Search & Distill: Three Reasons to Give Hotel Bars Another Chance

These rooms will make you want to be a better drinker.

I'm drawn to hotel bars for many reasons—anonymity, spectacle, and service chief among them. My most recent full-time bartending gig was at a hotel bar, and it taught me that you can never possibly see it all. They're prime spots for people-watching, eavesdropping, and weaving the imaginary tales of others while you pretend to be a tourist or whoever you want to be. Everything's business-as-usual at the hotel bar. The trick is to frequent the right ones. Avoid the more modern, bad-Eurotrash-music-blasting establishments in favor of classic boutique hotels, tried-and-true in age or concept. That's where all the magic happens.Hotel bars have a misplaced reputation for outrageous prices, a prejudice nowhere more unfair than at the Sorrento Hotel's Hunt Club bar (900 Madison St.). If this place were in midtown Manhattan, every night would be chock-full of Patrick Batemans. The Hunt Club has the best happy-hour deal in town, when you figure in food and circuses. Beginning at 4 p.m., running until 6 p.m., and starting back up at 9 p.m., the bar offers $2, $3, $4, and $5 snacks. Dark wood and upholstered booths conjure visions of gathering grand Pooh-Bahs or that club the Dukes belong to in Trading Places. Surrounding yourself with the old-school opulence of the Hunt Club bar with $10 worth of food and pistachios can make you feel like at least a hundred bucks.A little down the road at the Hotel Vintage Park rests Tulio Ristorante (1100 Fifth Ave.). Not only does this place serve some of the city's finest Italian food, it also redefines our concept of personal space, getting back to a time when we weren't so obsessed with extra elbow room when dining. Tables are small and squeezed together as if footsie and stolen caresses were on the menu, and the bar echoes this immediacy with its handful of stools and tables in a space no bigger than a bedroom. Tulio draws a certain downtown crowd, and I always ascribe all manner of clandestine behavior to the sequestered tables: Young women and older men sharing a bottle of Champagne in the late afternoon, after-work trysts at the bar stools, etc. Last time I drank here, I was seated in the corner with a bekilted Scotsman who represents my favored Scotch, Laphroaig, our table covered in bottles of amber, and we were hardly the most intriguing pair in the joint.Set up by an understated marble portico and a front desk filled with vintage photographs of original members in bowler hats and starched collars, the Polar Bar at The Arctic Club (700 Third Ave.) makes you want to be a better drinker. The bar and lobby within, wrapped in warm wood and regal blues, presents itself as a backdrop to your good time. There are discreet deco details throughout the space, with a few map desks, a pool table, separated seating areas, and a giant fireplace. It could function as the officers' deck of a fictional cruise ship or the executive lounge of the Chrysler Building back in the day. Whatever the case, this bar makes me want to dress up and get shellacked. I'm talking dress-stockings-hat-and-gloves dressed up, for anything less is unworthy of this space. Even the bartender wears a brocaded white coat, and will make you any manner of period-appropriate cocktails. This bar was built for random acts of glamour and decadence—so ignore the conventioneers in their sensible shoes and lanyards and order another perfect Sazerac while you touch up your Cherries-in-the-Snow

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