“As she situated herself on the stool, staring into the mirror that covered the entire back bar, she could see almost the entire room behind her. Small meetings between three and four persons were taking place. Some punctuated by smiles and laughter. Others appeared to be of a decidedly more serious nature. All accompanied by liquids in diverse shades contained within assorted glassware of various shapes.
She saw herself in the reflection. Not bad-looking considering the stressful day she had endured, lugging her briefcase and sample case from office to office, seeking success in the minds of strangers. She thought about going upstairs to her rented-for-the-night room, slipping out of the business suit and heels, then into a warm soothing bath.
But here, in the hotel bar, she could decompress in another way, enjoying at a distance the company of people she had never seen before and likely would not encounter again. Safety in anonymity.
And then, the young man approached.”
Come, Let Us Flee by Thomas Bexar, Ranger Press, 2012
All great cities have hotel bars of note. Some hotels operate their adult-beverage area primarily as an accommodation to guests. Others are all-in to attract thirsty visitors and residents alike, providing interesting surroundings and backdrops for gatherings of every type.
On the hotel bar scale of priority, comfortable socialization comes first. Recreation is next, followed by business purposes, gathering spots for meetings that eventually relocate to another venue, and finally just for being alone, enjoying a beverage, without being truly alone.
Hotel bars in New Orleans are really not that different from hotel bars in other cities – except, of course, that they’re in New Orleans where the stakes are higher. If the hotel commits to operating a bar successfully, the competition right outside the hotel’s door has to be considered. How do you make those potential patrons on the outside step inside when the choices in the neighborhood are unlimited and exciting?
Some hotels have become quite adept at being in the center of the action, and they’ve invested heavily in becoming a “people magnet” for locals and visitors alike. Other hotels are content to quietly serve paying room guests in comfortable, if not corporate, surroundings.
For our purposes, we’ve divided hotel bars into several categories, and have focused on those hotel bars in the French Quarter and Central Business District, for the most part. That is where the action is on this topic in our community.
936 St. Charles Ave., 962-0911, thehotelmodern.com/bellocq
It is worth the hunt to find it; tucked behind the hotel alongside Lee Circle, Bellocq is a quiet, creative project designed from the ground up to demonstrate a new, organic direction in cocktail mixology. The same folks who opened Cure on Freret Street are the brains and brawn behind this operation, which specializes in modern interpretations of pre-Prohibition era cocktails. The place is comfortable, and yet as mysterious, as the Storyville bordello photographer for which it was named.
Polo Club Lounge
The Windsor Court Hotel
300 Gravier St., 523-6000, WindsorCourtHotel.com/polo-club-lounge
Originally conceived and built to provide overnight accommodations to the crowds attending the 1984 New Orleans World’s Fair, the Windsor Court’s entire theme was to honor the creator’s, James Coleman Jr.’s, devotion to Great Britain. The masculine, elegant Polo Lounge is an example of attention to British upper-class style while featuring excellently crafted cocktails and fine wines by the glass.
A BIG IDEA
The Carousel Bar & Lounge
214 Royal St., 523-3341, HotelMonteleone.com/CarouselBar
A one-quarter horsepower motor rotates the main bar one revolution every 15 minutes, and that’s the way it’s been since 1949. It’s been the source of literary inspiration: Ernest Hemingway loved the place, as did Truman Capote (whose mother lived in the hotel during her pregnancy), Tennessee Williams, William Faulkner and scores of New Orleanians and visitors alike.
Following an extensive renovation in 2011, the amusement park-themed carousel today feels fresh and renewed, still serving the iconic classic house drink, the Vieux Carré cocktail, and the best Pisco Sour in town. Live music can be heard almost every evening.
Patrick Van Hoorebeck
The Ritz-Carlton Hotel, 921 Canal St., 524-1331, RitzCarlton.com/en/Properties/NewOrleans/Dining/DavenportLounge
Resident trumpeter par excellence Jeremy Davenport is in full swing every Thursday, Friday and Saturday, and this guy puts on quite a show. Even when he isn’t performing, the place is a grand oasis for adult beverages and snacks.
Located on the third floor of a massive Canal Street structure, site of the beloved but now-gone Maison Blanche department store, the lounge’s appointments are top-notch, with plush seating areas divided into intimate conversation centers. The long bar running the length of the room just begs for attention and inclusion in the affairs of patrons.
Swizzle Stick Bar
Loews Hotel, 300 Poydras St., 595-3305, CafeAdelaide.com
From the people who bring you Commander’s Palace, this bar can do it all, and it does it as well as anyone in town. Nothing about the décor or the wares offered are so out-of-the-ordinary that you’re surprised or shocked, but the drinks are sturdy and creative, and the problem is deciding which one to have. The service is New Orleans-friendly and the atmosphere is comfortable, not glitzy.
