How to Experience the World's Most Expensive Hotels Without Booking a Room
Social media is full of beautiful images of some of the most over-the-top, luxurious, and swanky hotels around the world—whose rooms often come at a hefty price. The gilded mirrors, crystal chandeliers, and marble staircases might make the perfect Instagram post, but the cost is often reflected in your hotel bill. Whether in Asia, Europe, or even right here in our own backyard, it’s oftentimes hard to justify breaking the bank for a single night in a super-luxe hotel, no matter how insane the amenities are. But for those on a more modest budget (or on a budget that equals less than oodles of cash for a night away), lust-worthy interiors and a well-heeled crowd can be enjoyed for the price of a drink. Forget checking in—the best way to experience the world’s most extravagant hotels is from the bar. We’ll cheers to that.
If you want a French chateau with a side of celebrity, head to the Chateau Marmont in Los Angeles. F. Scott Fitzgerald, Billy Wilder, Hunter S. Thompson, Dorothy Parker, and more have stayed here, and every guest of the hotel, restaurant, and bar are made to feel like a VIP. Bar Marmont serves food and drink to celebrities and wannabes alike, and you can order everything from a simple Aperol Spritz to a Brass Flower (gin, St. Germain, grapefruit, and champagne) here.
Order This: An Italian-inspired Aperol Spritz in a faux French chateau in the middle of Hollywood just makes sense.
If you’re a crystal brand, you better bring it with the chandeliers in your hotel. The Baccarat, a relative newcomer on the New York City hotel scene, does. Its bar, Les Boissons, is covered in an old-school black-and-white flooring, crimson red walls, leather banquettes and its dazzling chandeliers, which results in a complete and total sensory overload (in the best way possible). Their fine art collection is also spectacular and hangs throughout the bar and the main areas of the hotel.
Order This: Go with the aptly named Gotham, which is made with vodka, Cocchi Americano (a wine aperitif), an herbal amaro liqueur, and orange bitters.
Sleek, smooth, and totally modern—these words describe not only Giorgio Armani’s clothing but the interior of his namesake hotel in Armani Hotel in Milan too. This is Milan, so you know the apertivo will be strong and the crowd sleek and fashionable inside the Bamboo Lounge. Ladies’ night, complete with a DJ, is a big draw on Thursday evenings.
Order This: Simple and clean like the space itself, the 2.0 has vodka, lime, triple sec, lychee, and ginger.
The Pontchartrain Hotel uptown in the Garden District on St. Charles Avenue was also recently redone. Frank Sinatra, Rita Hayworth, and more have stayed here since the hotel’s doors opened in 1940; their recent revamp includes the ground-floor Caribbean Room, a John Besh restaurant. But it’s really the sitting room of the restaurant that’s worth going for—lushly covered seating and rugs are crowned by a gallery wall, where a portrait of Lil Wayne by New Orleans artist Ashley Longshore is the centrepiece. The piece features the rapper holding Besh’s signature mile-high pie.
Order This: The Sazerac was invented in New Orleans, so it makes sense to go with one here, albeit an experimental one. The Duck Fat Sazerac is a rich and full drink made from sazerac rye infused with duck fat, Peychaud, sugar, and Herbsaint, an anise-flavored liqueur.
The Ozone Bar sits a whopping 118 stories above the ground inside The Ritz-Carlton Hong Kong. Designed to feel like you’re imbibing in the sky, the bar serves up signature drinks such as the Bamboo, made with lemongrass, ginger beer, and green tea. The entire hotel is located within the International Commerce Centre, where the top floors are known as the “Dragon Tail” for the way they curve into the sky.
Order This: The fittingly named Peak strangely yet successfully brings together rum, white wine, tea syrup, pineapple, amaro, lime, pepper, and marshmallow.
Raise a Glass
After reopening this summer to great fanfare (the storied hotel had been closed for renovations since 2012), the Ritz Paris returns to its full glory as one of the leading hotels of the world. It’s famously the last place Princess Diana was seen before she died, but it’s also got a lot of happy history. The hotel’s Bar Hemingway is named after one of its most famous patrons, Ernest Hemingway, and is rumored to be the first place to serve up a Bloody Mary. Rich wood paneling and cozy corners make it easy to see how a writer could get a lot of inspiration here.
Order This: Skip the world’s most expensive cocktail, The Ritz Sidecar (seriously—it’s almost $1000!), and channel F.Scott Fitzgerald, Cole Porter, and more with a strong Mach2, made from Scotch, Chartreuse, and ginger syrup.
This stunning hotel in northwest India’s Jaipur—the “Pink City,” so named for the color the buildings were painted during the Prince of Wales’s visit in the late 19th century—is a testament to the beauty of the Indian culture. The library bar, AZA, resembles an emperor’s hunting lodge, with an emphasis on rare, high-end whiskeys. There’s also a lush lawn connected to the bar, complete with bonfires.
Order This: A simple whiskey from their extensive list rounds out the library-like experience.
Centrally located near London’s Covent Garden in the old Morning Post newspaper building, One Aldwych’s Lobby Bar has been named one of the top bars in the city. The drinks come in both seasonal and classic varieties, and you can watch London go by through the enormous curved floor-to-ceiling windows. They too have a massive art collection—over 400 pieces are sprinkled throughout the hotel.
Order This: The Hairthief is a weird name for a beautifully presented vodka drink; it’s vodka, mandarin liqueur, persimmon and rosemary syrup, lemon juice, and a splash of absinthe, all served up in a shapely balloon glass.
Opened just last year, Fifty Mils at the Four Seasons Mexico City D.F. is now one of the top gathering places for those in the know. Named after the 50 milliliters that make up a jigger, the bar has a serious cocktail program served up against a bar decked out in bronze, velvet, and wood. Intimate seating spaces are available for sipping with friends, but the 20-foot long bar might be the best place to see and be seen.
Order This: The cheekily named Bugs Bunny, made from carrot juice, gin, and chile bitters will keep your thirst quenched in the Mexican heat.
Rich inlaid floors are the striking centrepiece of Caffe Parigi’s gorgeous and sleek room, accented by clean-lined, minimalist Italian furniture. Enormous floor-to-ceiling windows bring the outside in through the hotel’s private garden, and the Brera location means the hotel is within walking distance to the Giardini Pubblici Intra Montanelli, one of Milan’s most historic city parks. The entire hotel is outfitted in Italianate accoutrements, such as marble, intricate plasterwork, woodwork, and more.
Order This: Try one of the many variations on the martini on the cocktail menu.
The opening of The Carlyle Hotel was delayed by the stock market crash of 1929, but since officially opening in 1931, it’s been one of the most elegant places to stay—and live—in New York City. There’s no chicer spot inside this impressive hotel than the famed Bemelmans Bar, whose muraled walls depict the French character Madeline traipsing around Central Park. It is the only public work of artist Ludwig Bemelmans. Well-known jazz performers play throughout the week, with celebrity entertainers often making cameos.
Order This: The Gin-Gin Mule is a house favorite and mixes together gin, ginger beer, mint, lime, and simple syrup for a refreshing take on the Moscow Mule.
What's the best hotel bar you've ever been to?