Hotel bars and restaurants have a distinct challenge these days, as food and dining tourism continually attract their customers to seek out new venues even if the hotel provides great options.
One way to keep their guests in is to create party spaces for them and locals, in essence bringing the party to the hotel. Pioneered in Las Vegas, this trend has traveled well: let’s take two recent examples.
At The James Chicago Hotel, the sister property to the rooftop bar & lounge at The James New York opened as the JIMMY. Following the success of their New York location, partners David Rabin, Larry Poston and Johnny Swet created a period space combining décor and signature cocktails highlighting the edgy ideas of the 70’s era.
JIMMY at The James Chicago Photo Credit Fogelson-Jetel
As with many contemporary new openings, promotion for the JIMMY highlighted “the art of the cocktail… the centerpiece of the JIMMY experience and the menu is inspired by iconic cinema, which presented cocktail culture in a sleek and accessible manner.”
Partner Swet, who previously assisted in creating the cocktail program for New York City’s Freeman’s and previously worked at landmarks including The Bowery Bar, Balthazar and Pastis, focused on a mix of classics and contemporary fare, using lots of locally sourced and in-house ingredients.
Sample cocktail menu items include the Mexican Julep (tequila, watermelon, lime, agave and cilantro muddled in a silver cup with crushed ice) and the Grilled Pineapple Mojito (rum, grilled pineapple, lime with muddled mint, topped with soda).
“Each drink has a sophisticated combination of both balance and body, lending familiar styles a unique touch while mixing in memorable new creations,” says Swet.
Notable are three vodka cocktails, a sign that anti-vodka wall of snobbery is starting to crack in the craft cocktail scene. The drinks include the Chicago-style dirty martini – the Dirty Little Secret (vodka, dry vermouth, olive brine, celery bitters, lemon and infused with a drop of steak sauce), the Bondsman (apple brandy, vodka, lime, cranberry juice, agave and seltzer) and Cucumber Vesper (gin, vodka, Lillet, lemon and garnished with cracked white peppercorns)
The new spot also features small batch and artisanal spirits, from both local and international distilleries as well as wines by the glass, champagnes, beers and ales.
Meanwhile in New York, there’s the recently opened Mixing Room, a new bar at the Lexington New York City Hotel.
Influenced by the Lexington’s storied past – a place frequented by 1950’s icons Arthur Godfrey, Dorothy Lamour, Marilyn Monroe and Joe DiMaggio (who lived in a suite on the 18th floor), as well as the location for former watering holes The Hawaiian Room and The Playboy Club, The Mixing Room offers a modern take on fresh, seasonal cocktails in an Art Deco-style setting. The iconic hotel is just wrapping up a $46 million transformation, and the Mixing Room is part of the unveiling.
The Mixing Room at the Lexington New York Photo Credit Frank Oudeman
There’s weekly jazz programming to attract after-workers and guests alike, and the cocktails highlights Fifties favorites updated: the Fitzgerald (rum, maraschino, fresh grapefruit juice, fresh lime and a grapefruit twist garnish), Gimlet (vodka or gin, fresh lime juice, honey syrup and a splash of orange blossom water); the Sidewinder (Cognac, fresh lemon, Cointreau and a raw sugar rim) and The Mr. Lex Martini (vodka or gin, vermouth and a blue cheese stuffed olive).
These are only two examples of recent attempts by hotels to stay relevant and current. While some major chains look to pull back from food and beverage engagement, many are doubling down, knowing that at the start or the end of the evening, the place you’re resting your head is the best place for a sharpener or a nightcap.