Royal Sonesta Hotel, 300 Bourbon St., 586-0300, Sonesta.com/RoyalNewOrleans
Grammy Award-winner, New Orleans’ own Irvin Mayfield, is often in residence here, playing jazz in a way expected by many visitors that’s becoming harder and harder to find. Importantly, cocktails are done properly, and many new concoctions are crafted by a talented bar staff including one of New Orleans Magazine’s past Mixologist of the Year winners, Tiffany Soles.
Hyatt Regency Hotel, 601 Loyola Ave., 613-3740
Named in honor of the world’s first for-profit indoor motion picture theater, which was located on Canal Street in 1896, Vitascope Hall continues that local tradition of good music, great food, something for the eyes to enjoy wherever you look and the latest technology. Smartphone applications are available for download, which will allow you to order food, request a particular song, find out game scores and just keep up with all the activity in this establishment. Small seating areas aid in the gathering of friends, but even then there’s a lot of energy, and big-screen televisions, all around.
The Sazerac Bar
The Roosevelt Hotel, 123 Baronne St., 648-1200, TheRooseveltNewOrleans.com/dining/the-sazerac-bar.html
The Sazerac Bar is not the originating emporium of the Sazerac cocktail nor of the Ramos Gin Fizz, but it is the true keeper of the flame for these historic New Orleans libations. Legends have been made in the Sazerac. If these walls – covered by Paul Niñas murals – could talk … You can almost envision Governor Huey P. Long, Louisiana’s legendary Kingfish, standing at the African walnut bar.
Dating to the turn of the 1800s into the 1900s, this room has had its share of famous visitors, including Louis Armstrong, Cab Callaway, Ray Charles, Jack Benny and Bob Hope, along with presidents and foreign leaders. As hotel bars go, they don’t come with more history than this place.
The Storming of the Sazerac event is staged annually to commemorate the day, Sept. 26, 1949, when women demanded to be let in and served every day – not just on Mardi Gras Day, as was the tradition.
Patrick’s Bar Vin
Hotel Mazarin (formerly The St. Louis Hotel), 730 Bienville St., 200-3180, PatricksBarVin.com
Overlooking a covered courtyard and a large fountain, Bar Vin is the labor of love from a true New Orleans character, Belgian native Patrick Van Hoorebeck. This bar is the home of the Mardi Gras organization, Krewe of Cork, and videos on televisions replay scenes of every year’s activities and festivities. It offers an excellent wine selection, local and Belgian beers and a smattering of food, along with cocktails.
W Hotel, 333 Poydras St., 207-5016, GerberBars.com/whiskey-blue-new-orleans
Once your eyes acclimate to the deeply hued blue-back bar and the amber-tinted main bar, then the navigation into the finer points of the cocktail menu gets easier. It is all about the atmosphere and the making of a good drink. It is an ideal meeting spot located along the main business thoroughfare in New Orleans.
Hyatt Regency French Quarter, 800 Iberville St., 586-0800, NewOrleans.hyatt.com/hyatt/hotels-neworleans/entertainment
An American artisan whiskey bar in the French Quarter, where bourbon is stored in small barrels and selections are dispensed to your cocktail or flask.
Other local and regional spirits, like vodka, rums and absinthe, are also featured and a nice selection of bar snacks makes for the perfect accompaniment.
Bienville House, 320 Decatur St., 529-2345, IrisNewOrleans.com
There isn’t much space at the bar, but lack of quantity doesn’t at all mean there’s any lack of excellence. The Iris bar is absolutely about top quality. The magic that happens in owner and chef Ian Schnoebelen’s kitchen translates to the bar. Cocktails are creative and fresh. Do not limit yourself to your usual; choose something from the menu. When you finish that, chances are your next question will be, “What else should I try?” It is all superb.
Royal Sonesta Hotel, 777 Bienville St., 553-2277, RevolutionNola.com
It’s a bar within a restaurant within a hotel – but what a location and what an amazing combination. The restaurant is the brainchild of John Folse, a Louisiana culinary legend, and Rick Tramonto, who came to New Orleans from Chicago after successfully establishing his “chops” with an incredibly successful operation. R’evolution, the restaurant, is devoted to an exploration of all the cultures that has come to be known as Louisiana Cuisine. That theme carries over into the bar where adventuresome noshing and cocktailing are encouraged, side-by-side.
