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5 of the Quirkiest Hotel Bars in America

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Hotel bars have reputations for being pretty predictable, but if you’re forever seeking an unusual place where you can throw back anything from a top-shelf martini to a kitschy umbrella drink, there’s libation salvation, after all. In her third installment on hotel bars (from way up high to back in time), TPG Contributor Kelsy Chauvin has uncovered a handful of this country’s quirkiest hotel watering holes.

Find your mai tai in San Francisco. Photo courtesy of hotel.
Find your mai tai in San Francisco. Photo courtesy of the Fairmont San Francisco.

Hurricane Bar, Fairmont San Francisco — San Francisco, California

Considered a San Francisco institution (and not just because it’s located inside a local landmark hotel), the Hurricane Bar has whirled together tropical décor, Pacific-Rim bites and bright and rummy drinks since 1945. Guests kick back among tiki-palace décor, like bamboo tabletops and fruity cups, while enjoying the Island Groove Band, who rock the thatch-covered barge/stage on the indoor lagoon five nights a week. Just beware that sudden thunder and lightning may strike, as this bar is renowned for its indoor special effect “rain showers.”

Nightly rates at the Fairmont San Francisco (where TPG’s Leigh Rowan stayed in May 2015) start at $549, but be aware that the Fairmont Visa Signature Card offers two complimentary nights when you spend $3,000 within the first three months of opening an account. It also earns you 5x points for every $1 spent on-site — including your bar tab at the Hurricane.

Chilled cocktails anyone? Photo courtesy of Minus5.
Chilled cocktails, anyone? Photo courtesy of Minus5 Ice Bar.

Minus5 Ice Bar, New York Hilton Midtown — New York, New York

One doesn’t typically think of a bar as a place to put on a coat and gloves, but you’ll find a cool exception to that rule at the Minus5 Ice Bar, which is made entirely of carved and refrigerated ice walls, seating and even murals. This outpost of Minus5 is one of five around the world, but its Midtown location stands out as one of Manhattan’s most chill “watering” holes, as its visitors are cloaked in Arctic-caliber parkas or furs as they throw back frosty cocktails — in glasses made of ice.

At the New York Hilton Midtown, rooms start at a $149 or 60,000 HHonors points per night. Automatically bump up your HHonors elite status with the Hilton HHonors American Express, the Hilton HHonors Surpass Amexthe Citi HiltonHonors Reserve and/or Citi Hilton Visa Signature. Note that the Reserve card also provides two free weekend nights annually at any Hilton property — like the New York Hilton Midtown.

Warning: This bar will spin you round and round. Photo courtesy of hotel.
Warning: This bar will spin you round and round. Photo courtesy of the Hotel Monteleone.

Carousel Bar, Hotel Monteleone — New Orleans, Louisiana

Step right up to one of New Orleans’ most memorable hotel experiences: the Carousel Bar. Befitting a city famous for its carnival spirit, the Carousel is located inside this vintage French Quarter hotel. It serves signature Vieux-Carre and classic cocktails around the 25-seat merry-go-round bar — still spinning, since 1949.

Rooms at the Hotel Monteleone start at $189, and if you’re a Gold or Platinum member of Preferred Hotels’ iPrefer loyalty program, you’ll receive two complimentary cocktails at the Carousel Bar.

Get thrown into the former jailhouse "drunk tank" at the Alibi. Photo courtesy of hotel.
Get thrown into the former jailhouse “drunk tank” at the Alibi. Photo courtesy of the Liberty Hotel.

Alibi at the Liberty Hotel — Boston, Massachusetts

Never has checking into the slammer felt so liberating. This sturdy 1851 bulldog of a building served as the Charles Street Jail until 1990, when its prized architecture was preserved and interiors were converted to one of Boston’s coolest hotels, which opened in 2007. Its Alibi bar is one of the hotel’s well-punned eateries (get booked at the Yard, Catwalk and Clink, too), and occupies the old “drunk tank” — well, except for the peaceful outdoor patio. These days, you can plead guilty to fancy cocktails in the context of original brick, bluestone and cell bars, as well as ruminate on the celebrity mugshots that line the walls.

The Liberty Hotel is a Starwood Category 6 Luxury Collection property, with rooms starting at $248 or 20,000 Starpoints per night. (Note: The hotel is undergoing guest-room renovations from November 23, 2015, through February 29, 2016, which may affect room and points-booking availability.) Remember that the Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express and/or its business version, the Starwood Preferred Guest Business Credit Card from American Express each offer annual elite credit of two stays and five nights, bumping up your SPG Platinum status.

The Liberty can also be booked through the Visa Signature Hotels portal with a Visa Signature card (e.g., Chase Sapphire Preferred, the Hyatt card, the Marriott Rewards Premier, Southwest Premier, Bank of America’s Alaska Airlines card, Capital One Venture, US Bank FlexPerks, etc.), to receive perks like a room upgrade and late check-out (when available), complimentary breakfast, VIP guest status and more.

Cruise in thirsty, cruise out nostalgic. Photo courtesy of hotel.
Cruise in thirsty, cruise out nostalgic. Photo courtesy of the Oxford Hotel.

The Cruise Room, Oxford Hotel — Denver, Colorado

Welcome to the gloriously old school — and decidedly unique — Cruise Room. Opening the day after Prohibition was repealed in 1933, the original Art Deco chrome neon details and a free jukebox are among many reasons why you shouldn’t miss this gilded (and land-locked) downtown bar — which was inspired in both name and design by a lounge aboard the Queen Mary ocean liner. Behind the sexy, low-lit bar, you’ll find some of Colorado’s best bartenders, mixing up many locally distilled spirits in its ace martinis and other tantalizing concoctions. Nightly rates at the Oxford Hotel start at $196.

Which credit card

The Best General Travel Credit Cards to Use 

Even when a hotel doesn’t have its own co-branded credit cards — or you don’t have the hotel’s card — you have lots of options for maximizing both your stay and your bar tab. When you charge your room and/or your cocktails to your Chase Sapphire Preferred, you’ll earn 2x points for both dining/drinking and hotels.

Alternatively, use either the Citi ThankYou Premier Card or the premium Citi Prestige Card to earn 3x on your total hotel bill, or 2x on the cocktails alone. If you’re just visiting the bar, also consider the Citi ThankYou Preferred Card, which earns 2x points on your drinks, as well as the American Express Premier Rewards Gold Card, which will earn you 2x Membership Rewards points for your bar tab. For more on this subject, see How Credit Card Issuers Classify Travel and Dining Purchases.

What are your own favorite eclectic hotel bars in America? Please share them with us in the comments below!

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