Glamour, romance, a jigger of danger. That's what a good hotel bar is about. Think of Brad Pitt's steamy Bogotá hookup with Angelina Jolie in Mr. and Mrs. Smith. Of wistful Bill Murray sipping scotch with luscious Scarlett Johansson in Lost in Translation. In a good hotel bar, anything can happen, and probably already has.
A hotel bar, says Dale DeGroff, who consults as the "King of Cocktails" for hotel bars around the world, "has to have so much." Superb drinks, a world-wise bartender, but also more: a buzz, the sense that the molecules of possibility re-ionize with every sip of a mojito.
Once, hotel bars were male-dominated ecosystems. "But that's not the case anymore," DeGroff says. Heather Tapper, food and beverage manager for Santa Monica's Hotel Casa del Mar, agrees. "Women come here with a male date, but also with other women. For baby showers, for bachelorette parties."
We present four picks among the West's top hotel bars.
Santa Monica, Veranda Lounge, Hotel Casa del Mar: Beauty at the beach
Casually gorgeous, the Veranda pulls off the trick of drawing A-list Hollywood types without intimidating the rest of us. Toward dusk, you look out to the sunset-softened Pacific and the neon whirl of Santa Monica Pier's Ferris wheel. Now, you think, I know why people move to L.A.
The crowd: Powerful middle-aged guys with shaved heads and carefully coiffed women in linen suits all working their BlackBerries. Also Bono, Keanu, and Julia ― or maybe just CPAs and dentists who look and dress astonishingly like Bono et al.
The drink: Lime on the Beach is a summer drink that works for all seasons. 1¾ ounces Hangar One Kaffir Lime Vodka, 1½ cups lemonade, splash of Rose's Lime Juice.
Sound track: On Wednesday nights, first-rate live jazz.
Where: 1910 Ocean Way; www.hotelcasadelmar.com or 310/581-5533.
Las Vegas, Parasol Down, Wynn Las Vegas: Desert dreams
Vegas lives for the new and spectacular, and this surreally beautiful space (kin to Parasol Up in the casino above) is both. Inside, drink beneath a flotilla of umbrellas. Outside, terrace tables overlook Steve Wynn's Lake of Dreams, a misty, alluring 19,000-square-foot pool backed by a 40-foot-high waterfall and an artificial mountain dense with real pines. At night, moody lights play across the lake, and the waterfall becomes a video portal where projected snakes and showgirls writhe to the jungle beat. Tony Soprano, meet René Magritte.
The crowd: Visitors from Tokyo to Topeka, all of them dressed to the nines.
The drink: The lavender mojito and the sidecar are both first-rate, but the Tropical Dream is the big seller. 1½ ounces Cruzan Estate Light Rum, 1½ ounces pomegranate juice, 1 ounce pineapple juice. Serve with sugared rim.
Sound track: Whoosh of waterfall, plus thumping dance music that's vaguely hot, vaguely annoying.
Where: 3131 Las Vegas Blvd. S.; www.wynnlasvegas.com or 702/770-7000.
San Francisco, Bambuddha Lounge, Phoenix Hotel: Metro-tropical
As the bar/restaurant for the retro Phoenix, the Bambuddha brings edgy bliss to the sketchy Tenderloin neighborhood. Sit inside at the polished bar or out by the pool (powerful heaters make it comfy); imbibe tropical drinks and snack on Asian-influenced selections from the restaurant menu: The bar food here scores high. Most intense are those Friday and Saturday nights devoted to special events, like "an evening of international house and mash-up with DJs Peeko from Paris and Playdough Boy from Ukraine" (cover charge from $5 after 10:30).
The crowd: Depending on the night (the bar is closed Sun-Mon), business travelers, tourists, South of Market artists, cyber-geniuses, and models.
The drink: Grab a Guavarita. 1½ ounces Corzo Silver Tequila, ½ ounce Cointreau, ½ ounce fresh lime juice, topped with guava juice. Serve with sugared rim.
Sound track: Dance eclectic, from hip-hop to soul.
Where: 601 Eddy St.; www.bambuddhalounge.com or 415/885-5088.
Honolulu, Mai Tai Bar, The Royal Hawaiian Hotel: Palm latitudes
When the grandly pink Royal Hawaiian opened in 1927, it immediately became the Waikiki retreat of choice for well-heeled travelers who sailed first-class on a Matson Line steamship. These days, everybody comes to Hawaii via economy class on some 757. But the Royal Hawaiian's Mai Tai Bar retains an aura of cosseted affluence, not to mention a killer view of Diamond Head. Here, in rum-sweetened paradise, the ukuleles strum, the tropical breezes blow, and the mai tais and other Polynesian concoctions are perfect ― after all, some of the bartenders have been making them for 30-plus years.
The crowd: A mix ― young, old, military ― but the tone is set by the retired CEO in his blue blazer and his tanned wife in Lilly Pulitzer.
The drink: You could order the Royal Hawaiian's own microbrew, Hawaiian Sunset Pink Beer. But you're at the Mai Tai Bar. What do you think you should get? 1 ounce dark rum, 1 ounce light rum, 1 ounce curaççao, 2 ounces orange juice, ½ ounce lime juice, dash orgeat, dash simple syrup.
Sound track: Every afternoon and evening, live Hawaiian music ― singers, ukulele players ― and what could be better?
Where: 2259 Kalakaua Ave.; www.royal-hawaiian.com or 808/923-7311.