An Ode to the Hotel Bar

Words By sheila lam


It’s almost ironic that I would write an essay on the significance of the hotel bar because I don’t drink. But despite never ordering from the wine menu, I’ve always found the hotel bar to have an alluring air. Walking through a hotel bar, I catch glimpses of faces in transit.

There’s a particular mystery and excitement inside. The sense of sonder – that profound realization that the strangers around you are the central characters of their own life – feels magnified. A business person in for work from the other side of the world, a local couple out on a date night, a writer sitting at the bar penning the next great novel, or a cocktail fan searching for the best drink in town. Everyone at a hotel bar has some story to tell. A choose-your-own-adventure, you can enter the hotel bar and meet new fascinating people on their own journey, or arrange to reconnect with old friends and distant acquaintances. The hotel bar is a gathering place for the international cosmopolitan.


As a traveller, there’s relief in resting your legs at a hotel bar, too. Hotel staff are often unmatched in quality of service, and the establishment’s nature lends ample space for lingering unbothered. Moreover, the hotel bar often extends the gentle comforts of the rooms to a more calming atmosphere downstairs than its city counterparts – all the while maintaining that particular flare of the city it’s located in, so it feels both unique and familiar at once.

Below are four hotel bars not to be missed on your next sojourn through the city.

Park hyatt, tokyo

Fans of Sofia Coppola’s 2003 cult classic Lost In Translation, starring Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson, will instantly recognize this iconic Tokyo location. Located above the city on the 52nd floor, patrons can enjoy a 360-degree view of the Japanese metropolis and Mount Fuji. Catching a nightly performance of live jazz by international artists on the grand piano, with a cocktail in tow, feels as cinematic as it appears. And, as Murray’s iconic line in the movie goes, “For relaxing times, make it Suntory time.”


Chateau marmont, los angeles

Opening its doors on February 1, 1929, Chateau Marmont is a true Hollywood institution. So much so that an HBO mini-series based on the Chateau is in the works with The Social Network screenwriter Aaron Sorkin. A watering hole for the city’s illustrious residents throughout history, artists, musicians, and celebrities freely mix here regularly. In his book The Castle on Sunset: Life, Death, Love, Art, and Scandal at Hollywood’s Chateau Marmont, Shawn Levy traces the story of the Chateau Marmont and writes, “it parallels the story of Hollywood so thoroughly as to be inseparable from it.”

The sense of sonder – that profound realization that the strangers around you are the central characters of their own life – feels magnified.”


the ritz. paris

A city not shy of historic locales, The Ritz was founded in 1898 and has served patrons in the City of Light for 125 years in its glamorous rooms, including famed American author Ernest Hemingway. In fact, he frequented it so much that the original Petit Bar was renamed for the Pulitzer and Nobel Prize-winning novelist in 1979. So, after a day of taking in the Left Bank and what Hemingway considered a moveable feast, cross over the Seine, settle into a deep leather armchair, order a drink and reflect on life’s love, travels, and wilderness much as he did.


fort road hotel, margate

Since J.M.W. Turner had been making his way down the Thames from London in the late 1700s, Margate has been a destination for art. Today the town’s cultural scene is going strong. Across from the eponymous Turner Contemporary, Fort Road Hotel is a significant player in the town’s art scene. Co-founded by Frieze art fair co-founder Matthew Slotover and artist Tom Gidley, the hotel bar not only features dozens of original works by artists like Sophie von Hellermann and Tracey Emin, industry characters often frequent it.


Whether you sit together amongst the crowd, or sit tucked away solo, and watch the world go by, there's something special about a hotel bar visit when you're travelling. ■


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