interior of the connaught hotel in london

A great hotel bar is a welcoming embrace – a respite, a reprieve from the world, be it the local banalities of traffic and mundane routine, or the world at large with the stresses of travel, jet lag, and immersion into a new locale. The best hotel bars soothe the souls of travelers and residents alike, with a come one, come all ethos of hospitality. They are places without judgment, where language barriers are cast aside. Few pleasures are better than sitting down at an excellent hotel bar and allowing your day to slow down for a few moments. Take a deep breath, sip on that icy cold martini, survey the scene. The emails can wait. The emails should wait. That holds true whether you hopped into a cab across the city or onto a 12-hour flight across the planet. I’ve traveled longer than that to pilgrimage to a renowned drinking establishment, and there’s no better place to gather intelligence and local-approved recommendations than while sidled up at the hotel bar.

To qualify for our list of the world’s best hotel bars, you need not be on the cutting edge of craft cocktails; though many of the below inclusions certainly are. You don’t need to be the sleekest or the chicest; though, here too, many of our entrants would indeed qualify. No, the most important aspect of a world-class, can’t-miss hotel bar is its atmosphere, the way the place makes you feel when you’ve joined fellow globetrotters in the pursuit of pleasure delivered via cocktail glass. In the case of the classics, their walls are steeped in so much legend and lore that you can taste the very history of the place when you take that first sip of your drink, and for the newer entrants, there’s the tantalizing possibility that perhaps you’re writing a bit of that history for yourself.

Bar Hemingway at The Ritz Paris at Place Vendôme

close up of someone holding a cocktail with a rose flower in bar hemingway at the ritz paris
Courtesy of The Ritz Paris

Bar Hemingway at The Ritz Paris at Place Vendôme is in some ways the platonic ideal of the old world, continental European hotel bar. Ornate but not overbearing. Dark but not dingy. Lived in yet still thriving. It’s a destination, more than a catchy name, and far from the tourist trap devoid of charm that such a name sometimes implies.

“With only 25 seats and no music to distract from the experience, the intimate setting invokes the sense that guests have stepped into their own private member’s club, where even picture taking is forbidden,” says Colin Field, Bar Hemingway’s long-time head bartender who stepped away in 2023. That’s a member’s club in the best sense, a place where everyone is made to feel at home and treated with stellar service; not in the stuffy hideaway that shuts its doors to outsiders type of way. This is your private retreat, even if just for a drink or two.

The order: Take in the best of France with a signature drink that includes two of its prides – Calvados and Champagne. “The Serendipity has been the Hemingway house cocktail since 1994,” Field says. “It’s made in a tumbler with delicious Calvados from Normandy, fresh mint, bittersweet apple juice from the Normandy region, and Champagne, and has been a favorite for over 25 years.”

BKK Social Club at the Four Seasons Bangkok at Chao Phraya River

Don’t look now, but Bangkok has emerged as one of Asia’s preeminent cocktail cities. The bar leading the charge also happens to reside in perhaps the preeminent choice of accommodations in town: BKK Social Club at the Four Seasons Bangkok at Chao Phraya River.

The bar brings in a touch of golden-age Buenos Aires glamor interspersed with 1920s art nouvelle style, highlighted by a beautiful back bar and leather banquette seating, and serves up a prestigious lineup of Champagne and cigars alongside its signature cocktail creations. But nobody understands what truly sets a bar apart better than impresario Philip Bischoff, the bar’s beverage director and one of two Four Seasons beverage ambassadors for the Asia-Pacific region. “It’s an environment where people can just have a good time,” he says. “We aim to bring people together for good chats, good drinks, and good snacks, by inviting you to our stylish living room.”

The order: Signature classics are named for the people, places, and parties of Argentina. Try the Evita, including pineapple rum, Campari, Aperol, citrus, bay leaf, and cinnamon, or the Carnival, with cachaca, raspberry, elderflower, lime, and egg white. A special Negroni Flight, including three riffs on the classic, may be the menu’s most popular option, though.

Bemelmans Bar at The Carlyle, a Rosewood Hotel, New York

close up of the earl gary cocktail for bemelmans bar at the carlyle in new york
Courtesy of The Carlyle

Housed within The Carlyle, now a Rosewood Hotel, Bemelmans Bar is a New York institution. The bar is named for artist Ludwig Bemelmans, and the bar displays one of his massive murals, Central Park. The artist, otherwise most famous for the Madeline picture book series, gifted the piece to the hotel…kind of. Story has it that it was the only way he could settle the score on a rather unwieldy hotel tab, and he and his family stayed at the hotel for a year and a half on the strength of that mural.

