Hotel bars are resuming their place as champions of the bar community, writes Charlie Ainsbury

Manhattan Bar, Singapore.

Story by Charlie Ainsbury, Proof & Company

Is it that crisp white napkin folded into a triangle placed next to your Martini? The silver bowls of spiced almonds and seasoned olives that arrive set beside the small table lamp; something to keep your fingers busy when you’re not sipping from crystal or tapping to the rhythm of the trio in the corner? Maybe it’s the passage from the grand lobby to the leather-lined barstool, the greeting from the host or the farewell from the jacketed-bartender. Ultimately, it’s the hotel bar.

When many of us started bartending, hotel bars weren’t anything like the paragraph before. Think dim room, beige carpet. The floor is dotted with catalogue-bought furniture and polluted with table talkers and old coasters. The cocktail list is more of an ode to stock fonts than the golden age of drinking. The only trust you’d put into the polyester waistcoat behind the bar was to crack a green-bottle beer. It was the last resort.

But this is all rapidly changing. Whilst the resurgence of quality and craft cocktails came from smaller, independent bars, in recent years we’ve seen hotel bars retake their traditional role as leaders of the community. Retake you say? The Rob Roy, the Singapore Sling, the Vieux Carre, Queen’s Park Swizzle, the Pina Colada, Hotel Nacional; do I need to remind you of the American Bar at the Savoy?

Hotel bars, particularly in the Asia-Pacific region have picked up the pace of redevelopment. With considered reinvestment in their beverage offering, not only have they created great bars but have developed great bar programs (in the truest sense of the phrase). Clever collateral like branded ice stamps and cocktail picks are abundant, custom-made glassware, tailored uniforms and menus create by graphic designers represent a spirit of collaboration with great designers and craftsmen. Of course, this is all possible in smaller, independent bars but this framework is already built-in; it’s a given.

Charles H. at the Four Seasons, Seoul.

What’s also built-in is a career path. Where a role of a bar manager might be considered the last stop before a switch to corporate or the deep-dive into ownership, it is a stepping stone in the world of hotels. The Four Seasons alone have over 100 properties in 47 countries, so if a change of scenery is what’s needed, you can’t say you don’t have options.

With our streets and alleyways already flourishing with great small bars, It won’t be long until we see a hotel bar of considerate caliber grace our shores.

For more information contact your Proof & Company representative.