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Hotel Bar Trends: Specialty Ice, Artisanal Liquors
By Barbara De Lollis
WASHINGTON — It used to be that road-weary travelers could count on a scotch and soda and maybe a bowl of stale peanuts once they reached the hotel bar. But in 2013, the hotel bar is getting aserious upgrade.
As hotels try to make their bars destinations with locals and visitors alike, they're upping the ante with cutting-edge cocktail recipes designed to surprise and entertain customers, and shake them out of their old, thrifty habits.
Don't be surprised if you see a drink menu that features ingredients or garnishes such as herbal tea, freshly crushed pineapple juice or unusual seasoned ice. Expect to pay $12 to $18 for a premium cocktail, or perhaps more in big-market cities like New York.
You might even see items made in the kitchen in and around your glass. At Telluride, Colo.'s Hotel Madeline, guests coming off the slopes and craving something filling can order a decadent Bloody Mary cocktail garnished with two cheeseburger sliders, stuffed olives, pickled okra, pickled green beans, pickled asparagus, celery, pearl onions, lemons, limes, pepperoncini, celery salt, black pepper and two strips of bacon.
At the James Royal Palm on South Beach, which opened in November, bar customers can watch a bartender cut a fresh pineapple, pulverize it into juice and toss aside the leafy top of the fruit as their pineapple cocktail's prepared.
"All the drinks - they are not any different than a salad," says Spanish celebrity chef Jose Andres, who is serving up innovative cocktails at two new hotels, Miami's SLS South Beach and Dorado Beach, the Ritz-Carlton Reserve resort in Puerto Rico. "They are mixed with the same ingredients that you would use to create a dish the same way I have a kitchen."
The stakes are so high to innovate in the beverage department that Andres recently opened a new bar, Minibar by Jose Andres, in his adopted city of Washington, D.C., where he can experiment with recipes.
Hotel bars can be entertaining
Another big theme with hotel bars is an emphasis on entertainment.
At the JW Marriott at LA Live in downtown Los Angeles, for instance, the hotel in January came up with different Lady Gaga-themed cocktails specifically for the nights when the pop diva played at the Staples Center next door.
The entertainment angle also can involve the bar itself.
At the Hotel Bel-Air, guests who order certain $18 hand-crafted cocktails will be able to watch their bartender dramatically and quickly sculpt a sphere of crystal-clear ice from a large block of ice so that it fits perfectly into the cocktail glass. If they're ordering a drink that's shaken, they can watch their bartender do what's been nicknamed "the Bel-Air shake," where their hands grasp a special shaker and move so fast they look like a blur.
A growing number of hotel bars also are tinkering with the most basic ingredient of all, the booze.
Many, such as the W Hotel in San Francisco's Upstairs Bar, are specializing in cocktails that use harder-to-find liquors such as Pisco from Peru.
At the same time, many hotels are time-traveling, and bringing back brown alcohol drinks that most people haven't thought about for decades, says Brad Nelson, corporate chef for Marriott International.
Marriott's recently renovated Renaissance Mayflower hotel in Washington, for example, is specializing in bourbon cocktails. To expand their appeal, the hotel plans to host a special "women and bourbon" cocktail event this spring to get the word out that it's not for grandfathers anymore. At the W New York hotel's Whiskey Blue bar, $16 will buy you a "Canton Sour," with Suntory Yamazaki Single Malt 12-year, Domaine de Canton, fresh lime juice and simple syrup.
Increasingly, hotel bars are getting away from well-known brands such as Grey Goose and Absolut. Instead, they're pouring artisanal liquors many people have never heard of; often made in small batches and possibly nearby, to attract connoisseurs as well as customers seeking out new experiences.
Other hotel bar trends for 2013:
Specialty ice: "Ice is the soul of the cocktail," says Juan Coronado, who oversees beverages for Jose Andres' restaurant company. When the exclusive Montage Beverly Hills opened its Macallan scotch bar about two years ago, one of its key features besides the scotch were the crystal-clear, snowball-shaped ice cubes used to keep drinks cold. Today, less-expensive properties such as the Washington's Liaison Capitol Hill hotel are putting their own spin on ice, which used to cost practically nothing for bars to produce. That hotel's making ice using filtered water and special molds in its kitchen freezers, since there's no space behind the bar, and infusing them with different flavors and/or herbs such as star of anise, cinnamon and nutmeg. Specialty ice has its benefits: It won't dilute as quickly since it doesn't have hollow spots, Coronado says. One possible downside: As ice gets pricier to make, consumers could see cocktail prices rise.
Greater non-alcoholic choices: Expect to find it easier to order a fancy, non-alcoholic cocktail, says Guy Rigby of the Four Seasons luxury hotel chain. At the Four Seasons location in Baltimore, celebrity chef Michael Mina's Wit and Wisdom restaurant and bar typically has at least two alcohol-free drinks ($7) on the menu. They're served in grown-up style glasses, so they're not necessarily aimed at the under-14 set who might otherwise order a Shirley Temple. "They're more for adults who are looking out for themselves and drinking less," says Guy Rigby, who runs food and beverage for the Four Seasons chain. "They want to participate and not look like they're having a boring, old soda." Another reason why these drinks are here to stay: greater awareness and enforcement of drunk driving laws, he says.
Exotic ingredients: If sampling exotic foods is your idea of fun, the Four Seasons hotel in Mexico City uses grasshopper salt to garnish drinks. Grasshoppers are prized for their high protein, vitamin and mineral content and have been used as a food source in Mexico for centuries, the hotel says. Grasshoppers make you jumpy? There's also worm salt.
Farm-to-table cocktails: If you're the kind of person who'd rather celebrate all things local, then check out a Four Seasons hotel bar in the Americas in April. That's when the chain will repeat last year's "100 mile" cocktail program, which was a hit with customers, Rigby says. The program featured drinks made only with ingredients that came from within 100 miles of each hotel, whether locally made gin or vodka. At the Westin Grand Central hotel's new LCL: Bar & Kitchen lounge in New York City, you can order a "Brush and Tone," which features organic vodka, muddled cucumber and lemon, coconut water, wakaya ginger powder and egg white ($14).
It's no coincidence that hotels are ramping up their cocktail menus and wine programs at the same time they're selling drinks in more locations throughout their properties.
The rooftop hotel bar has become such a popular trend that it's spreading beyond New York and Los Angeles boutique hotels to mainstream hotels in cities such as New Orleans, Chicago and Philadelphia. A growing number of hotels have also been transforming their dull lobbies into more exciting spaces, with libraries, communal tables and other areas where people can order snacks and beverages. Hotels are also luring guests, local residents and mobile workers into their lobbies with free Wi-Fi for an environment than can give the nearest Starbucks a run for its money.
Source: USA Today
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