Hotel lobby bars go multipurpose

Lobby Bar

Over the past few years, the ever-growing millennial generation has changed the very nature of the hotel lobby and the lobby bar. A few armchairs are no longer enough for a lobby, and a simple watering hole in a dark corner is no longer an acceptable lobby bar. As the younger generation gathers in open spaces to work, socialize and—yes—enjoy a drink or two, lobby bars have evolved to become multipurpose hubs. 

Gordon Beckman, principal and design director at John Portman & Associates, described a contemporary lobby bar as “at once a social space and an alone space—a quiet space and a loud space.” Spanish designer Lorenzo Castillo agreed. “The purpose of hotel lobbies used to be simply for welcoming, checking in and collecting room keys,” he said. “Today, they are expected to be not just functional, but surprising and unexpected. Hotel bars are increasingly being integrated into lobbies so that the reception area becomes a full experience. You’re experiencing the hotel’s full atmosphere and energy.”

Designer Josh Held agreed, noting that a lobby bar can function as a workspace, casual restaurant and meeting place throughout the day before becoming a traditional bar (or even nightclub) in the evenings.  


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“Hotel bars are not for the hotels,” Jun Aizaki, principal at Crème Design said, “but places where locals can hang out. It has a functional need that satisfies the neighborhood.” Christophe Richard, who oversaw Crème’s work on the recent redesign of the Eventi Hotel in New York, echoed the multiuse viewpoint of lobby bars. “It seems that lobby spaces and lobby bars are blending into one,” he said. “There’s a fuzzy line between a workspace and the bar.”


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The lighting, Castillo said, should be “cozy,” while the décor should be inviting and comfortable—“inspiring guests and locals to linger, chat and have a drink as if they were in a trendy lounge or pub.” 

Beckman said that contemporary lobby bars link the interior to the exterior, furthering the lounge connection to exterior space. Moveable and glass exterior walls help enable this connection, he said, and provide a link to the overall destination. 

As hotels go high-tech, lobby bars should follow suit. “Anywhere you sit should have reasonably close outlets and USB chargers in them,” Held said, noting that a Wi-Fi router should be tucked away somewhere to facilitate sharing selfies. 

In terms of furniture, Beckman believes that a lobby bar should offer multiple seating and gathering options, powerful digital connectivity, visual linkages to the place and inside/outside connections, providing multiple environments in which to work, relax and socialize. Communal tables should be available for those who want a social experience, as well as individual seating for travelers who want to work alone in an active environment. Traditional bar table and lounge seating should always be available for the purists, he added.

“In general, what makes a hotel lobby successful is multiple levels of engagement and multiple levels of experience,” Held said. This can be conveyed physically in terms of having chairs and tables at different heights to provide “three different levels of experience” all in one space.   

And while many designers look to a hotel’s location for inspiration, Held does not believe that this is inherently necessary for an effective lobby bar. “It’s a conscious choice, when you design, if you will involve local vernacular and people in the space,” he said. “It’s not mandatory for a successful project.” Still, he added, incorporating local touches can help add “another level of interest and engagement” for guests.

Want to see some lobby bars these designers created? Take a look at these three New York hotspots and what makes them unique...