Nov 4, 2011

Five hotel bars worth drinking at for a round (or more)

When it comes to hotel bars, too often they all have the same generic look.  The clientele usually consists of stranded or unadventurous tourists, tired businessmen and businesswomen, barflies with expensive tastes and off-duty hotel staff.  And the drinks are typically overpriced and under-poured.  Rarely is the bar a reflection on your destination or the character of the locals. 
Fortunately, there are exceptions.  Sometimes those exceptions happen because the hotel is actually an exciting part of your destination.  Sometimes the bar is even more famous and more visited than the hotel.  Sometimes there’s no rhyme or reason to it at all … it just happens.  So, while I am in the midst of a travel lull, I decided to share my five favorite hotel watering holes.  
5. Empire Bar, Glacier Park Lodge, East Glacier, Mont. – When my son and I took the Amtrak to Glacier National Park a few years ago, this lodge was across the street from the depot, and it turned out to be an excellent choice.  Of course, not many other choices to choose from, but it still delivered a great, classic lodge experience.  Huge timbers and a high ceiling create a majestic lobby.  And the views of the mountains from the back of the hotel are breathtaking. 

The lobby of the Glacier Park Lodge.  If you look closely, you can see the entrance to the bar off to the right at the end of the lobby.  The restaurant entrance is straight ahead.  Sorry, not my photo ... I'm borrowing liberally from the Internet for this blog. 

As for the bar, it proved to be the perfect place for a nightcap after spending the day on the train or exploring the park.  What I remember most about the experience was bellying up to a decent-sized L-shaped timbered bar on these huge oversized wooden stools and watching the sun disappear over the Rockies.  My kid had his first buffalo burger.  I had my first Great Northern Wild Huckleberry Wheat Ale.  Great father-son/male bonding.

4. Miller Time Pub, Hilton Milwaukee City Center, Milwaukee – I touched upon this bar in a previous blog, but it bears repeating how fun this place is, especially given that it’s in a Hilton!  It has actual character, good food and service, decent drink prices, a great happy hour, a diverse drink selection (unless, of course, your beer of choice is a Budweiser product; they’re not allowed here)  and is centrally located to the downtown action.  One more recommendation for the Miller Time Pub – try the Wisconsin beer cheese soup.
3. Menger Bar, Menger Hotel, San Antonio – I’m a sucker for historical landmarks, and this hotel bar qualifies … if you believe the legend that Teddy Roosevelt organized the Rough Riders over a few rounds.  Well, as I discovered many years ago, if it’s good enough for Teddy Roosevelt to drink it, who am I to disagree?
The entire Menger Hotel is a great place to stay, actually.  It rests directly across the street from the Alamo and is within walking distance of the Riverwalk.  It’s another classic historic hotel with a huge Victorian style lobby, and its other claim to presidential fame (as evidenced by a photo in the lobby) is Bill Clinton fell in love with their mango ice cream.  Come to think of it, so did I.
The Menger Bar ... again, photo borrowed from the hotel website.
More about the bar … it’s supposed to be an exace replica of London’s House of Lords Pub, so it definitely has that stodgy English pub feel.  Dark cherry wood, brass spittoons and beveled mirrors imported from France complete the scene.  And if you’re there on a dark rainy night like I was, maybe you’ll get a sense of Teddy’s spirit that supposedly still haunts the bar.  Sort of like how I’ll probably wind up haunting the Brewhaus one day …
2. The Lobby Bar, Peabody Hotel, Memphis, Tenn. – This is another bar I discussed in a previous blog, but it’s hard to beat for people-watching, a good drink (especially their coffee drinks) and for its uniqueness (see: the Peabody ducks).
1. The Carousel Bar, Hotel Monteleone, New Orleans – If there’s a bar that beats the Peabody in my mind for all the reason I gave above, it’s the Carousel Bar.  Made famous for the revolving circular bar that greets you at the entrance, the bar is located just off the main lobby of probably the largest hotel in the French Quarter.  The Hotel Monteleone is also perhaps the most historic and haunted hotel in the quarter and has been frequented by many literary greats (Hemingway, Capote, Williams and Faulkner, to name a few – Faulkner and Capote even have suites named after them).  The bar, I’m sure, is a main reason why, and also why it’s referenced in so many of their works.  All of this puts the Monteleone not only on the National Register of Historic Hotels, but also on the list of Literary Landmarks by the Friends of Libraries USA.  
Classic photo of the Carousel Bar.  Not everyone is this well-dressed there, by the way.
I love the Carousel Bar because you never know who will be sitting next to you.  I’ve talked to socialites, oil barons, college kids celebrating a drunken weekend  and FEMA workers all in one night!  And they make one of the best sazeracs in New Orleans (duh!).  Yes, drinks are hotel-priced, but you the character and atmosphere of the Carousel Bar is unparalleled in my travels.
This bar is currently closed for renovation (scheduled to reopen next month), so I’ll miss out when I’m back in the Big Easy at the end of the month for my birthday.  But at least I’ll have new blogging material from the trip.  

No comments:

A commoner dines at Baumgartner’s Cheese Store and Tavern, Monroe, Wis.

I wasn’t sure a place existed that could be the perfect representation of Wisconsin life, but then I traveled through Monroe, Wis., one week...