Why drink in hotel bars?

Well, hotels are sexy. All those beds, all those people, all those expense accounts. And hotel bars, unlike Seattle's usual-suspect watering holes, are filled with people you're never going to see again. Drinking in a hotel bar is like being out of town yourself. You can get drunk or picked up--or both, if you're lucky--without having to worry about your friends, bosses, exes, or currents seeing you. Best of all, hotel bars are filled with horny out-of-towners, lonely men and women with time to kill and per diems to burn. Hotel bars are electric with possibility. So many strangers, so little chance of getting busted.

And... how can I put this nicely? In a lot of Seattle's non-hotel bars, the staff is often overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of people crowding around demanding drinks. When there are more people in a particular bar than the bartenders can reasonably serve, bartenders and waiters really have no incentive to be, well, nice. Or efficient. Or friendly. If someone gets frustrated and leaves the bar without a drink, there are 20 other people waiting in line behind 'em.

Ah, but hotel bars are different. Sitting in an overstuffed chair in the lobby of, say, the Westin or the Four Seasons, you'll find yourself tended to by bartenders and cocktail waiters who are actually anxious to bring you a drink. And another. And another. And since the bartenders and waiters assume you're a guest of the hotel, they don't worry so much about overserving. After all, you're just going to be stumbling up to your room at the end of the night, not into your car.

That's why we love hotel bars. Even if you're not trying to pick someone up, even if all you want to do is get away from the crowds and weekend warriors cluttering up your regular drinking holes during the summer, even if all you want is that bottomless bowl of peanuts, well, hotel bars are the place to go. And if, by chance, you should meet a fellow local slumming in any of these bars, and the two of you wanna get it on, we've included the rates for an impulsive, you've-gotta-have-it double room. After all, there's more than one way to say "Bottoms up." --Dan Savage

Hotel Seattle
Address: 315 Seneca St
Phone: 623-5110
Double Room: $110

With food services that close down at 4:30 and last call for alcohol at 8:45 p.m., Bernard's is no late-night pickup joint. In fact, Bernard's, at any of its early hours, serves as little more than a gathering place for business folks sneaking a beer or a glass of Chablis before heading home. This is not to say that the tiny basement attachment to the Hotel Seattle doesn't try its best to get patrons in the mood--the focal point of the room is a grand mural featuring a medieval character whose very large sword hangs phallically between his legs, and a damsel (looking much like the late Quentin Crisp as Queen Elizabeth in Orlando) offering her upturned flower to him. However, an intrusive air conditioner that snaps constantly like a bug zapper punctuates all conversation among the bar's mostly male clientele.

The Bookstore Bar
Alexis Hotel
Address: 1007 First Ave
Phone: 382-1506
Double Room: $195-$315

Across the street from this ritzy hotel bar sits Taboo Adult Video. At one point during my visit, two police cars stopped in front of the establishment, spun around, and raced south, sirens blaring.

The Alexis Hotel proprietors didn't embarrassedly cover this noirish scene with a thick velvet curtain. Instead, they capitalized on it, keeping the windows big and open, so their clients--predominately men between 45 and 55--can view the outside world with their practiced disdain. The establishment itself is a tribute to a wistfully bygone era of gentlemanly civility. The bar is lined with imported whiskey bottles and exotic Scotch liquors that the patrons can only envy in their hedonistic ignorance. The walls are covered with the musty art deco of leather-bound books and rare cigar boxes. The only things you'll find disrupting this faux early-20th-century vision is the television (tuned to sports) and the occasional lone woman working feverishly on a laptop. This bar doesn't advertise, but given its unique niche, it doesn't need to.

Brasserie Margaux
The Warwick Hotel
Address: 410 Lenora St
Phone: 777-1990
Double Room: $156-$195

Warwick's bar is in the back of a French restaurant called Brasserie Margaux. The place is dim, noble, with comfortable chairs and a marble-topped bar. The Warwick's specialty is wine, and the place is usually busy during weekday happy hours, attracting mostly professional women, who visit after work. The bar has other significant nights and hours (such as when the flight attendants from US Airways visit), but in terms of erotic possibilities, none comes close to the Brasserie Margaux's weekday happy hour. Why? Because in the erotic imagination of working-class, heterosexual males, an educated, single/married, hard-working, successful woman means only one thing: She needs a good fuck. She will not find it among the sterile men with whom she competes in the offices high above the streets, so she must descend to dim places like this posh bar, to find the common man--the man who can produce an erection with the energy of a cobra. Indeed, on a late afternoon like this, with twilight seeping through the restaurant's south windows, and the Platters singing, "It's twilight time" on the bar's soft stereo, the sight of all these needy women in power suits is something more than marvelous.

