The History Behind the World's Most Iconic Hotel Bars

"Without the history, they'd be nothing more than just great cocktail bars”

The American Bar at the Savoy
The American Bar at the Savoy.

Courtesy of The American Bar

We’re dedicating our September features to food and drink. One of our favorite parts of travel is the joy of trying a new cocktail, snagging a reservation at a great restaurant, or supporting a local wine region. Now, to celebrate the flavors that teach us about the world, we put together a collection of tasty features, including chefs’ top tips for eating well on the roadhow to choose an ethical food tour, the wonders of ancient indigenous cooking traditions, and a chat with Hollywood taco impresario Danny Trejo.

From celebrity clientele and glamorous furnishings to impeccable service and must-drink classic cocktails, the world’s most iconic hotel bars have stood the test of time. Stepping foot into the elegant Hemingway Bar at the Ritz Paris or taking a spin in one of 25 seats at the famed Carousel Bar & Lounge at the Hotel Monteleone in New Orleans is like stepping back in time. In fact, well-appointed bartenders are still slinging some of the same drinks that made the bars influential and beloved by Hollywood starlets, renowned authors, politicians, and even royalty in their heyday.

As gathering places for the wealthy and famous, hotel bars were an integral part of the “Golden Age of Cocktails,” between the 1860s through Prohibition, when most of today’s classic drinks—including the martini, daiquiri, and Manhattan—were invented.

While few bars in the world can truly be considered iconic, those that make the cut are “an integral part of both cocktail and pop culture history in some way,” said London-based bar consultant and drinks writer Tyler Zielinski. From Singapore’s elegant, early 19th-century Long Bar to the intimate, mid-century throwback Harry’s Bar in Venice, these hotel watering holes have staying power due to their timeless drinks, rich histories, and past and present-day celebrity followings.

01 of 07

Singapore: Long Bar

Singapore Sling

Courtesy of Raffles Hotels & Resorts

Beach Rd, 1, Singapore 189673
Phone +65 6412 1816

Take Singapore’s Long Bar, tucked inside the sprawling oceanfront Raffles Hotel in Singapore. Opened in 1887, the bar was a hub for local society. In its prime, it was a magnet for celebrities like Ava Gardner, Elizabeth Taylor, Alfred Hitchcock, and Ernest Hemingway (a prominent presence at many of the world’s most iconic bars). It was also the birthplace of the Singapore Sling, a gin-based fruity cocktail invented in 1915 by bartender Ngiam Tong Boon, whose clever, rose-hued creation allowed women to sip liquor undetected during a time when they were not allowed to imbibe publicly. Today, guests can sip this signature drink in wicker armchairs or behind the polished wooden bar among lush greenery and 1920s-era lamps and tiled floors.

02 of 07

London: American Bar at The Savoy

American Bar

Courtesy of The Savoy

The Savoy, Strand, London WC2R 0EZ, UK
Phone +44 20 7420 2111

Another late 19th-century hotel bar, the storied American Bar at The Savoy in London opened in 1893 and had a similar role in celebrity and cocktail culture. Named for its menu of American-style cocktails, Britain’s oldest surviving cocktail bar has been a favorite of A-listers as diverse as Marilyn Monroe, Mick Jagger, members of the Royal Family, and Winston Churchill (who was known to stash his own bottle of whiskey inside a locked cabinet behind the Art Deco-style chrome bar).

More than a century later, the bar continues to top “World’s Best Bar” lists, and guests can watch barkeeps donned in white blazers mix its signature drinks—including the White Lady, a gin-powered sour, and the Hanky Panky, a sweeter riff on the gin martini. And for the first time in the bar’s 128-year-old history, an American—Shannon Tebay, formerly of Death & Co.—is serving as its head bartender.

03 of 07

Paris: Bar Hemingway at the Ritz Paris

Hemingway Bar

Courtesy of Ritz Paris

15 Pl. Vendôme, 75001 Paris, France
Phone +33 1 43 16 33 74

Across the Channel, the renowned Bar Hemingway at the Ritz Paris at Place Vendôme served its first round of drinks in 1898. Originally opened as the hotel's “Ladies’ Bar,” the intimate room off the hotel’s main lounge served evening tea and elaborate drinks garnished with fresh flowers, a touch that remains today. By the 1920s, the bar had transitioned to a co-ed drinking den and was dubbed the “Petit Bar,” becoming a favorite of Coco Chanel, Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, and Ernest Hemingway. (It was here that the bar’s now namesake celebrated the Nazi’s retreat from Paris with several rounds of martinis.) Still a destination for A-listers and cocktail aficionados, the small, timber-paneled bar seats only 25 patrons, first-come, first-served. Try to snag a seat on one of the leather barstools and order Ritz Pimms or the Serendipity. Created by Collin Field, the spot’s lauded, longtime bartender, the latter is a bright, refreshing drink with a base of Calvados and topped with champagne.

