. Its popularity, which can be traced back to the days of the Colorado Silver Boom, has lasted through the counterculture of the 1960s and ‘70s (when regulars included Hunter Thompson, Jack Nicholson and Jimmy Buffett) to today, when tech and media magnates are known to drop by.
Thompson Nashville | Nashville, TN
Too many hotel bars compromise on design in order to appeal to (or at least not offend) the varied clientele. Not so at L.A. Jackson, arguably Nashville’s favorite rooftop bar since its 2016 opening. Here, a riotous-but-sophisticated mix of textures and patterns by New York design firm Parts And Labor works to beautiful effect. Try the fun bar snacks—hush puppies with prosciutto; a cheesy double smashburger—with elegant drinks. Some cocktails, like Drunk In Love (tequila, Grand Marnier and Campari with spicy watermelon) are served in shareable portions for up to eight people. Don’t miss a seasonally-changing wine list of 300-plus bottles.
Halekulani Hotel | Honolulu, HI
Romantic and blissful as it is, Hawaii isn’t known for intimacy and discretion. Enter Lewers Lounge, a cozy piano bar tucked inside the 450-room Halekulani Hotel, whose restrained design features Hawaiian touches like illuminated columns that represent kāhili, which are traditional symbols of Hawaiian nobility. Catch the live jazz, which takes place Tuesday to Saturday; previous performers include Tony Bennett and Diana Krall. The innovative cocktails feature local ingredients like fresh pineapple, macadamia-nut orgeat and local rums. It’s a stunning respite from a day exploring Oahu’s splendors.
The National | Oklahoma City, OK
Build in extra time when you visit this bar in the hotel basement, formerly the vault of the First National Bank, where the rarest spirits are displayed in the space’s original safe deposit boxes. With over 1,500 spirits (and over 200 classic cocktails in the bartenders’ repertoire), the Library of Distilled Spirits amounts to a museum of spirits and cocktail culture. It’s very much keeping up with the times, though: Newer libations are modern takes on global cocktail culture, including the Calcutta Classic, which features rye, chai, tamarind liqueur and Sherry, and the Colonial Cooler, a mix of gin, pineapple, green tea, passion fruit, turmeric and saffron.
Residence Inn/Courtyard by Marriott | Phoenix, AZ
Arizona’s best cocktail bar is on the fourth floor of a Residence Inn, a chain whose clientele typically cares more about functioning coffeemakers and wifi than cutting-edge hospitality. Yet Little Rituals draws cocktail cognoscenti from all over Phoenix and beyond, in a dim and sexy space that reads more nightclub than nightcap. Most non-alcoholic ingredients are made in-house, often from seasonal farmer’s-market produce. Look for base liquors infused with things like marigold, shiitake mushrooms and lime leaf, and innovations like a vodka-based Collins boasting subtle flavors of bergamot, elderflower, celery and mirin.
Rosewood Miramar Beach | Montecito, CA
Face the fireplace or the peekaboo ocean views from velvet sofas and tufted leather armchairs at this luxe destination bar. With the recent arrival of acclaimed bar director Sam Penton (formerly of New York’s Death & Co. and Charleston’s Little Palm), this local favorite is now drawing national attention. Its “Chronicle of Cocktails” series reimagines literary works as cocktails, such as the Save Me The Waltz, named for Zelda Fitzgerald’s 1932 novel. Playing on her love of both wine and martinis, it’s a Vesper riff with Chardonnay, dry vermouth and elderflower liqueur in place of Lillet.
The Joule | Dallas, TX
Unlike so many hotel bars, which revel in their histories, Midnight Rambler celebrates contemporary art and music. Case in point, it hosts regular collaborations between bartenders and local visual artists, which translate to carefully curated playlists and weekend DJ sets. The look is eclectic: A vaulted ceiling lends drama to a space peppered with Deco lines, mid-century furniture and fixtures, plus a dash of ‘70s glam and a checkerboard floor of pale green and salmon terrazzo that’s like a mashup of 1920s fantasy with ‘50s diner. The cocktail menu changes frequently, often looking to Polynesia and Southeast Asia, with ingredients like calamansi, lemongrass, pandan leaf, palm sugar and lots of rum. Aa recent favorite was the Nightmarcher, featuring agricole and 151-proof rums with Chartreuse, nutmeg, jasmine and ginger.
