Hotels from New York to San Francisco now offer in-room cocktail programs that cater to refined jet-setters as well as the go-all-night party crowd. Though the services vary, they focus on many of the same ingredients: fresh, locally sourced liquors, mixers, and garnishes; artisanal preparation; and the kind of sensory gimmicks Portlandia sends up (“charred ice” isn’t too far off the mark).
It’s a prestige move, an amenity that ranks alongside personalized guided running tours and all-organic pet accommodations. But it’s also a business gambit: A top-shelf in-house cocktail program could keep guests (and their credit cards) happily on-site for more of the evening. Whether the concept will sell outside the upper echelon is a legit question—would average tourists really choose to spend the night in their hotel room rather than bar-hop?—but for frequent-flying habitués with money to burn (and for boozy-toothed aspirational travelers), the prospect of settling in to a city-view suite with a fresh cocktail has a certain rarefied appeal.
Recall that scene in The Great Gatsby when Tom and Daisy Buchanan, Jay Gatsby, and Nick Carraway drive into the city on a whim, only to pass an oppressively hot afternoon in the parlor of a suite at the Plaza—“a place to have a mint julep,” Daisy suggests. Tom unrolls a bottle of whisky from a towel and opens it. Just as he’s pressing Gatsby for the truth about his being “an Oxford man,” a waiter arrives with crushed mint and fresh ice. Bursts of jazz rise from a ballroom wedding downstairs, and Central Park breezes blow in through the windows Daisy has thrown open.
The Chatwal, on West 44th Street near Bryant Park, is hoping to bring such bygone scenes back to life with Jazz Age panache, from the lobby’s oversize deco clock to the ostrich-leather-walled bedrooms. Head bartender Gary Severin says guests buy in to the illusion. “People tend to gravitate toward things that go with the hotel,” he says, and Prohibition-era cocktails complete the time-travel effect.
When I visited, Severin made me the most popular drink at Lamb’s Club (the hotel’s bar, originally founded in the 19th century as a professional actors’ den)—the bourbon-and-honey Gold Rush, with an unusually large, slow-melting ice cube designed to avoid watering it down. He also crafted another favorite, the Last Cocktail, which consists of rosemary-infused gin shaken with Asian pear purée and fresh lemon juice and topped off with prosecco and a clove garnish. Severin said it was inspired by the Italian countryside. I’ve never been there, but the drink’s tart freshness seemed like a decent substitute on a hot summer afternoon.
Programs like the Chatwal’s have cropped up in New York and beyond, offering a home-away-from-home entertaining option. Guests at the Upper East Side’s Surrey can summon a bartender from Bar Pleiades downstairs to mix a batch of specialty cocktails; selections include a bottle of liquor and fixings for a bevy of drinks that can be made with it, highlighting locally sourced ingredients such as New York’s Fee Brothers Orange Bitters and Hudson Baby Bourbon.
At the James in SoHo (and in Chicago, at its Magnificent Mile sister property, and later this year at a Miami Beach outpost), guests get a copy of American Bar, a tome containing more than 200 cocktail recipes. Room service delivers custom kits with fresh lime, mint, blueberries, olives, and mixers, and expert mixologists are available for private in-room lessons.
In San Francisco, the high-end eco-lodge Cavallo Point has launched a program that brings bartenders and special renditions of happy-hour classics to guests’ rooms or balconies to take advantage of its Golden Gate Bridge and Bay views. Its Perfect G&T, made with Mt. Tam gin, pays homage to local landmark Mount Tamalpais.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, hotels pitch in-room cocktails as pre-party (or after-party) fuel. Hip properties like NYC’s Dream Downtown cater to a young and thirsty elite. At this mirror-and-orchid-bedecked Meatpacking District hot spot (complete with a rooftop pool visible through the lobby’s translucent ceiling), the drinks, like the clientele, look celeb-worthy. According to beverage director William Ward, guests love the signature Wet Dream, a Belvedere Black Raspberry–St-Germain concoction with plump blueberries floating on top.
The double entendre works, says Ward, whose job includes inventing these combinations and giving them catchy names.
Not surprisingly, Ward says, the in-room cocktail service gets busiest post-dinner and then again during the late-late shift, from 4 a.m. to 6 a.m.
Miami Beach’s members-only Soho Beach House takes an even more efficient approach to quenching VIP thirsts: Its mixologists wheel fully stocked OWC (“One While Changing”) cocktail carts to guests’ doors to whip up whatever cocktail concoctions they desire. Topping the room-service tallies among its upscale crowd are the ever-popular Eastern Standard (Grey Goose with fresh lime, muddled cucumber, and mint) and the heat-infused tequila-based Picante de la Casa (muddled red chilies and cilantro, plus fresh lime juice and agave nectar).
For people who relish the art of cocktails—and for those who simply appreciate having highly effective ones on hand—programs like these make perfect sense. Why venture out for happy hour when room service can literally wheel it to you?