The minibar is the vestigial organ of the hotel industry. It’s in nearly every room, but almost no one uses it anymore. The selections tend to be lacking or uninspired, and when it does have what you want, the price tag immediately makes you not want it anymore. $12 for a Toblerone? Not feeling it. Eight bucks for a can of Pringles? I’ll hit up the Walgreens across the street if I have the munchies. And $14 for a mini bottle of Johnnie Walker Red? I can spend that much on a proper drink at the bar downstairs; at least the bartender can listen to me bitch about the price there.
There are some hotels and hospitality industry professionals that have seen the writing on the wall, and recognize that the minibar, as a concept and in practice, must adapt to the times. In every major U.S. city a small army of artisans is producing small-batch chocolate, liquor, bitters, chips, pickles, pretty much whatever you can think of. So why not tap into this as a resource for stocking the minibar instead of using the same tired brands? Or why not rethink the design and method of how the minibar system works altogether?
Some hotels are opting to buck the system completely and offer complimentary snacks from the minibar. “We don’t want to nickel and dime our guests – we simply want them to feel cared for and immersed in the locale,” said Jonathan Frolich, VP of Global Brands for Andaz/Hyatt Hotels Corporation. “That’s why guests can enjoy minibar items that are free of charge and inspired by the local destination, like Kaya rice snacks or Meji chocolate in Tokyo, Van Wees Genever in Amsterdam or bizcochos (corn fried donuts) in Papagayo, Costa Rica.”
The James hotels in New York and Chicago may not be offering free minibar items (they prefer to call it a pantry), but they are attempting to make your in-room minibar experience a bit more sophisticated. For $28 (plus the cost of liquor) guests can order the In-Room Cocktail Experience, a tray of liquor and accoutrements that one can use to create a variety of cocktails. Don’t feel like mixing drinks yourself? Order a private mixology lesson. The James is also tailoring their minibars in New York and Chicago to feature local products, as well as things you might normally find at the hotel gift shop. For example, in Chicago you can find Terry’s Toffee and a tie from The Tie Bar in the minibar, while the New York property offers Widow Jane whiskey and North Fork potato chips.
SLS South Beach is taking the term “minibar” a bit more literally, offering a roving mini bar (with human-sized bartender, presumably) that shows up unannounced at guests’ rooms to mix complimentary seasonal cocktails – the first one is a liquid nitrogen caipirinha from The Bazaar by Jose Andrés. This surprise mini bar cart could conceivably lead to some awkward in-room encounters, but it’s a fresh idea all the same, and the price is right.
If you are stuck in a hotel room with your average minibar and lack the fortitude to mingle with the group from the dental convention partying in the lobby, but still really need a drink, there are some hacks you should know about. We got tips from some experts in the world of mixology on how to craft a decent drink in your hotel room, even if your minibar doesn’t have small-batch bitters and craft gin. Recipes are below:
Bittersuite Old Fashioned - Rob Krueger, Extra Fancy, Brooklyn, NY
- 1/2 teaspoon honey
- 1 bag herbal tea (like chamomile)
- 2 ounces Patron Reposado (or comparable) tequila
Squeeze about a half-teaspoon of honey into the bottom of your glass. Add a bag of herbal tea such as chamomile and a splash of hot water. Stir briefly and add Patron Reposado (or comparable) tequila from the mini bar. Remove the teabag after the mixture is room temp. Fill the glass half full with ice and give another stir. If you've happened to grab an apple from the Continental breakfast, add a slice.
T & Tea - Rob Krueger, Extra Fancy, Brooklyn, NY
- 1 bag of black tea or citrus black tea blend like Orange Pekoe or Earl Grey
- Hot water
- 2 ounces Patron Silver or comparable tequila
- Soda or ginger ale
In the bottom of your glass, place the teabag and a splash of hot water from the kettle or coffee maker. (Or, if there is a single serving brewing machine, make a very short tea extraction into the glass). Go down the hall to the ice machine while your mini infusion sets. Add a mini bottle of tequila (or comparable) tequila, let sit for a few seconds and remove the teabag. Add ice, and top with soda or ginger ale. Bonus: add a wedge of lime if you have one.
Scottish Kalimotxo (Calimocho) – Dana Richardson, TAG, Denver
"A kalimotxo is a popular drink from the Basque region of Spain that is simply half red wine and half cola. I recommend using the lightest bodied wine in the mini bar, or something Spanish if available. The Famous Grouse Smoky Black's dried cherry and vanilla notes pair perfectly with the cherry cola-ish flavors of the kalimotxo."
- 1 1/2 oz. The Famous Grouse Smoky Black (or comparable blended scotch)
- 3 oz. red wine
- 2 oz. cola
In an ice filled water glass, fill the glass up halfway with red wine and then almost to the top with cola. Pour scotch over the top of the drink.
The Orange Grove Toddy – Dana Richardson, TAG, Denver
- 2 oz. The Famous Grouse (or comparable blended scotch)
- 1/2 oz. spiced rum
- 1/2 oz. orange juice
- 1 sugar packet
- hot water
Using your coffeemaker in the room, brew a cup of hot water and pour into a coffee mug. Add all ingredients in and stir. A nice addition to this drink is a couple dashes of bitters, if you have access to them.