Frequent flier Jonah Disend, 37, CEO of New York–based company
Redscout, travels so often that the only bars he has time to check out
are the ones in hotels. That’s not a bad thing, since barkeeps in lobby
annexes aren’t fusty lifers anymore. In fact, they’re often a hotel’s
secret weapon in attracting discerning guests like Disend.
New cocktail joints may be mushrooming from Melbourne to St. Mark’s
Square, but as finicky drinkers demand better martinis, the real
bastions of great drinks mixing aren’t these pop-up stand-alone
spots—they’re the (often unheralded) bars hidden inside hotels.
“Hotel bars have always led the pack. There doesn’t seem to be any
pretense when it comes to hotel bartenders,” explains Charlotte Voisey,
a transatlantic cocktail jockey who has designed drinks for New York’s Gramercy Park Hotel and London’s Dorchester,
among others. That may be because there’s no one manning the velvet
rope or controlling the door inside a hotel; after the doorman, the
hotel bartender is often the first person a customer will encounter.
“You never know when the King of Dubai’s son will walk in,” says
Voisey, “so you have to assume everyone is a valued guest—and rightly
so. It’s about delicacy, discretion, and genuine service.”
Voisey explains that hotel bars became cocktail oases during the
Prohibition era, when fugitive mixologists like Harry Craddock fled
America and set up bolt-holes in European institutions (Craddock landed
at the Savoy
and was the brains behind its iconic American Bar). Indeed, London is
still a hotel-bar hotbed, notably thanks to Giuliano Morandin, the
mastermind at the Dorchester.
Today, tucked in the sheltering bastion of a hotel, hotel bars
remain reasonably impervious to economic ups and downs, giving them
equal parts longevity and kudos. “They’re protected from the economy
and the fads and trends that other bars fall victim to,” says Voisey.
“And because of that support, hotel bars usually have a much tighter
training program, along with more investment and expertise.”
So, with Voisey’s wisdom on hand, we’ve guzzled our way around the
globe to corral a list of the world’s best hotel bartenders. These men
and women preside over hotel watering holes from Sydney to San Francisco;
some bars are minimalist chic, while others evoke an English country
house; a few are storied legends, but most are new, under-the-radar
At Bemelmans Bar in the Carlyle Hotel in New York City,
for example, Brian Van Flandern’s creative, purist approach to
bartending includes concocting his own tonic with imported quinine. And
at Beijing’s edgy new design hotel, The Opposite House,
Aussie cocktail wunderkind Milan Sekmulic mixes delicious drinks with
cheeky names like Herbie Goes Detox in the hotel’s bar, Punk and Mesh.
What all these hot spots share, though, is a commitment to the perfect
cocktail, thanks to the passion and skill of their mixologists.
When it comes to testing a hotel barkeep, Voisey says you should
expect them to acknowledge you moments after entering. “It doesn’t take
half a second to look up, smile, or wink to acknowledge a guest,” she
says. And the best test cocktail? A daiquiri, which every mixologist
has heard of but not all have mastered. “It’s a very simple drink,”
says Voisey, “but it shows whether a bartender can balance sweet and