Taste for quality drives hotel bars

The Benjamin Bar in the background at The Trump International Hotel Washington, D.C.

Knowledge about spirits is at an all-time high, with consumers willing to pay up to 24 percent more for a cocktail that has been served to a high standard, according to a study from CGA Strategy.

The march to quality comes as more hotels look to destination bars to drive business and, as nightclub group SBE’s takeover of Morgans Hotel Group approaches, a new night-time sensibility comes to the sector.

CGA Strategy told the Future Trends: Spirits event that 46 percent of consumers drank spirits and would spend 24 percent more if the quality of the serve was right. They would also spend 19 percent more on spirits drunk out of the home. Part of the growth, the group said, was driven by the belief that spirits were a healthier drink.

(This hasn't been lost on Donald Trump's new Washington, D.C., outpost, where cocktail prices are in the stratosphere.)

Hotel Resurgence

The study came as hotel bars have been enjoying a renaissance. The annual list of the world’s 50 best bars, an industry standard produced every October by Drinks International, named the London’s American Bar at The Savoy and the Dandelyan at the Mondrian Hotel in second and third place, after New York's Dead Rabbit Grocery & Grog, with the bar at The Connaught in fourth place.

The American Bar is an industry stalwart, but it is the rise of Dandelyan, which opened at the end of 2014, that has been inspiring visitors and residents in London to cross to the former no-man’s land of the South Bank.

Dandelyan at the Mondrian Hotel in London was named third best bar in the world this year.

The plaudits come as Morgans Hotel Group, the Mondrian’s parent, is about to be taken over by nightclub specialist SBE Group in a deal valuing the group at US$794 million. Morgans had exited the nightclub business in 2015 with the sale of The Light Group, but now finds itself as part of a portfolio to include 20 hotels and more than 90 food-and-beverage offerings.

“Our strategic vision is to operate these amazing and unique lifestyle properties in key international gateway markets, and Morgans’ hotels, along with their talented team, fit perfectly within that vision,” said Sam Nazarian, SBE founder, chairman & CEO. “SBE will leverage best-in-class brands across the combined company, further driving both short- and long-term revenue growth. We are very excited about the opportunities ahead. Our acquisition of Morgans will allow SBE to become a truly disruptive and value-add force across all platforms of hospitality, residential, entertainment, F&B and development.”

SBE expects to integrate its brands and revenue-driven strategies throughout the Morgans portfolio, including its marketing and sponsorship platforms, customer loyalty programs and residential, timeshare and hotel development and design operations.

“To us, the bar is the billboard for the entire building. And from a customer’s perspective, if the bar experience is hot, the hotel is likely to be too. The bar and restaurant can be the lifeblood of brands, if they don't resonate with an audience then the hotel isn’t likely to either,” said Imran Hussain, The Hotel Culture. “In central London and other gateway locations those who live in the more popular neighborhoods, tend to live in smaller apartments, so when they have friends and family staying they can’t stay with them, so the first place a local would likely refer them to is the bar they like to drink in. I don't think hotels have understood that, so the closest they've got to addressing this is a fantastic neighborhood bar."

Hussain said that when it comes to hotels brands taking over existing hotels, more philosophically speaking, if you want to convey a new order, the best way to achieve that is the bar and restaurant offering.

“I once heard someone say that luxury travel experiences were born on a dance floor in New York in ’70s,” he said. “In terms of American brands, what we've seen over the years is job titles like director of nightlife and director of entertainment, which we don't tend to see much in Europe. But today I think that side of the pond has started to realize that there are a lot more hours in the day than the night, so if you can make the bar and restaurant more attractive during the day it's easier to take it into the night, which makes for the business model work at much more conducive rate.”

Luxury Focus

Hotels are starting to take notice, particularly in the luxury sector. The takeover at Morgans comes as The Park Lane Hong Kong, a Pullman Hotel, opens its 8,000-square-foot destination rooftop bar – Skye bar and restaurant. The bar is part of the hotel’s US$38 million upgrade and has views of Victoria Park and Victoria Harbour.

“Hong Kong is the culinary capital in Asia,” said GM Luc Bollen. “The city has a sophisticated breed of well-travelled epicureans who have relished the best the world has to offer. We look forward to impressing the crowd affirming that the passion and hard work we have put into making a truly unique experience for the millennials and tastemakers, and fuels us with immense excitement for the opening.”

The bar has a specially curated cocktail list created by Italian mixologist Valerio Politano with 24 cocktails inspired, the group said, by “the varied and distinctive eclectic characteristics of Hong Kong.” They include a range of liquid nitrogen cocktails, with the group adding: “Each of Skye’s cocktails is prepared with creativity ensuring a visually stunning presentation of a well concocted libation, blended with rare artisanal and boutique spirits.” 

A snack menu has been designed to be paired with the cocktails, ranging from plate of oysters and duck confit croquettes, to Eastern tastes including Cantonese chicken wings and Szechuan-infused black angus skewers.