An excellent hotel bar can be the difference between a good and great travel experience. The welcoming lobby bar is often the first stop a guest makes after a long day of sightseeing, and just as often the last one he or she makes before calling it a night. Hotel bars bring out-of-town visitors together to interact, share travel tips, and maybe get lucky.
Cleveland recently landed three new downtown hotels — the Hilton, Drury and Kimpton Schofield — so we rounded up a group of well-seasoned travelers to explore and evaluate the bars of each. Extending little more than half a mile, the walk from bar to bar to bar is as easy as it is architecturally stimulating.
There are few prettier façades downtown than the Schofield Building, which just wrapped up a $50-million renovation that stripped away a drab late-'60s overlay, revealing a stunning terra cotta exterior. The early-20th century building now houses Ohio's first Kimpton hotel, a boutique brand known for quirky amenities like loaner bikes and guitars, and in-room food and water bowls for pets.
Officially, the Kimpton doesn't have a bar. But it does have Parker's Downtown (2000 East Ninth St., 216-357-3250, parkersdowntown.com), an onsite restaurant that serves as the hotel's bar, restaurant and room service provider. The snug lounge, just off the lobby, offers a cozy perch to unwind with a drink or nibble, as long as you're not seated at the granite bar, where small, stiff stools deter lingering. Instead, grab a seat at a plush banquette and enjoy cocktails like the Thyme is Money ($9), an ironically named drink given the time it takes to prepare, and the Professor ($11), a sturdy, smoky blend of rye and Laphroaig served with large-format ice.
Large windows offer nice views of the historic Cleveland Trust Building, now home to Heinen's Downtown. The bar menu offers wine- and cocktail-friendly bites like a cheese and crostini platter ($10), meaty poached shrimp with horseradish custard ($14), and warm, creamy smoked white fish spread ($12) served with great grilled bread.
After paying the tab, our group walked down East Ninth to Rockwell, passing by the Federal Reserve Bank, the Cleveland Public Library and its amazing pocket park, the Eastman Reading Garden, until we hit the Mall. Anchoring the east end of that wide-open expanse is the Beaux-Arts-style Board of Education Building, which hasn't looked this good since it opened in the 1930s. Now home to the Drury (1380 East Sixth St., 216-357-3100, druryhotels.com), the building's lobby boasts two original murals by Cleveland School of Art instructor Cora Holden, who drowned in Lake Erie in 1938, at the age of 44.
After roaming the wide, marble-lined hallways we landed in the cleverly named Teachers' Lounge, where we were greeted by a friendly face. The bar is small and hidden but it's well designed, with comfortable furniture and education-themed touches like an antique perpetual calendar and periodic table of elements. Drinks, too, have a scholastic ring, with names like the Lunchbox and Tardy Slip. Guests can sip on a bottle or draft beer, limited selection wines by the glass, and full cocktail selection. Snacks like free popcorn, flatbreads ($8), hummus and pita ($7) and mozzarella sticks ($8) are available until 10 or 11 p.m.
After being dismissed, the group orbited its way through the revolving door and landed back on the Mall, where a towering statue of Abraham Lincoln awaits. The impressive memorial was sculpted in 1923 by Lithuanian immigrant and artist Max Kalish and was funded with pennies collected from Cleveland schoolchildren. We made our way across the Mall, site of the Great Lakes Expositions of 1936 and 1937, and current home of the graceful War Memorial Fountain, toward the newest and most modern addition to the Cleveland skyline.
The glass-and-steel Hilton Cleveland Hotel (100 Lakeside Ave., 216-413-5000, www3.hilton.com) rises 32 stories above Lake Erie, and visitors can climb right to the top and get loaded. Bar 32's stylish indoor-outdoor space is 400 feet above terra firma, offering unobstructed views of Burke Lakefront Airport to the east, sunsets to the west, and Browns Stadium and the Rock Hall in between. Although the bar gets slammed, there's approximately 175 seats. Cocktails are a bit pricy, but they're well built. The Proper Daiquiri ($13) is indeed proper, a perfect balance of sweet, tart and boozy.
Bar 32 is just one of three bars on the new Hilton property. In addition to the bar inside the Burnham Restaurant, there's Eliot's Bar, a proper hotel bar perched on a mezzanine that overlooks the airy lobby. Of all the bars we hit before and during our trip to the Hilton, Eliot's, we all agreed, felt most like the kind of bar where guests would interact with other travelers. The sprawling layout offered options for socializing and privacy, which should cover the needs of just about everybody.
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