There are distinct advantages to drinking in hotel bars, even at hotels in the city where you live. There is always wi-fi available. The bartender doesn't care if you nurse or linger over your drink; most people are just biding time between meetings or flights anyway. You'll meet interesting people from all over the world, especially at the larger or posher bars in town. And you'll never encounter hordes of young twentysomethings doing Red Bull bombs or shots of Jäger to the throbbing sounds of Pitbull over the speakers.
Hotel bars are one of the last sane refuges of the civilized adult imbiber. In fact, the only real shame to drinking in a hotel bar in your hometown is if you're drinking alone -- that's a right reserved for travelers. Go drink alone at the Lone Star Saloon like a proper Houstonian and bring a friend with you to have a classy cocktail when you head out to a hotel bar. (Bonus: It's also an impressive option for a date.)
Until very recently, I was only a regular at a small handful of Houston hotel bars: Line & Lariat -- which used to be Voice -- in the Hotel Icon, where the Manhattans have always been top-notch. And the Monarch at Hotel ZaZa, where you can have a dignified yet laid-back lunch or drinks right across the street from the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston and the Houston Museum of Natural Science.
Yesterday, however, I decided to familiarize myself with a dozen more Houston hotel bars after being given this assignment -- I can't very well write about bars I've never set foot inside of, after all. So I packed a bunch of dollar bills for the valets and headed out to visit some of the city's finest hotel bars. Nearly 11 hours later, far poorer than when I started out, and down at least one-fifth of my liver, here's how the list of Top 10 hotel bars shook out.
10. Hilton Americas
Hours: 2 p.m. to 2 a.m. Monday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. Saturday, noon to 2 a.m. Sunday Valet: $30 (you can find parking downtown for free after 6 p.m. and all day on Sundays)
The big draw of the bar in the lobby of the massive Hilton Americas is evident from the moment you walk in: a massive, gold-and-blue topographical map of the world that is hard to tear your eyes away from, even as you drink. True to most lobby bars, there's plenty of diverse, comfortable seating in the form of couches, chairs and barstools. The long bar itself is well-stocked, and it's an impressive spot to meet for a drink or catch up on e-mails over a beer downtown.
Unfortunately, the service can be lukewarm, and most of the cocktails are pretty dire. I'd advise sticking with a beer or glass of wine here, as even the pours of neat liquor -- seriously, stay away from the cocktails -- are minuscule and heavily overpriced. You're better off heading to Spencer's for Steaks and Chops right down the hallway.