The bar might not be the first thing you think about when choosing a hotel. After reading this, maybe it will be.
All hotel bars are convenient for guests, to be sure. But to be an attraction in its own right, a hotel bar must have a honed sense of style, offer ambience that is serenely classy at one end of the spectrum or excitingly theatrical at the other, have decent finger food and -- not least -- pour great drinks.
Here are seven splendid hotel bars, culled from three continents, that hit all those marks:
THE BIG 4, Huntington Hotel, San Francisco
Atop Nob Hill in the refined Huntington, this is the hotel bar as posh club. Think dark, polished wood, green leather chairs, framed memorabilia of a bygone San Francisco festooning the walls.
Big 4 Bar
The Big 4 name comes from a quartet of 19th century railroad barons, one of whom was the hotel's namesake, C.P. Huntington, of the Central Pacific Line.
Although it is linked to the past, the bar (and the Big 4 fine-dining restaurant) is far from musty. It has a good wine list, offers generous pours of wine and cocktails and showcases live piano nightly. The place draws a comfortable blend of hotel guests and locals who pop by for drinks and music. It's especially popular on Friday and Saturday nights.
1075 California St., San Francisco, Calif., Tel.415-474-5400.
CENTRO, Kerry Center Hotel, Beijing
Edgy in the good sense and very much of-the-moment, this stylish, see-and-be-seen bar attracts a mix of locals and international business travelers.
In the early evening, you might see a high-tech globetrotter glued to the cell phone, sipping bottled water. Later on, alcohol replaces the water, flirting replaces networking and the music is turned up.
It's entirely possible that a product launch party or fashion event will unfold while you're there, enhancing the entertainment value. The drinks are good, and the wait staff is attentive without being obtrusive.
Ensconced in an Edwardian stone building that formerly housed a newspaper, then a bank, One Aldwych uses the high-ceiled main lobby to display its destination bar. Quietly workaday in daytime, it becomes a stylish gathering place after dark.
One Aldwych, London
The drink options are driven by an extensive martini menu; some are novelties, such as the chocolate martinis and blackberry and lavender mixes on offer. But the Lobby Bar pours classic martinis, too, and they are done right.
High-backed chairs, roomy couches, oversized sculptures and glorious floral arrangements help give the big, buzzy space a more intimate scale.
One Aldwych, London, England Tel. 020 7300 1070
SIDEBAR, Four Seasons Hotel Beverly Wilshire, Beverly Hills
Celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck's steakhouse, CUT, became a sensation when it opened in June 2006. The puckishly named Sidebar, which debuted in an adjoining space at the Four Seasons at the same time, quickly caught on, too.
Beverly Wilshire Bar
Architect Richard Meier, who also designed the Getty Center, gave the place a long bar and long tables with backless stools where tipplers who can't find a place at the crowded bar sip and nosh. Sidebar is more than a waiting room for CUT; it's a hangout in its own right, typically packed with beautiful young things.
Finger food to go with the cocktails includes mini Kobe sliders and onion rings with paprika-saffron mayonnaise.
9500 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills, Calif. Tel. 310-275-5200
PEAK LOUNGE, Park Hyatt Hotel, Tokyo
The New York Bar, 11 floors up on the 52nd floor of the high-rise Park Hyatt , is better-known, but the 41st floor Peak Lounge is an equally good and often less-crowded place to linger over drinks.
Simply put, it's a lovely spot, flanked by floor to ceiling windows, awash with natural light during the day and lit by softly illuminated Japanese washi lanterns at night.
Occupying one side of a dramatic arrivals lobby that comes complete with a tall stand of living bamboo, the bar has mixologists who know their cocktails.
There is no better place to watch the sky darken and the "Blade Runner'' skyline of Tokyo come blinking into the neon night.