Around Town

How hotel bars and restaurants are becoming destinations for locals

I wouldn’t say I make a habit out of hanging out at hotels with friends. But a recent trip to The Punch Room on the 15th floor of The Ritz-Carlton uptown indicated a trend: Several hotels are trying to draw locals in, not just travelers passing through.

Take a look inside The Punch Room. On a Thursday night, as I sat at the bar with coworkers, I saw couples in intimate conversation on a sleek couch, I saw pairs of friends laughing and a small group huddled in the back lounge, and I saw two people from Charlotte’s entrepreneurial scene having drinks.

I didn’t see one lonely businessperson sipping solo before catching the next flight out of town.

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The Punch Room is flanked by dessert destination Bar Cocoa and the modern American steakhouse BLT Steak on the first level of The Ritz. And it’s a popular place to kick back in, a “drinking den inspired by the 19th century clubs of yesteryear.”

Ask for Head Mixologist Bob Peters — and a Pisco Sour with Elderflower liqueur foam. The smoked pecan hummus, too. That’s the handiwork of Executive Sous Chef Nathan Volz.

But that’s just the beginning — The Ritz isn’t the only hotel drawing in the locals for an evening out.

I’ve noticed a local-marketing effort from Evoke restaurant and the Longitude80 bar at Le Meridien hotel uptown since its opening as well, from an Arts & Science Council ArtPop celebration to a menu-tasting event.

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“In the larger cities across the U.S., hotels are sought after among foodies as they hold an elite status within the restaurant world,” said Elise Stephens, Complex Director of Outlets at Le Meridien. “We want to bring that same excitement to Charlotte as it grows and have Charlotteans experience the vibrant city life of uptown. Hotel restaurants in Charlotte haven’t been traditionally thought of in that light so we thought it was time for a change.”

Suggested from the menu: The Lavender Cosmo that includes house-infused lavender vodka and Triple Sec, and the Bucatini, which consists of beef tenderloin, madeira, mushrooms and a pine-nut crust.

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The Gallery Restaurant The Ballantyne Hotel

“Since opening in 2007, we have primarily positioned Gallery Restaurant as a free-standing restaurant,” said Chef de Cuisine David Moore. “While it happens to be located in a hotel, Gallery offers destination dining of its own merit.”

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As for the Gallery Bar, Moore said this space was inspired by the King Cole Bar at The St. Regis New York. Fancy.

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Back uptown, The Asbury at The Dunhill Hotel holds the same attitude as The Gallery.

“We really want to be our own identity; we don’t really want to be a hotel restaurant,” said Restaurant Manager Jenny Villapando. “We want the vibe inside the restaurant to be welcoming, Southern hospitality.”

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One must-try menu item according to Sarah Crosland is found at the restaurant’s bar in the lobby of the historic Dunhill Hotel: The Sticky Biscuits, made with Benton’s 14-month ham and a goat cheese “icing.”

Just add a classic cocktail.

Photos: Robert Lahser/Charlotte Observer, Katie Toussaint, Bissell, Antoine Bootz, Sarah Crosland

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