Desperately Seeking Relevance: Hotel Bars Host Theme Nights, Hoping to Reinvigorate Themselves

Last Updated Mar 4, 2010 10:14 PM EST

Hotel bars, long-neglected segments of the market, could be the key to revitalizing established hotels while also raising much needed cash. Perhaps the hotels also know that nothing goes better with an economic swandive than a stiff drink. Add trendy cocktails, food and theme nights, and some hotels will be in the black -- while others with novice bartenders, lackluster drinks and no personality will languish empty and alone.

By creating themed nights, hotels can bolster the revenue of hotel bars, something hotels in the current recession are realizing. I previously wrote about how hotels are seeing how manipulating the profit margin on beer and wine can be extremely rewarding, especially if bars continue happy hours and hotels take on catered private events like barbecues or wedding receptions. As one hotelier who beat out other hotels by slightly dropping prices said, "Properly priced Bud sells rooms."

Trendspotters Andrew Freeman & Co. previously announced that hotel fare would go classical with cocktails and upscale but retro appetizers -- think of something Mad Men's Betty Draper might serve -- as well as themed nights like Sommelier Smackdown or a Deathmatch between local chefs.

One of the biggest theme nights lately seems to be Oscar Night this Sunday. While you may think all of Los Angeles will be abuzz -- it is -- but so are hotel bars in Seattle, Las Vegas and other places. There are cocktails, themed food and big screens to watch the awards show.

However, some are lamenting the lost art of the cocktail, given the prevalence of novice hotel bartenders, and say that hotels are letting an opportunity slip away:

A few folks are getting it right. But they usually have to hire mixology consultants such as Peter Vestinos, beverage development director at Wirtz Beverage Group, to lead the way.

"The argument I make when I work with hotels is we need to bring back your bar to where it should be," Vestinos said in a recent phone call. He argues that a hotel bar, if any establishment, should be stepping up their game.

"If you look back at history, the hotel bar is really where the cocktail trend started. The benefit of a hotel bar is that you have this huge staff at your disposal, and you have access to fresh produce (for juices), and so much prep time."

The hotel bar was once a glamorous place, visited by celebrities and scions of wealthy families alike. Now few remember those better days and hotel bars are afterthoughts or left to disintegrate quietly. The smarter hoteliers are realizing their expensive commercial real estate, especially downtown, pays off better as a trendy bar or nightclub than a tribute to the ages. And if business is slow, there's always a Real Housewives of ... party.
Expect to see more hotel bars become alive again.

Photo: Thomas Hawk