Bemelmans reflects the ideal that a great hotel bar should serve locals and regulars as much as it should serve hotel guests. And that a great bar is more than the sum of its parts. The certain magic and charm that brings it all together, its palpable history, elevates the whole. On that note, live jazz music is played 365 nights of the year at Bemelmans.

The order: Pick a celebrity and order the corresponding signature cocktail from the menu. There’s The Gillespie, the JFK Daiquiri, and the Jackie O, for starters. Head bartender Luis Serrano’s current signature, and namesake, is The Serrano, made with Casamigos anejo tequila, Grand Marnier, Champagne, Peychaud’s bitters, rosemary-ginger syrup, lime juice, and egg white. That said, the martinis are not to be missed.

Sazerac Bar at The Roosevelt New Orleans, A Waldorf Astoria Hotel

“There isn’t another bar in the country operating to this day that rivals The Sazerac Bar in history, elegance and mystique,” says Justin Sugerman, the director of food and beverage at The Roosevelt New Orleans, A Waldorf Astoria Hotel. Combine gilded-age aesthetics with a wild history veering from political and cultural touchstone to cocktail lore, and see why the establishment has been named the best hotel bar in the U.S. in numerous lists and polls.

Take in the splendor of the once-hidden, hand-painted Paul Ninas murals, and the gorgeous wood paneling sourced from a single, mammoth African walnut tree. Then soak up the history that includes Louisiana governor and presidential candidate Huey P. Long, who according to some of the said lore, built the 80-mile Airline Highway so he could get himself from Baton Rouge to the Sazerac Bar in a moment of need. “It’s the kind of place, as a regular used to say, ‘gets comfortable, fast,’” Sugerman says.

The order: We have a dilemma — you’re going to need to have two drinks here, the Sazerac and the Ramos Gin Fizz. The first is the bar’s namesake, and is considered by most to be the world’s first true cocktail. The second was the work of Henry Charles Ramos at the Ramos Bar in the late 1880s. According to Sugerman — after Ramos’ death and the end of Prohibition — the owner of the Roosevelt Hotel, Seymour Weiss, purchased the drink’s rights from his son. The famous frothy delight remains served at its peak today.

Connaught Bar at The Connaught Hotel, London

interior of the connaught hotel in london
Courtesy of The Connaught Hotel

It’s hard not to declare the Connaught Bar at The Connaught Hotel London a classic institution, considering it has already received major accolades. Opened in 2008 after the hotel was renovated, the bar is still among the avant garde new generation. Yet it is no doubt already iconic, as classic as a modern classic can get, but let’s allow the bar to breathe for a few decades and make use of its youthful verv.

“We turn a story into a liquid experience, and we try to take the fine-dining concept and offer it as fine drinking,” said Ago Perrone, director of mixology, during a visit to the bar. “But at the end of the day, it’s all about the people.”

Impeccable service is the name of the game, along with showstopping cocktail concoctions served with a touch of unmistakable style. The sexy see-and-be-seen crowd doesn’t hurt anything, either.

The order: A trolley martini, which they serve about 50 of per night. “What separates us, and is our signature, are the choices of bitters,” says Giorgio Bargiani, assistant director of mixology. Choose between house elixirs such as cardamom, lavender, ginseng and bergamot, vanilla, and coriander seed for the perfect finishing touch to a martini, incorporating a house blend of vermouth, which is made in front of your table with an artful elegance, a touch of envy-inducing performance theater served up alongside your beverage.

Manhattan at Conrad Singapore Orchard

Manhattan at the Conrad Singapore Orchard is at the head of the pack amid a dynamic hotel bar scene in Singapore, where a handful of Asia’s most innovative and exciting cocktail bars are housed within luxury hotels. Manhattan draws its inspiration from the golden age of cocktails and nightlife, and each drink is crafted with precision and creativity, as well as attention paid to the smallest of details.

That’s not all, as the bar, a concept from bar world power brokers Proof & Company, also deploys a trump card hidden up its sleeve — the world’s first in-hotel rickhouse, or whiskey warehouse. Yes, they have a veritable barrel room for aging house spirits and cocktails, something that is not only impressive for its ambition, and as a sight to see, but enables them to create and fine-tune a sprawling spectrum of signature flavors.

The order: The latest menu draws inspiration from Broadway, seeking to deliver a touch of the bright lights, storytelling, and stagecraft of a night at the theater. Wonderful options abound, but the bar’s namesake Manhattan, aged in its signature cellar room in an American oak cask for eight weeks and featuring a touch of house-made cherry brandy in addition to rye and sweet vermouth, is a mandatory order.

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Featured image courtesy of The Connaught Hotel