Do you judge a hotel by its bar? Hotels around the country are prioritizing cocktail bars with distinct and photogenic atmospheres, as well as menus that go beyond a typical lobby bar. These spaces become a draw for guests, and make the hotels a destination for locals as well as visitors staying elsewhere.

Here are a few to add to your bucket list.

Little Palm at The Ryder Hotel — Charleston

Little Palm at The Ryder Hotel is a destination hotel bar.
Credit: Little Palm

At Charleston’s The Ryder Hotel, Little Palm’s poolside bar serves breezy coastal cocktails and sees a mix of customers, only 30 percent of whom are hotel guests. For general manager of F&B Adam Jimenez, creating a hotel bar is a great opportunity. The management group that took over The Ryder and Little Palm in January helps out with PR and marketing, and every hotel guest gets a welcome cocktail from the team as a taste of the offerings. He and his team love “having a client base right there at your doorstep.”

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Jimenez admits to the stigma that can haunt hotel bars and restaurants, but emphasizes that The Ryder team lets Little Palm operate independently and creatively, without pressure to do anything that might be deemed “cookie cutter.” Little Palm’s downtown location and pool are major draws and the menu of refreshing cocktails, especially the Paid Vacation, made using cimarron reposado tequila, Chenin Blanc, guava, cinnamon, lime, chile salt, are perfect for hot weather. The team looks forward to a busy summer with bachelorette parties, birthday celebrations, and festive energy.

Chez Zou at the Pendry Manhattan West — New York City

Chez Zouat The Pendy Manhattan West is a destination hotel bar.
Credit: Chez Zou

In New York City, Hudson Yards isn’t the first place that comes to mind when you think of nightlife. That’s an advantage for the team at Chez Zou and Zou Zou’s, a bar and restaurant located at the Pendry Hotel Manhattan West. With a newly opened terrace space and a Mediterranean menu, the bar has become a huge draw for neighborhood office workers who drop by for happy hour and dip trios, as well as tourists looking for a good time (and a place that stays open till 1 a.m., a rarity in the area). The new terrace menu is made for gatherings, with frozen drinks and large-format cocktails, like the Imposter Syndrome with tequila, strawberry, grapefruit, Aperol, lime, and a bottle of Moët & Chandon.

Alex Pfaffenbach is the director of operations at Chez Zou and Zou Zou’s, which is run by the hospitality group behind other Manhattan favorites like Quality Eats and Don Angie. The Pendry team was excited about an Eastern Mediterranean restaurant in the space and they opened Chez Zou in March, with a patio space opening in late May. Pfaffenbach says he enjoys having the hotel guests. “You have a captive audience,” he says. “A lot of times these guests are choosing to stay at the hotel because of the food and beverage program, and it’s always nice to have enthusiastic guests come in.” On the back end, there are also operational conveniences, like being able to borrow something from the hotel if the kitchen runs out.

The Zou Zou’s menu sticks to the Mediterranean theme with dips, salads, skewers, and more. That’s possible because the Pendry also has a more traditional lobby bar, Bar Pendry, which has classics like Caesar salad, a burger, and a club sandwich as well as traditional cocktails.

Wax Myrtle’s at the Thompson and the Tommie Hotels — Austin

Wax Myrtle’s at The Thompson and The Tommie Hotel is a destination hotel bar.
Credit: Wax Myrtle’s

Wax Myrtle’s, which opened in February in Austin, has a hybrid hotel setup. The team for the bars, named for a resilient shrub indigenous to the area, was put together by the group behind Chicago’s Land and Sea, in collaboration with the Thompson Hotel and the Tommie Hotel, which all share a building. The new building also houses the Grey Market from 2022 James Beard Foundation Outstanding Chef Mashama Bailey, as well as 13 stories of residential space, so hotel guests and residents mingle in Wax Myrtles’ indoor-outdoor space. The pool area is open to hotel guests and residents, while the rest is open to the public.

Beverage director Ben Carrington, who moved to Austin from Denver for the project, created a menu that he calls “slightly off center.” There’s no Pinot Grigio or Zinfandel, but there’s a Sauvignon blanc blended with Assyrtiko to complement the Tex-Mediterranean menu, low-ABV cocktails made with sherry and vermouth, and beer and wines from local brands like Vacancy Brewing, Meanwhile Brewing, and Austin Winery. In the spirit of hospitality, he has, “a Cab Sav hiding somewhere, but it’s not on the menu.”

Carringtan recalls a recent time when “guests came to town and ate at Wax Myrtle’s three days in a row,” and he sees locals book staycations in part to hang at the bar and building residents bring their friends from other parts of the city. His goal is to “bring in the feel of Texas” with events like pairing diners, industry nights, and SoFar Sounds shows with local musicians. The space itself could keep people occupied for days with an agave room, billiards, patio space, and private dining options.

Bar Marilou at Maison de la Luz Hotel — New Orleans

Bar Marilou at Maison de La Luz Hotelis a destination hotel bar.
Credit: Bar Marilou

New Orleans is an American city like no other and its hotel bars follow suit. Bar Marilou and boutique Maison de la Luz Hotel are located in a historic building that was once an annex for New Orleans’ city hall. The bar space, which opened in 2019, is the city’s former law library and also neighbors the Ace Hotel. It’s the first U.S. project from Paris-based Quixotic Projects, and drew inspiration from Gertrude Stein’s literary salons in her Paris apartment. They brought the glamor with a marble bar, animal print stools, lounging furniture, and colorful bookcases. The wines are French, many of the beers are local, and the cocktails aim to transport, with names like Carpe Diem and the frozen Passports & Pineapples.

Hotel guests can enter the bar off the hotel lobby and have access to a private lounge behind a bookcase. General manager Ryan Wilkins explains that “Bar Marilou has become one of the amenities that hotel guests love and they book a stay knowing that we can be their salon and cocktail place.” The menu is inspired by France with aperitifs and low-ABV cocktails. Wilkins likes offering the option “in a city that’s well known for high-ABV drinks like Hand Grenades.” It’s quite popular for nightcaps and pre-dinner drinks with a food menu designed for sharing. Events are a draw for everyone, with live music on Thursday and a Tell Me Bar natural wine pop-up on Sundays, with discounts on the bottle list. The team is still prepared to serve hotel classics upon request, notes Wilkins. “If you want a Harvey Wallbanger, I will gladly serve it to you, and it will be the third time I have ever made one,” he says.