The City Brew Lounge
Crowne Plaza Hotel
Address: 1113 Sixth Ave
Phone: 464-1980
Double Room: $189-$229

This place screams sin! No effort was made to ennoble the space; it's all very bland and functional, like a cheap porn movie. To hell with period themes, decadent marble, cherry wood furnishings--you don't go to a hotel bar to admire the setting, but to meet and seduce a stranger as quickly as possible. And anything that might obstruct, blur, or obscure this primary objective has been effectively banished from this bar. The Crowne Plaza Hotel is where the Mariners' competitors stay during a series, and the City Brew Lounge is where they often party after a long day at Safeco Field. Indeed, if I were a pimp (a career move I'm seriously considering after visiting this bar), I'd bring my girls nowhere but here. Not for the sports stars, mind you, but for the lesser-known ball players, because these minor men are more likely to have free time (no interviews or obsessed fans), free morals (no contractual obligations to be a role model), and money to waste on the pleasures of the night. The lounge's bartenders seem pragmatic and unmoved by the frenzied world of desire that swirls around them; they offer no value judgments, and are not talkative. Everything's business as usual at the City Brew Lounge.

The Cloud Room
Camlin Hotel
Address: 1619 Ninth Ave
Phone: 682-0100
Double Room: $95-$158

A person looking for meaningless sex with a traveling stranger would be better off checking out one of the hostels in town than spending an evening at the Cloud Room. Despite popular opinion, the Cloud Room is not a place for romance, be it fleeting or permanent. The drinks are far too weak and expensive, and the music (performed by a rotating pair of one-man bands) will stifle any sexual flame quickly after it is ignited. Of course, there is the view, but with the recent debacle of the expanded Convention Center, even that has lost much of its luster. The one saving grace may be the elevators--mirrored, dimly lit, and slow-moving--but onboard coitus, be it rising or falling, is frowned on by the hotel's staff.

The Dragonfish Asian Cafe

Paramount Hotel
Address: 722 Pine St
Phone: 467-7777
Double Room: $169-$220

Upon entering the Dragonfish, a smiling host greets you and takes your jacket, giving you the impression that you're about to dine in an overpriced sushi bar. Don't be fooled. Walk deeper inside and you'll discover that you've entered a dark, smoky tavern with an odd mishmash of style and purpose. Japanese slot machines line the walls, bamboo furniture stolen from the Disneyland set of The Swiss Family Robinson surrounds the bar, and soul music plays from the ceiling speakers. The effect isn't exactly sexy, but the Dragonfish is comfortable and cheap. The bar serves one of the best happy-hour bargains in town: $2.25 beers and $1.95 sushi rolls. Occasionally hotel guests hang out at the bar, but the Dragonfish's customers are mainly locals and workers from other hotel bars in the neighborhood. This is one of the Dragonfish's strengths--it stays open later than any of the other hotel bars, many of which close around 11:00 p.m. (P.S. Make time for a trip to the bathroom. It's a walk through the lobby, an elevator ride to the second floor, then down a long, terrifying hallway lifted straight out of The Shining.)

Elephant & Castle

West Coast Grand Hotel
Address: 1415 Fifth Ave
Phone: 624-9977
Double Room: $145-$209

As I walked into the Elephant & Castle, the West Coast Grand's bar, I was reminded of a low-rent Vegas casino, one of those old-school jobs with low ceilings and terrible carpeting. Unfortunately, once I had taken a seat at the bar the similarities ended, and the Elephant & Castle's true nature dawned on me: uptight professional watering hole. The E & C seems to make most of its money off of downtown office building residents, making it more of a white-collar meat market than a quiet place to hide and drink. If you're looking for a quick tumble with a paper pusher, check it out.

The Fireside Room

Sorrento Hotel
Address: 900 Madison St
Phone: 622-6400
Double Room: $230

I walk in and am immediately five inches taller and five times more alluring. I can't help it, it's the room--a deeply satisfying cocoon, dark and windowless, completely closed off from the world and the weather and all other signs of practical life. Lonely hearts are scattered at the bar, staring into their Sapphire and tonics. A group of wealthy hotel guests, brand-new Mariners logos smeared across their chests, shares late-night fancy food: mussels steamed in champagne broth, roasted duck pâté with cornichons.