04 of 07

New York City: King Cole Bar at The St. Regis

King Cole Bar

Courtesy of The St. Regis New York

Two E 55th St, New York, NY 10022, USA
Phone +1 212-753-4500

Dating back to the early 20th century is King Cole Bar at The St. Regis New York. One of America's most legendary hotel bars, it is the birthplace of a beverage favored by brunch-goers worldwide: the Bloody Mary. Called the Red Snapper (its common name dubbed too “vulgar” to appear on the elegant hotel’s menu), the spicy vodka drink was created in 1934 by bartender Fernand Petiot for visiting Russian aristocrat Serge Obolensky. Frequented by celebrities ranging from Ernest Hemingway (again!), Marilyn Monroe, and Salvador Dalí to Jason Wu and Uma Thurman, the intimate space and its Maxfield Parrish mural were also featured in an episode of the CW's original “Gossip Girl.” Belly up to the wood-paneled bar to sip on several varieties of Bloody Marys and classic cocktails and wine by the glass and bottle. The best seat in the house? Table 55 can be reserved for $2,500 and includes a custom menu featuring caviar, lobster, exclusive wines, rare whiskies, and other spirits.

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05 of 07

Venice: Harry's Bar

The Original Bellini

Courtesy of Cipriani

Calle Vallaresso, 1323, 30124 Venezia VE, Italy
Phone +39 041 528 5777

Another iconic brunch drink, the Bellini was also invented at a sophisticated hotel lounge: Harry’s Bar, a Venice institution since opening its doors in the 1930s. A haunt of artists and aristocrats like Katharine Hepburn, Alfred Hitchcock, and Aristotle Onassis in its prime, modern-day fans sometimes include Italian resident George Clooney. The space is as timeless as its cocktails, decorated with mid-century modern furniture, glamorous brass light fixtures, and other throwback pieces. In addition to a Bellini, be sure to order a dry martini, served in a small, stemless glass.

06 of 07

New Orleans: The Sazerac Bar

Sazerac Bar

Courtesy of The Roosevelt New Orleans, a Waldorf Astoria Hotel

130 Roosevelt Way, New Orleans, LA 70130, USA
Phone +1 504-648-1200

From the sweet and foamy Brandy Milk Punch to the silky Ramos Gin Fizz, New Orleans has contributed more than its share of iconic drinks to the cocktail lexicon. Two of the Big Easy’s most notable drinks were invented—of course—in hotel bars, including the Sazerac. A riff on the Old Fashioned, it was created by pharmacist Antoine Amédée Peychaud to promote his line of bitters (spoiler alert: it worked!). The Sazerac Bar's moniker derived from its namesake cognac-based drink, oft-cited as America's first cocktail. Drink one behind the elegant walnut bar inside the historic The Roosevelt New Orleans, just on the edge of the city's famed French Quarter.

07 of 07

New Orleans: Carousel Bar & Lounge

Carousel Bar

Courtesy of Hotel Monteleone

214 Royal St, New Orleans, LA 70130, USA
Phone +1 504-523-3341

Only a few blocks away is the Carousel Bar & Lounge at the historic Hotel Monteleone, opened in 1949 and frequented by literary legends like Ernest Hemingway, Eudora Welty, William Faulkner, Tennessee Williams, and Truman Capote. While you can’t go wrong with any one of the seats in the enchanting, luxurious space, wait for a spot at the revolving bar. Sip on a Vieux Carré, a sophisticated and boozy New Orleans original made with rye whiskey, cognac, and two types of bitters. It was invented here by bartender Walter Bergeron.

And while the contemporary era boasts its fair share of outstanding hotel bars, nothing compares to the timeless appeal of sipping on a sophisticated Sazerac or refreshing Ritz Pimms in the very room they were created, on the same barstool or leather banquette as your favorite author or celebrity.

As Zielinski says, yes, the drinks and service are important—"but without the history-filled stories, they'd be nothing more than just great cocktail bars.”

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The History Behind the World's Most Iconic Hotel Bars