Historic Hotels: Belly up to the Bar

Road Journals Blog—Back in 1794, long before Manhattan was something you drank, America's first true hotel opened on that famous island of New York City. And foremost among the amenities at the five-story, 137-room City Hotel was, of course, a bar. The truth is tippling and travelers' lodgings go together like gin and tonic.

Tonga Room, historic bar, Fairmont Hotel, image

It rains and pours inside the Tonga Room at the Fairmont Hotel. | Courtesy of Fairmont Hotel San Francisco

While researching and writing VIA's story about historic hotels, I wasn't surprised to find that four of the five featured properties boasted great watering holes: the Pied Piper Bar & Grill at San Francisco's Palace Hotel; the Tea Court at Portland's Heathman Hotel; Oliver's at the Mayflower Park Hotel in Seattle; and the Silver Dollar Bar at Jackson Hole's Wort Hotel. Herewith, shaken not stirred, are four more favorite bars in historic hostelries of the West.

The Tonga Room and Hurricane Bar (Fairmont Hotel, San Francisco)

Yes, it's a tiki bar. But how many tiki bars have hourly thunder, lightning and rain storms? Upstairs, in the hotel's main lobby, gilded, robber-baron elegance may rule. But here, South Seas fantasies come alive with the help of a mai tai or two. 950 Mason St., (415) 772-5278.

The Observation Room (Queen Mary, Long Beach, Calif.)

Fabulous, damn-the-expense ocean cruise not in the budget this year? You can still feel swell with a cocktail at this gem of a wood-paneled, chrome-accented art deco bar, originally the first-class lounge aboard the grand old steamship-turned-hotel. 1126 Queens Hwy., (562) 435-3511.

Driftwood Room, Hotel deLuxe, Portland, image

The Driftwood room at the Hotel deLuxe in Portland defines swank. | Courtesy of Provenance Hotels

The Driftwood Room (Hotel deLuxe, Portland)

In a hotel oozing retro Hollywood glamour, a totally Mad Men vibe pervades this small, swank lounge. Even if you're otherwise a nerd, you'll morph into ultra-smooth Don Draper when you sip a martini at the curved bar. 729 SW 15th Ave., (503) 219-2094.

The Wright Bar (Arizona Biltmore Hotel, Phoenix. Ariz.)

How often can you enjoy a cocktail while sitting in a Frank Lloyd Wright creation? OK, Wright may not have been the actual architect of record here, but his touch is everywhere. And for those who enjoy a sweet drink, this bar is the birthplace of the tequila sunrise.  2400 E. Missouri Ave., (602) 955-6600.

Give us a shout with your own nomination for the West's best historic bar.

This blog post was first published in June 2012. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.