Our intentions were good, but we’ve already swapped dry January for dry martinis; so, we’ve picked the top 10 best hotel bars around the world for fellow wagon absconders and those ruefully nursing a ‘virgin’ concoction. A covert bar in Bangkok, a Brit eccentric’s drawing room, or a sleek Hong Kong high-rise with serious views: whatever your poison, pack your suitcase and pour one out for those still abstaining. Clink.
Bar highlights Sultry fin de siècle style with a fun side • Reserve cocktails with rare spirits
Let’s kick off the carousing with the decadent Elephant Bar. It’s the epitome of New York sophistication: suited and booted in low-lit mahogany and leather, with personality by the (ice) bucket-load in its pachyderm-studded French Renaissance-style bar and Nineties soundtrack. Residing in what was formerly Satan’s Circus (now Broadway), the bar’s inventive ringmaster Leo Robitschek has distilled the city’s cocktail-crafting history into the menu; niche spirits (Genever Dutch gin, Tuaca liqueur) and brilliant microbrews abound.
Make ours a signature Satan’s Circus – a year-round favourite on the seasonal menu, infused with eye-watering Thai bird chili-laced Aperol. Or, a Yaya Colada; rebooted déclassé drinks are in, don’tcha know?
Bar highlights Its disco-king heritage • Punches from the past • Voguish Victorian gentlemens’ club style
We love the Punch Room’s off-the-record style; this grown-up Ian Schrager-conceived joint is equally exclusive and less glittery than his legendary nightclub Studio 54. Guests, and those savvy enough to book, are led behind reception, where a Dickensian scene is set (candlelit banquettes, oak panelling and antique silverware). Highly-skilled barmen – corralled by award-gleaning mixologist Davide Segat – source esoteric recipes from the 16th-to-20th-century, and prettily dressed punch bowls are centrepieces for meetings of soon-to-be-addled minds.
Make ours a tankard of Mayflower Punch (gin, green tea, lemon juice, sherbet, Maraschino liqueur and Fernet-Branca), made to a recipe from 19th-century tome Oxford Night Caps.
Bar highlights An eyeful of Renaissance wonders • Old and new worlds collide • Classic cocktail list
Florence inspires more lingering looks and sets more hearts a’flutter than a successful first date; naturally, the city’s hottest bar should follow suit, and Continentale’s La Terrazza – atop the 13th-century Consorti Tower – is the spot to ogle the city from. Florentine architect Michele Bonan’s sleek cream and natural-wood terrace is as voyeuristic as it is sociable, overlooking Ponte Vecchio to the right, Giotto’s Campanile to the left and Il Duomo beyond. Inspired by Italian cinema of the Fifties, the bar’s suavity is assured by its classic cocktails.
Bar highlights Encyclopaedic drink influences • A balderdash back story • The elegant Clerkenwell townhouse
Welcome to Aunt Wilhelmina’s parlour; she may not exist, but her portrait presides over this perennial Smith favourite, where patrons rub elbows with finely dressed taxidermy and sip on carnivalesque drinks conceived by mad-genius mixologist Tony Conigliaro. He resuscitates passé drinks trends and dabbles where other barkeeps fear to tread: his most recent creation is a bee-pollen-muddled Tom Collins. This home-from-home’s Russell Sage furnishings and hush-hush entrance enhance a night of errant London drinking.
Bar highlights Pretty prints and artsy detailing • Pink and purple sunsets over Cozumel and the Caribbean • A menu of moreish Mexican bar snacks
Playa Del Carmen’s party buzz is more of a contented purr at Hotel Cacao’s rooftop bar. Flump onto a day-bed or swing chair, summon a cocktail and sup on zingy ceviche before watching a colourful Caribbean sunset. Its burnished beachy style and quirky accessories – patchwork tiles, a shell-studded VW Beetle (donated by Tommy Hilfiger) and an antique canoe – set it aside from Spring Breaker-packed spots, and the ‘mixology experience’ shuns gargantuan margaritas for complex concoctions.
Make ours a Skimmer: that rare tequila-based drink you’ll remember fondly, with Mezcal, watermelon, and rose and lemon notes.
Bar highlights Sydney’s in-crowd • Spot-on DJ tunes • A discreet atmosphere with a dollop of sauce
You have to climb the spiral staircase beyond QT Sydney’s eatery, Gowings Bar & Grill, to fall down Gilt Lounge’s rabbit hole. Peeking seductively from behind scarlet curtains, the hotel’s flirty little secret is serviced by dressed-for-burlesque staff bearing drinks with fast-and-loose fixings, such as rock candy and beef jerky. Suggestively low lit, the lounge is set for open-minded date nights; load up on sophisticated bar snacks (spoons of cured tuna, panko-crusted squid balls) and sip libations crafted using the New York-knowhow of manager Jared Thibault.
Make ours a Day of the Dead with chilli-infused tequila, habanero shrub extract, lime and mango-infused agave. With a bucket of water to chase.
Bar highlights Cachaça-infused drinks • Near psychic staff • That view
Cocktail run dry? Caressed by a tendril of cold air? Fasano Rio’s Pool Bar staff will top you up and bring a blanket before being asked. Beautiful bodies and tanned A-listers (David Beckham, La Moss et al) occupy the Philippe Starck-designed sunloungers, and the view – encompassing Ipanema Beach, Morro Dois Irmãos and Corcovado – is a sight for loved-up sundowners. It’s strictly guests only, with keen-eyed door guardians, and designer swimwear is de rigeur.
Bar highlights Gray Kunz bar snacks • Citrus-and-spice-infused cocktails • Superlative cityscape views
To experience Hong Kong at its best, you have to get high. Legally. There’s no finer spot to do so than André Fu-designed Café Gray Deluxe, on the Upper House Hotel’s 49th floor. Cosying up to chef Gray Kunz’s very fine-dining restaurant, the bar’s cocktails and menu exhibit the same culinary finesse. Within the sleek, gold-and-black, lacquer-box interiors, mixologist-with-the-mostess Sam Jeveons takes care of the drinks (zesty cocktails, by-the-glass global wines), while you pick your pew and gaze slack-jawed at Victoria Harbour and Hong Kong Island.
Make ours a sparkling Hong Kong Highball (Belvedere vodka, ginger, honey, cassis, pomegranate and champagne).
Bar highlights A healthy gin obsession • Gracious Gran Via views • A must-try dessert menu
Make like a Madrileño and take your night up a notch by hitting rooftop bar La Terraza, the crowning glory of Gran Via-set Principal Hotel. Its seventh-story perch looks out over frilly Beaux Arts buildings, and Madrid’s Metropolis building’s Winged Victory is close enough to watch carousing guests swig martinis and nibble porcini and baby-squid croquettes. The rouge-dabbed bar is illuminated by fairy lights entwined in cypress and olive trees, and its open all-year round for classic drinks and terrific tapas, including sweet treats.
Bar highlights Ravishing Twenties redux • Seductive secretive corners • Bangkok by night
The Speakeasy – Hotel Muse’s Prohibition-themed bar – is so popular, we suspect its cover is blown; however, its glittering panorama of Bangkok, retro cocktails and a Cohiba-stocked cigar room couldn’t stay underground for long. Its discreet dens unfold like a puzzle box, and hidden behind the bar is the secret door to the 25th-floor’s ‘grassy’ terrace. Flapper-girl waitresses serving French-themed tapas, live jazz and time-travelling cocktails nod to the roaring Twenties, but bath tubs are filled with champagne on ice rather than gin.
Make ours a decadently different French martini with vodka, Chambord, pineapple juice and lime.