Luxury hotels swap the minibar for a cocktail-friendly 'maxi-bar'

By Bloomberg Pursuits, October 8 2018
Luxury hotels swap the minibar for a cocktail-friendly 'maxi-bar'

Hotels are turning to new bar experiences as a means to keep luxury customers on their toes – and increase favorable food and beverage margins, while they’re at it.

Out goes the mini-bar, and in its place: a 'maxi-bar' designed for in-room cocktail service.

While in-room dining has been on the decline – showing a 3 percent dip from 2016 to 2017, according to hospitality insights firm STR – hoteliers are realizing that expertly shaken martinis, rather than well-done cheeseburgers, are just what travelers want showing up at their doors.

In some cases, that means dispatching a bartender for in-person service; at other times, it’s about making a room’s minibar feel more like a home bar.

Consider this the next evolution in luxury hotel service; after all, why go down to the bar when the drinks can come to you? Here, the leaders of the in-room drinking pack –  expect to see additional resorts join the ranks in the very near future.

The Darcy, Washington

Call the “Cocktail Butler” at this mid-century modern hotel near Dupont Circle, and a mixologist will spend 30 minutes customizing the property’s signature drinks in your room.

You can order a Darcy Double, which marries soda water, ginger beer, and Green Hat Gin with a variety of locally sourced cocktail vinegars, or a Call of the Siren, which puts seasonal twists on a blend of vodka and prosecco.

The catch? You have to book 48 hours ahead - meaning your G&T cravings can’t be met on demand – and the butler will cut you off after two rounds. (After that, he’s off to serve someone else.) Drinks are US$17 a pop, plus a US$50 service charge, available nightly from 4.30pm to 9.30pm.

The Godfrey Hotel, Boston

On Sunday mornings, from 10am to 1pm, guests at this minimalist but preppy hotel can buzz the bar and request the Bloody Mary Cart, a Mad Men-inspired brass-and-mirror affair stocked with your choice of premium vodka, gin, tequila, or bourbon.

Also included are the house Bloody Mary mix and your favorite garnishes and accoutrements: celery, olives, seasonal pickled vegetables, jumbo shrimp, even maple-glazed bacon.

The hotel’s marketing director, Paul Sauceda, says the offering - riced on par with the lobby bar at US$14 per cocktail and no service fees – has been “really big with parents who can’t make it to the bar on Sunday mornings with kids.” This, it seems, is far more doable.

Mahogany Bay Resort & Beach Club, Belize

The first time hotelier Beth Clifford tried “dressing cocktails” – ones imbibed while getting dressed for dinner - it was at interior designer Amanda Lindroth’s home in the Bahamas. She loved the concept so much she brought it to her own hotel in Belize, whose main building (or “Great House”) was decorated by Lindroth as a contemporary take on British colonial design.

From their white clapboard cottages, guests can order such US$8 to US$14 drinks as Don’s Old Fashioned, made with Demerara syrup and vintage Dom Omario rum, or a grapefruit-infused Laguna Spritz; they’re delivered by golf cart from 4pm to 6.30p., with optional hors d’oeuvres (and a mandatory 10 percent service charge).

As for Clifford’s dressing cocktail of choice? The Queen Bee, made with watermelon juice, local honey and mint, and a dash of prosecco. “It’ll get you in the mood for dinner without going to the full martini,” she says.

The Pulitzer Amsterdam

This Dutch hotel, part of Preferred Hotels & Resorts, reopened in August 2016 after a year-and-a-half-long restyling that took inspiration from the Amsterdam’s 17th century canal houses.

General manager Alex van Gastel saw the addition of 1930’s-style drink trolleys in each room as an extension of that traditional aesthetic; they’re more like home bars than minibars. Each has an artisanal wooden design and is stocked with nips of gin, mixers, glasses, cocktail-making gear, and a booklet of recipes. (The drinks whip up for around $16 and are perfect for nightcaps after the lobby bar has closed.)

Of course, there’s also a small fridge in each of the eclectic rooms, where you’ll find chilled Corenwijn jenever and beer for a Dutch Kopstootje combo. “Gulp one and sip the other,” van Gastel jokes.

Bisha Hotel Toronto

It should come as no surprise that for his first hotel, nightclub impresario and restaurateur Charles Khabouth paid additional attention to his in-room beverage program.

Since its opening in Toronto’s entertainment district last year, the dramatic Bisha Hotel has stood out for its bespoke Studio Munge furnishings, including bar carts - a throwback to retro Hollywood glamour - crowded with 375ml bottles of Belvedere and Kettle One vodka, Hennessy cognac, and Tanqueray gin that are priced without the typical minibar markup. (The Veuve is “obviously kept in the fridge at all times,” the hotel’s general manager Jacques Lapierre explained.)

Should one bar cart prove insufficient, the two-floor Bisha suite has one in the kitchen and a second in the upstairs bedroom. Whatever isn’t already on hand - be it ice, cocktail shakers, fresh juice, or garnishes - can be sent on demand by the hotel’s Crown Service concierge team.

Katamama, Bali

Ronald Akili is best known as the mastermind of Bali’s most famous beach club, Potato Head. Now, the free-flowing booze that’s made the club so successful has carried over into his first hotel, Katamama, with a tropical Zen look on Bali’s stylish Seminyak Beach.

Each room has a maxi-bar inspired by Akili’s personal home bar; it’s outfitted with a custom bar kit made by local woodworkers and wrapped in hand-dyed fabrics.

In terms of drinks, the focus is on house-infused spirits such as citrus vodka, lemongrass gin, and hibiscus tequila - plus a 200ml hand-blown Indonesian glass bottle of roasted pineapple arak, a rice-based spirit that’s made locally in small batches by a certified distiller. (Bottles start at US$20.)

Don’t know what to mix them with? Opt for one of the US$8 pre-batched cocktails instead. All you need to do is shake, pour, and sip.

Bloomberg Pursuits

Bloomberg Pursuits curates the best in cars, food, drinks, travel, watches and more for the modern globally-minded executive, and is republished under licence by Executive Traveller.