10 of the world's top hotel bars (worth checking in for)

Rock Bar at the Ayana Resort Bali.
Rock Bar at the Ayana Resort Bali. 

For a drink with atmosphere to spare, you can't beat a hotel bar. The best ones exist in a timeless bubble all on their own; a place where movie scenes and chance encounters unfold, history's colourful characters order their usual tipples, and legendary bartenders create storied classics. 

A great hotel bar becomes a destination in its own right. The very best are reason enough to book a room. After all, the only thing better than a magnificent watering hole is one with a bed close by. 

The American Bar, The Savoy, London

 

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Many famous cocktails originated in hotel bars, but The American Bar gave the world an entire libatory bible: Harry Craddock's The Savoy Cocktail Book, 87 years in print and still to be found, dog-eared, on the shelf of every bartender who aspired to master a Martini. While today's menu contains some eye-popping extravagances including a Sazerac for 5,000 pounds (approx $8,000 AU), the prevailing tone is genteel, deco opulence and a reassuring permanence that's soothed the flighty souls of Frank Sinatra, Charlie Chaplin and Marilyn Monroe. The piano player still tinkles, and black and white photos whisper history while contemporary celebs try to muster enough class to match the surroundings. Currently second on the World's 50 Best Bars List and best in Europe, this 129-year-old classic emanates everything grand about London.

Rock Bar, Ayana Resort, Bali

The view alone is enough to intoxicate on this ledge 14 metres above the Indian Ocean; rocks, waves, cliffs and horizon provide a visual spectacular and even the approach is adventurous; you access the bar via an inclinator across the cliff face. DJs perform, mermaid-like, on surrounding rocks and the sunset over Jimbaran Bay is a nightly magic show.

Bar Marmont, Chateau Marmont, West Hollywood

Bar Marmont at the Chateau, West Hollywood.

Bar Marmont at the Chateau, West Hollywood.

This chateau-inspired hotel and its bungalows and private suites have cossetted Hollywood's most stellar since 1929. John Belushi and Helmut Newton died here and Britney Spears and Lindsay Lohan have both been banned, while endless others continue to perfect the art of after-partying. People watching is an obvious sport but don't overlook the cocktails; although Matt Schaeffer's list plays a supporting role to the human sideshow, it boasts plenty of excellence and a 'secret' menu that's worth exploring.

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Bar Hemingway, The Ritz, Paris

The renovated Bar Hemingway along with with its roll call of talented ghosts including the likes of  Cole Porter, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Gary Cooper and of course Papa Hemingway.

The renovated Bar Hemingway along with with its roll call of talented ghosts including the likes of Cole Porter, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Gary Cooper and of course Papa Hemingway. Photo: Vincent Leroux

The unapologetically decadent and dazzling Ritz was recently reborn after four-year, $500 million renovations, but thankfully this nook once loved by 'Papa' Hemingway, has remained largely untouched. Magazine covers featuring its muse adorn the walls, and the cosy space is presided over by bartending's own answer to Hemingway – Colin Field. This cocktail master is known for his nigh-psychic ability to read a guest's inner desires and deliver their perfect custom drink. He describes his craft as 'haute couture,' and his cocktails certainly are – but the real marvel at Hemingway's is the comfy conviviality Field and his team creates each night amid all that opulence.

Carousel Bar, Hotel Monteleone, New Orleans

 

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After your second Vieux Carre you may feel like Carousel Bar is revolving, and that's because it really is. The 25-seat circular bar with its glorious fairground canopy and painted chairs completes a circuit every 15 minutes and those who have perched at it since 1949 include Truman Capote and Tennessee Williams, who referenced it more than once in his writings, and of course Ernest Hemingway (on any tour of the world's famous hotel bars he's your ghostly guide). The Vieux Carre cocktail was invented here, and is still prepared impeccably, along with the native Sazeracs and Mint Juleps.

New York Bar, Park Hyatt, Tokyo

The New York Bar atop Shinjuku's Park Hyatt Hotel in Tokyo, you may recognize it in late night cocktail scenes from Lost In Translation.

The New York Bar atop Shinjuku's Park Hyatt Hotel in Tokyo, you may recognize it in late night cocktail scenes from Lost In Translation.

These floor-to-ceiling windows, walnut floors and dark wood chairs framed Bill Murray's middle-aged malaise in Lost in Translation and there's a commemoratory cocktail, the LIT. But although you can, if you wish, take a selfie on the bar stool he used, the real-life view is the star. This glorious vista of Tokyo from 32 floors up also appeared in the movie but none of the gloomy characters seemed to appreciate it, and it's hard to understand why when you drink in the expansive landscape of twinkling lights at dusk. Sixty-plus whiskies on the menu make you wonder again why nobody in the movie was jollier. 

Chandelier Bar, The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas

Forget swinging on this chandelier – instead, you disappear right into it. Va-voom Vegas to its core, this three-storey bar draped with two million beaded crystals is an architectural showpiece. Each level - Bottom, Inside and Top - has a different mood and purpose, but all boast bars and abundant cocktail expertise. Try Becky with the Good Hair, a mezcal-based tribute to Beyonce, featuring a 'Queen Bae' seasoning that combines salt, pepper and honey crystals.

Sky Bar, Lebua at State Tower, Bangkok

The Red Sky bar is an unforgettable outdoor rooftop venue with impressive views of Bangkok.

The Red Sky bar is an unforgettable outdoor rooftop venue with impressive views of Bangkok. Photo: Alamy

Does adrenalin enhance your drink? This vertiginous eyrie, 63 floors above street level, is where to find out. You'll descend an open-sided, illuminated staircase from the very top floor out onto a platform with only waist-high glass walls between you and the city far, far below. The bar is cantilevered over thin air and glows blue, pink and green while Bangkok sprawls beneath. The cast of Hangover II hung out here while shooting and there's a drink, the Hangovertini, as tribute. But gimmicks are superfluous in a bar already over-endowed with wow.

Bemelman's Bar, Carlyle Hotel, NYC

Bemelmans Bar at The Carlyle

Bemelmans Bar at The Carlyle

Named for Ludwig Bemelmans, author of the Madeline children's books, this venerable but charming enclave is decorated with his whimsical animal murals and comes with all the trappings of Upper East Side high society: tuxedo-ed waiters, leather banquettes, gold leaf embellishments and a pianist tinkling the ivories on a Steinway grand. Cole Porter inhabited this bar when he lived at the hotel, and if he walked back in today, he'd feel very much at home.

Taking a break

Two of history's most eminent hotel bars are currently closed for renovations. Raffles Singapore's Long Bar, birthplace of the Singapore Sling, and the NYC Waldorf Astoria's Peacock Alley, where the Rob Roy was invented, both lie dormant while expensive upgrades take place. Here's hoping these grand dames survive with their souls intact.