The Green Bar
Westin Canal Place, 100 Iberville St., 553-5140, WestinNewOrleansCanalPlace.com/Green-Bar
Casually quiet, and quite out of the way on the 11th floor of the hotel, the Green Bar makes no fuss. But if you’re anxious to enjoy a nice beverage with little fear of being seen by anyone you know, this is a good spot to duck into.
May Baily’s Place
Dauphine Orleans Hotel, 415 Dauphine St., 586-1800, DauphineNewOrleans.com/nightlife
The bordello-like feel of the place isn’t the result of some interior designer bereft of ideas. It is rather historically accurate to this spot, which was a “house of adult entertainment” on the fringe of Storyville, where prostitution was legal and jazz was born. The cottage was built in 1821 and today reproductions of famous E.J. Bellocq photographs depicting ladies of the night at work and play grace the walls. A red light still burns in the courtyard. Today, it’s not a call to action.
The Terrace Lounge
Le Richelieu Hotel, 1234 Chartres St., 529-2492, LeRichelieuHotel.com/amenities.html
This small, intimate lounge provides a water view. OK, so it’s the hotel’s pool, but still … Here is the place that you’re certain you’ve been in before, and maybe so. But it’s an almost-secret place tucked way into the back of the French Quarter within an 86-room hotel. You will never be found here, if you don’t want to be.
The Victorian Lounge
The Columns Hotel, 3811 St. Charles Ave., 899-9308, TheColumns.com/Lounge.html
Most locals will be surprised to learn that the bar in The Columns Hotel actually has a name. Local shorthand is, “The Columns,” and that says it all. Quite a popular place to sit and watch the world go by from the hotel’s expansive front veranda next to oak-lined St. Charles Avenue, a heavy dose of the Old South in a city that never really was – except in this Garden District neighborhood.
The Bombay Club
Prince Conti Hotel, 830 Conti St., 586-0972, TheBombayClub.com
Walking down the driveway of the Prince Conti Hotel, just about the last thing you expect behind the door at the end of the drive is a sexy, elegantly wood-paneled club famous for serving the best martinis in New Orleans. Oh, and there’s an intimate courtyard and a fine-dining restaurant. This place is full of unexpected pleasures. If you like jazz, that’s a regular staple here. The full bar is capable of serving incredible mixed drinks. If you want privacy while dining, there are hidden tables behind heavy curtains. It is all worth your while.
MEETING & TALKING
W New Orleans – French Quarter
310 Chartres St., 552-4095,
What are those beer taps doing in the middle of tables? And what about that wall of wine dispensers? Self-service seems to be a theme, but then there’s also an amazing array of complicated but well-balanced drinks deftly produced by a seasoned bar team. Comfortable, welcoming, with a tell-us-what-you-want attitude among all the staff, it’s located in an area of the French Quarter that had no specific name until SoBou came along: South of Bourbon. Management hopes the name catches on. That decision still hangs out there.
MEETING & TALKING
International House Hotel
221 Camp St., 553-9550, InHotel.com/bar.html
In voodoo terms, “loa” means benevolent spirits. You will feel their presence here. This gentle venue specializes in cocktail creations rooted in fresh herbs, fruits, spices and vegetation. Alan Walter, the bar manager, is a former New Orleans Magazine Mixologist of the Year. His calm and creative hand is present throughout the cocktail menu.
DON’T TELL A SOUL
Rib Room Bar
Royal Orleans Hotel
621 St. Louis St., 529-7046,
Royal Orleans Hotel
621 St. Louis St., 529-5333
The Rib Room has been, in the not-so-distant past, a meeting place for local and state politicians as well as ne’er-do-wells – often the same thing. The bar sits both in the gallery area of the Royal Orleans Hotel, with great views onto St. Louis and Royal streets, but also extends into the restaurant.
Wash-bucket martinis are signature drinks, a case of quantity overwhelming good sense.
The Touché Lounge is entered from Royal Street, not the hotel, and is a favorite gathering spot for locals and visitors alike. It is quite smoky but the in-crowd never seems to mind.
Along the Lines of What You Would Normally Expect
And finally there are hotel bars that are comfortable, certainly capable of making a good drink, and excellent meeting places when out-of-town guests are in New Orleans.
The Spirits Bar
Hilton Riverside Hotel, 2 Poydras St., 561-0500, NewOrleansRiversideHotel.com/dining/spirits.cfm
The Pelican Bar
Sheraton Hotel, 500 Canal St., 525-2500, SheratonNewOrleans.com/pelican-bar
The Bar in René’s Bistrot
The Renaissance Arts Hotel, 700 Tchoupitoulas St., 613-2330
The Marriott Hotel, 555 Canal St., 581-1000
The Saint Hotel, 931 Canal St., 522-5400, TheSaintHotelNewOrleans.com/burgundy-bar.html