Hotel bars take cues from distinctive local elements

The lobby bar of the Moxy Denver Cherry Creek, which opened in November, has seats that evoke the region's ski lifts. This is just one of the ways that hotels are incorporating local touches into the bars in hopes of attracting guests and locals alike to spend a few hours imbibing and socializing. 

A signature element of Marriott’s Moxy brand is that the lobby bar doubles as the front desk. “The bar is the anchor and the brand itself lives in the public space,” said Vicki Poulos, senior global brand director for Moxy Hotels. “For the bar, we bring that local narrative into the public space. We never want you to walk into two Moxy hotels and question what city you’re in. No two Moxy hotels should ever feel exactly alike, especially in the public space.” At the Cherry Creek property, the ski lift-inspired seats create a fun "Instagrammable" moment. “It’s an opportunity for us to bring what is an important and fun activity like skiing inside the hotel, but also create that moment where guests can take a picture," Poulos said. "It’s a design feature that brings to life the playful nature of the brand.” 

Wide Open Spaces

But while lobby bars are incorporating local elements, they also must adhere to brand standards, forcing designers to be creative.

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In recent years, Hilton has been updating the lobby bars at its Embassy Suites hotels. “The current layout for all the new-construction buildings that we're working on [is] all open, so the lobby and the bar and the lounge and part of the dining space all is one big area,” said Lesley Hughes Wyman, principal of Dallas-based MatchLine Design Group, which has worked on several of the hotels. “So the bar is then taking the focal stage and becoming a feature within itself.” 

The Embassy Suites lobby bars use a wide range of seating options to accommodate different guest demands. “There are banquettes, lounge chairs, pull-up tables, community tables—a wide variety,” Wyman said. “Whether it's one person or 10 people, it creates an atmosphere of welcome.” Making the bar more casual helps bring groups of people into the bar, and keeps them in the space longer, especially if there are communal tables, added Tamara Ainsworth, principal of MatchLine. “Whether they're locals or they're all traveling together, it just makes it easier.” 

At the Embassy Suites by Hilton Hotel Downtown Amarillo in Texas, the lobby bar is named for the year the city was founded, emphasizing the location. “They're relating it back to the story of the city,” Wyman said. “It's right there in downtown that’s going through this huge revitalization effort, and the client there specifically wanted the bar against the glass windows so that everyone from the street can see what's going on in the bar, and everyone sitting at the bar can watch what's going on on the street.”  

At the Aloft Philadelphia Downtown, which opened last fall in a repurposed historic bank, the brand’s W XYZ bar is off to the side of the open main lobby. “Because the stairs [up to the lobby] do not lead the guest immediately to the reception desk, it feels less intrusive to explore the space and begin to feel at home,” Marinda Thomas, the project’s interior designer, said of the placement. "Being able to utilize the Aloft brand standards, but also move away from the typical design, gave us the opportunity to [create] a fun, yet elegant, space." 

Day to Night

Most of the lobby bars MatchLine has designed recently have to go from day to night, Wyman noted. “So it has to look nice and casual in the daytime when the barista is behind there and making a great cappuccino for you, but then it's got to have a hip vibe later when the lights turn down just a bit.” 

Poulos agreed. "We're not just thinking about evening activation," she said. "We're thinking about, 'How are people consuming it?'" Because of increasingly blurred lines between work and play, she added, flexibility is key. "How do you get work done? How do you transition so you can play and have a drink and have a connection?" USB ports and electrical outlets create an environment where it's comfortable to get work done during day into the evening, she added. "But when the laptops go away, how does the space come to life?" 

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