In FT Undercover, we check out three hotel lobby bars so you don’t have to
Ever wonder how consumers feel about your franchise? Editorial staffers Laura Michaels, Nick Upton, Tom Kaiser and Beth Ewen check out three brands in a different genre each issue, and report back.
Any hotel lobby bar with a Mary Pickford on the cocktail list is OK by us. That is one of the $12 offerings at the Normandy Kitchen & Bar, under the Best Western Plus brand. We were told Best Western Plus was a must to check out, and when we visited the newly renovated place, it did not disappoint. Inside, that is. Outside, not so much. Strike one was the lack of valet parking, which should be required for any hotel in a downtown locale, in our humble opinion. Strike two was the unplowed parking lot. (See strike one.) Strike three was the faux-Tudor-meets-1970s vibe on the facade. But if most hotel lobby bars invite because you can see and be seen, this one was the perfect place for a clandestine meeting. Gleaming dark wood on the floors, benches with radiant heat pulsing through the ironwork inset grills, a long marble counter for loners facing the street and a zinc-topped bar in front of friendly bartenders ready to suggest just the right cocktail—the Penicillin, perhaps?—all was a credit to third-generation innkeeper Mike Noble and Minneapolis designer Jim Smart.
The upshot: The Normandy, under the Best Western Plus brand, punches above its weight class with inviting interior spaces evoking its roots in the 1940s. —BE
Our friend and lobby bar enthusiast Donna helped us check out the downtown Minneapolis Hilton lobby, fresh off a $27 million facelift that transformed it from a gold-plated house of mirrors into a contemporary space. It’s a soaring lobby with arched windows overlooking a busy street, but the new lighter tones and granite are a blank slate that draw eyes to the funky carpet, retro furniture and dark, inviting bar. Named Ten 01 Social, this Hilton’s common space is one of the city’s grandest lobbies. Interesting cocktails and local taps paired well with an ambitious menu. Bustling and lively, the atmosphere is the finest attribute. Our eyes caught the Dakota Bison Sausage Sandwich, venison dinner and smoked Lake Superior trout that lent this place an authentic Minnesota vibe. The two-sided bar is long and narrow, flanked by arrangements of tables and chairs in little groups, diverse spaces for scheming co-workers, people-watching locals and solo travelers that melded together as smoothly as the Ten 01 Punch: barrel-aged bourbon, orange liqueur, strawberries, lemon and Sprite.
The upshot: A hotel lobby of the highest order for those experiencing Minneapolis from their seat at the bar. Bravo! —TK
Lobby bar enthusiast Donna (in the red dress) at the Minneapolis Hilton.
As a millennial, I don’t know if I should be flattered or offended by the new Radisson Red concept and OuiBar + KTCHN lobby bar within. I love the design, and the big bold murals depicting local scenery. But just because everyone thinks millennials are broke doesn’t mean we’re cheap. Maybe it’s just being on the older, crankier side of the generation, but I don’t want to be reminded of cheapness at every turn. The self-serve drinks and snacks next to the bar are a turnoff, the pay-at-the-table tablets are a turnoff and the cheap, uncomfortable chairs are a turnoff. Just because half my generation still has their terrible Ikea chairs at home doesn’t mean I want to sit on one at a bar. The Radisson Red concept is all about efficiency. There’s no front desk (just a dude and a laptop), there’s no room service and a slim restaurant staff seems to have a lot to do despite just a few guests in the bar during happy hour. The shining star of value is the food and drink. A hot local chef put the menu together. The blended beef and mushroom burger topped with kale certainly has my millennial heart aflutter. The list of great local brews, cheap craft cocktails and wine is nice, too.
The upshot: The lack of creature comforts and in-your-face efficiency becomes as apparent as the lack of vowels in “KTCHN”—I get what’s going on, but I don’t like it. —NU