It's all so civilized. I feel confident, grown-up, foxy even (in this light, everyone has perfect skin). Conversations around me are low, respectful, as if in reverence of our esteemed surroundings; with dark wood everywhere, brocade chairs, and thick carpets, everything drips of tradition and class (the Sorrento has been around since 1909).

For the love of God, don't go ordering a grape nehi here. (Example of a house specialty: the "Symphony Martini," with Chopin vodka and a splash of Remy Martin VSOP, $10.) Stick to gin or rye, and by all means bring a hot date--you won't find more privacy and elegance elsewhere. If you fly solo at the Fireside, do so at your own risk: But don't say I didn't warn you if you get stuck at the bar with the guy who insists he's Bill Gates' brother.

The Gallery Bar
Sheraton Hotel
Address: 1400 Sixth Ave
Phone: 287-5585
Double Room: $189-$350

It'd be easy to scam the Gallery at the Sheraton. If you're a man, just put on some khakis, a dark blue sports jacket, and a button-down white shirt (no tie). For women, a casual business suit in any color will do. Stroll into the place around 8:00 p.m. and sit down at the bar with all the confidence of an anesthesiologist from Louisville. Drink until you can barely stand, then ask for the check. This place gets so few Seattleites, thanks to its proximity to the Convention Center, that the servers are content with a room number and an indecipherable signature. Even the most incompetent grifter could bamboozle this joint.

The reason that I personally didn't cheat this place out of a $50 evening is that, for all its corporate lack of ambience, it does possess a charming honesty. Maybe it's the unabashedly fake "living room" that sits away from the bar, suited only for superficial chitchat and the swapping of business cards. Maybe it's the neutral beige lighting. Or maybe it's the open way the bar's boundaries blend into the hotel's pricey jewelry store. In any case, this place knows exactly what it is--a corporate booze pit--and there's something comforting in that.

The Georgian Terrace and the Garden Court

Four Seasons Olympic Hotel
Address: 411 University St
Phone: 621-1700
Double Room: $355-$435

If you wanna meet a fat businessman traveling on an even fatter expense account, the Four Seasons Olympic Hotel has the perfect lobby for lurking. That's not entirely fair: Not all the businessmen in the Four Seasons are fat. Some are just as fit and trim as they are far from home....

The Georgian Terrace is the smaller of the Four Seasons' two bars, with just eight barstools tucked into a closet-sized space. There are a few tables scattered here and there in the lobby, and the cocktails are served up with darling (and easily stolen) silver bowls. If you're looking to make contact with an honest-to-goodness out-of-towner, the Terrace is the place to start. The seats are close together, there's a TV in the corner, and you pretty much have to rub up against people to get into the bar, making it almost impossible to avoid engaging the people around you in conversation.

But once you meet someone you like, pick up your drinks and move to the Garden Court. Two airy stories high, the dimly lit Garden (complete with live trees) is a perfect place to disappear and let your tongue and fingers do the talking.

The Lobby Court
Westin Hotel
Address: 1900 Fifth Ave
Phone: 728-1000
Double Room: $179-$325

Even with all of its warm lamps, cushions, and courtesy phones, there is nothing soft and friendly about the Westin's generic-looking Lobby Court--which makes it the perfect place to meet for a secret pre-tryst martini or one last blurry drink before some midnight booty. Who cares if the expansive space--with brass, marble, and beige everywhere you look--is one big corporate template? No one's here for the ambience. The point is getting laid. On a recent Tuesday night, an hour before last call, I was surrounded by half a dozen couples who whispered and giggled and canoodled shamelessly, ignoring the nervous laughter from a lone group of out-of-town businessmen.

Pours are generous here, with a ton of top-shelf single malts to choose from, along with requisite silly tourist drinks like the "Seattle Sunrise": Myers's rum, orange juice, pineapple, and cranberry. And the bartenders are excellent, discreetly looking the other way as their customers make out on couches and slurp on third rounds, gearing up for the main event. Lovers with a budget, however, might consider ending their evening at a hotel with gentler rates--single rooms upstairs start at $179. Not that I've spent the night here or anything.