Seelbach Hilton | Louisville, KY
Belly up to the original mahogany bar in the Jazz Age hotspot that inspired Jay and Daisy’s backstories in The Great Gatsby. The extensive bourbon selection is one of the largest in the country, and a must for Kentucky Bourbon Trail pilgrims. Try the Seelbach cocktail, essentially an Old Fashioned with Cointreau and extra bitters, topped with a couple healthy glugs of Champagne. Anything with soda water is the same local limestone-filtered spring water used by Bourbon distillers, theatrically served from vintage seltzer bottles.
Lotte New York Palace | New York, NY
You’ll need an invitation to visit this haven of cocktail history, located in the original dining and drawing rooms of the 1884 Villard mansion, which is today a part of New York’s iconic Palace Hotel. The vibe is pure Gilded Age splendor, with vintage chandeliers and candlelight illuminating the original carved-wood moldings and wine-colored brocade wallpaper. The primary draw here is the collection of rare distillates that include many bottled pre-Prohibition, so skip the cocktail order and savor these spendy spirits straight. There’s also an exceptional wine list that highlights vintage Champagne. It may be the most exclusive and luxurious drinking experience of your life.
The Clift Royal Sonesta Hotel | San Francisco, CA
The Redwood Room is a former speakeasy that formally opened the day after Prohibition was repealed. It retains its Art Deco charm, but still feels chic and modern, in part due to its savvy cocktail menu; honey from a rooftop hive even makes it into some of the drinks. The rich redwood paneling—cut from a single tree—is all the more special since it’s now illegal in California to fell old-growth redwoods.
Willard InterContinental | Washington, DC
Dating to 1847, Round Robin has been the site of deals and dalliances by generations of D.C.’s political elite. Kentucky Senator Henry Clay introduced the mint julep here shortly after it opened, and it remains its signature cocktail. The circular bar is great for people watching, despite the bartenders’ unfailing discretion.
The Roosevelt | New Orleans, LA
One of the most iconic bars in a city full of them, the Sazerac is anchored by a long bar and paneling cut from a single African walnut tree, with playful Paul Ninas murals made for the bar’s opening in 1938. The notorious Depression-era politician Huey Long lived in the hotel and used the bar as his default office and nightclub. Come for textbook versions of the city’s signature cocktails, Ramos Gin Fizz and, of course, the Sazerac.
Hotel Emma | San Antonio, TX
The bar at this 19th-century brewhouse turned ultra-luxury hotel is named for the pre-Prohibition “Sternewirth Privilege,” which gave free beer to brewery employees during the workday. The signature cocktail Three Emmas pays homage to the sordid tale surrounding brewery founder Otto Koehler’s 1914 murder, a blend of beer and rose cordial, amontillado Sherry and gin with dashes of lemon and grapefruit.
Griswold Inn | Essex, CT
No bar in the U.S. exudes history quite like the Tap Room. The Griswold opened in 1776, and the Tap Room was originally a 1735 schoolhouse that was rolled on logs and attached to the hotel in 1801. Tradition rules here, so while there are seasonal specialty cocktails that often feature local ingredients, most imbibers stick to textbook—and stiff—versions of the classics. Alternatively, pair an icy mug of beer with the best clam chowder in the area.
Fairmont Hotel | San Francisco, CA
This is the best living example of tiki-bar culture in the country. It opened in 1945, at the dawn of the first tiki craze, with the area around the hotel’s indoor swimming pool redesigned as the pool deck of a ship cruising the South Pacific, complete with mock thunderstorms that periodically pass through. It’s camp and escapist—originally constructed by a Hollywood set designer—but most importantly, the drinks are transportive as the vibe. The 1934 Zombie blends three premium rums with absinthe, falernum, citrus and cinnamon, while the Hurry Cane combines overproof rum and Cognac with passion fruit and a float of ruby Port.
Last Updated: September 29, 2023