There was a time when hotel cocktail lounges conjured up visions of business travelers sitting at dimly lit tables, sipping scotch and soda with piano music in the background. But that image has been replaced by lively lounges where mixologists serve up high-end cocktails in a fun, educational atmosphere.
Just as more people are becoming wine connoisseurs and others are experts in craft beers, cocktail devotees are setting high standards, demanding premium liquors and crafty creations.
Rare, premium liquors highlight the cocktail-centric drink menu at Franklin, the lobby lounge at the newly opened Delano Las Vegas. The carefully curated selection also includes two barrel-aged cocktails that are ready to be poured, a punch of the day, and 32 beers and 22 wines by the glass.
Delano’s beverage director Dennis Lofland says the drink menu is divided into two major sections: classics and creations. The classics, which include a daiquiri, mai tais, a basil Paloma, and a classic mojito, are made simply but with the best ingredients, he says.
“On the creation side of the menu, it’s where we put our mixologist hat on and get a little crazy with the different spirits we’re using,” Lofland says. Because the hotel has a South Beach theme with Latin influence, the menu has its fair share of drinks made with rum, but gin, cognac, and bourbon are all represented in cocktails.
A former executive chef, Lofland brings a foodie’s approach to the lounge by balancing flavors—sweet, bitter, and sour—in cocktails. “Anything that gives you that savory type of feeling on your palate,” he says. For example, the South Beach Sunrise is made with Absolut Elyx vodka, Campari, honey syrup, egg whites, and fresh lemon.
Food also is part of the Franklin’s cocktail experience, with its small bites and appetizers. “Everybody knows about wine pairings, most people know about beer pairings, and cocktail pairings are becoming that next level,” Lofland says. “The menu that we’ve created at Franklin goes right in line with the cocktail menu.”
For example, the Franklin’s smoky wings pair perfectly with a beer-and-bourbon cocktail called the Jefferson Library, he says. “The smokiness of the wings is complemented by the smokiness of the porter that is in the cocktail and the bourbon that we’re using, which is called Jefferson Reserve. And then it’s offset by the maple syrup that’s in that cocktail too.”
To satisfy discerning travelers with experienced palates, the Omni Amelia Island Plantation Resort in Fernandina Beach, Fla., recently rolled out a Rum + Tequila Experience. Guests can enjoy handcrafted flights, selected from more than 100 premium rums and tequilas, while sitting poolside with a view of Florida’s coastline.
Chris Walling, the resort’s food and beverage director, thought of the idea after traveling to Mexico and the Caribbean. He describes the experience as a celebration of rum and tequila. “This little bar that we have at the south end of the pool is just an overwhelming success, not only from a public relations standpoint but for our resort guests,” Walling says. “You have a Sunday afternoon where we’re not as busy, the rum and tequila bar generally stays busy with our mixologists.”
An unexpected bonus of the new program is that it has helped attract group business, Walling says. While on site visits, many clients have booked the Rum + Tequila Experience as a component of their events after testing it out for themselves by the pool.
Another advantage to the poolside setting, he says, is that it’s casual and friendly. Bartenders who guide guests through the experience make sure education is delivered with “finesse and class” but also a sense of fun. “We’re not scripted, we want to focus on personality,” Walling says. “And (the bartender is) talking to you in a relaxed setting about the distillation process of tequila, or he’s talking about using 10 stalks of virgin sugar cane in every bottle of some of our rums. People feel comfortable, and they want to learn about not only these spirits but also the blending of cocktails.”
Walling adds that guests aren’t just experiencing the joys of high-end tequila and rum at the Omni Amelia Island, they’re also learning more about their beverages. “I think it’s as much about the education as anything,” he says. “It’s a spectacular and beautiful art, being able to walk through different tequila flights.”
Delano’s Lofland agrees that education is a key component to the cocktail experience. While some guests just want to socialize and drink, many want to know more about what they’re drinking and why certain brands are chosen, he says. Bartenders and servers at the Delano are trained so that they can answer guest questions.
“There’s a story behind each and every cocktail and each and every spirit that’s on the back bar,” Lofland says. “The stories are what create that experience for the guests, and that’s a huge focus, not just for Franklin but for Delano Las Vegas.”
Consumers’ growing desire for information is a big opportunity for hotel cocktail lounges, Lofland adds. “That’s awesome for us in this industry because it helps us convey the stories behind the stuff that we’re passionate about.”