The Lobby Lounge
Hilton Hotel
Address: 1301 Sixth Ave
Phone: 624-0500
Double Room: $210-$263

A middle-aged woman with a long white cigarette between her long white fingers looks at me and suddenly seems nervous. She says a few words to the much older man sitting next to her, and both leave the bar with an air of concern. I'm now alone. I ask the bartender if things will pick up anytime soon. "When the theaters close there will be more action," he says. He starts to watch the large sports TV that seems so out of place in this fancy bar, with its elegant couches (each laden with fat pillows) and slender barstools. "There is another bar on the top floor you can try--it has a great view," he says. I enter the elevator and ascend to the top floor. But Hilton's heaven is almost empty, too. There is one happy couple eating an expensive snack by a wide window, and the small bar is manned by a beautiful East African woman. I order a whiskey sour and look out at the marvelous achievements of downtown--and then it dawns on me that I shouldn't have come up here or the bar below alone. That this is the sort of place where you bring a secret someone. Right now, to this couple sharing a furtive moment together, I look like a PI hired to find more trash for an already messy divorce case. Always come here with someone, or else you'll spook the secret lovers.

Hotel Monaco
Address: 1101 Fourth Ave
Phone: 621-1770
Double Room: $295

In the back left corner of Hotel Monaco's Alice-in-Wonderland lobby is a mirrored door that opens onto a depressing arena of high '90s kitsch, called Sazerac. There is some evidence in the tea-dark interior that the decorator was going for a New Orleans-inspired elegance, but somewhere along the way he or she got waylaid at Mervyn's. Light fixtures from Kandinsky's notorious "game board" period shed wan light on the open dining room, where 30-year-old men in business suits sip martinis. A single woman on a cell phone glares at a school of blondes celebrating a birthday, who bubble up occasionally from a back table. Service on a Tuesday is reluctant, but we finally convince a waitress to bring us the signature drink: a mix of rye whiskey, Peychaud's bitters, and Herbsaint liqueur, with a generous corkscrew of lemon peel, for $6.75. Second on the list is the Dammit Janet: Stoli orange, vanilla, and peach vodkas with a splash of Grand Marnier for $7.75. Tip for the tipsy: Ask for detailed directions to the bathroom, which is not in the bar itself, but in the lobby's basement.

Tulio Ristorante
Hotel Vintage Park
Address: 1100 Fifth Ave
Phone: 624-5500
Double Room: $225

It could be Italy. Pinching a stem of 1997 Ripasso Cesari Mara ($9), you sit at a white-linened table suffused with the scent of rosemary, Sinatra keening in the background. But then again, it could be England at wartime: Shortages have forced elegant pours of Scotch into tiny glasses; outside, rain and more foreboding rumbling rattles the treetops, but inside, the warmth of the wood is all the warmth you need. Few other places in Seattle foster cinematic flights of fancy like Vintage Park's Tulio. The bar itself, an antique imported from New Orleans, is tucked into the hotel lobby's slim-armed embrace. A pair of staircases rises entwined from the lobby, suggesting more intimate havens upstairs. Chris, the bartender, has perfected the balance between friendly interest and professional distance. Here, the wine list reads like a romance, and the Italian bar snacks are the robust heroes. If pecorino cheese can save your life, you will find salvation here. Even hotel employees drink at Tulio on their off hours, which means it must be a transporting place, indeed.

W Cafe
W Hotel
Address: 1112 Fourth Ave
Phone: 264-6000
Double Room: $189-$249

About as New York City as Seattle can get, W's cocktail lounge features high ceilings, angular, suede-covered seating in muted ocean colors, and a glass-laden, black-against-weathered-bronze background. The stools lining its curved marble bar host a constant turnover of meticulously groomed men in expensive casual wear who have mastered the art of scanning the room with haughty nonchalance. Less subtle patrons looking to catch the eye of horny travelers occupy the corner seats on either side bar. The W features no dark corners or private nooks for stolen hanky-panky, but given the fashion-savvy clientele, no one goes to W hoping not to be seen. Though the hotel is rumored to be the one celebrities favor during SIFF, consecutive visits during opening week of the festival revealed the lounge to boast little star power, just hip coolness and the occasional foreign accent. Cocktail specialties include the "Tequini Bikini," a bright tequila concoction served with "no tan lines," and "Michael's Magic," which comes "tall and strong like Michael," W's hunky lead bartender.