Hotels are realizing that atmosphere goes beyond cool design and model-gorgeous staffs—it’s the live music in lobbies, restaurants and lounges that encourages people to feel welcome and linger. Here five of the world’s best hotels to listen in:
Carlton Hotel, New York
The centerpiece of this beautifully designed midtown art deco hotel is Millesime, a stunning, two-tiered replica of a French bistro serving excellent Provencal cuisine—and an impressive lineup of live jazz and alternative soul performers. I can’t think of a more perfect evening than listening to the Laurie Henderson Trio play Chet Baker standards while enjoying toothsome bouillabaisse and Millesime’s “Salon Snacks.” The Basque Style Popped Corn, Jumbo Shrimp Cocktail and Crab Cake Sliders are all served during the performances. If you want to complete the stepping-back-in-time experience, check into the Speakeasy Suite (with its hidden private bar) after the show.
Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel, Dana Point, California
This Orange County resort occupies a commanding position south of Newport Beach and Laguna Beach. Tourists come for the pools and the waves. For locals like me, a big draw is the spectacular open-air lounge 180BLŨ and the live acoustic guitar music of Ryan Heflin. His distinctive, bluesy covers of artists from Coldplay and Jack Johnson to Neil Young and Sinatra—the crashing of the Pacific in the background—delivers the quintessential SoCal cocktail hour. Come in time for sunset and order up an O.C. Martini or a cucumber lemon margarita.
Moana Surfrider, Oahu, Hawaii
Hawaii is one of the few destinations where one can reliably find live music in hotels. I’ve enjoyed it from Lanai to the Big Island. But arguably the most authentic cultural experience can be had at this grandly historic Moana on Waikiki Beach. The Moana is more than a century old, as is its famed banyan tree—the gathering point to hear such local stars as Randy Allen and the David & Kamuela Duo, who specialize in traditional Hawaiian music and island contemporary. Live music fills the beachfront Banyan Courtyard during lunchtime, and from 5:30 to 10.
Hotel Victor, Miami Beach
This art deco landmark dating from 1936, and rehabilitated by famed designer Jacques Garcia in 2004, is one of the few luxury hotels on Ocean Drive. Now, it’s been newly freshened up to the tune of $8 million, with renovated guest rooms, a refurbished pool area and a freshly redone lobby designed by Yabu Pushelberg—and, the Victor features one of the best acts on the beach. The exuberant strains of Paraguayan singer/guitarist Fito Espinola and his special brand of flamenco-pop delights hotel guests, diners, and everyone else taking a stroll along Ocean Drive. Espinola has been based in Miami since 2000, and epitomizes the city’s international cultural spirit.
The city’s Bund area is like an encyclopedia of luxurious 20th-century architecture, from Neoclassical to Beaux Arts to Gothic Revival to—of course—art deco. The Peninsula wasn’t built during the Bund’s heyday during the early 20th century, but it evokes the period brilliantly. Stepping into the luscious green-and-ivory art deco lobby, where the elaborate bandstand that holds court is time-machine transporting. The Lobby Jazz Band performs every evening.