Behind the Bar Bar Talk

How to Conquer the Unique Challenges of Running a Hotel Bar

Earlier this summer, Nathan Dalton and his team grabbed the liquor reins at the brand-new Catahoula hotel in New Orleans, a space that includes a pisco-focused lobby bar and a more poolside-oriented rooftop watering hole. For this upstart location, their success has been extraordinary but not without challenges unique to a property where people are also, well, temporarily living. Hotel bars have become hot commodities in recent years, elevated from business traveler stopovers to destination locations in and of themselves. But running a hotel bar often means dealing with the same problems endured by regular bars—only amplified.

“You hear people in business so often talk about employees being the biggest asset, and I buy into that completely,” says Dalton. “If everyone puts the success of each other above their own personal success (and this has to come from the top down), then people start pitching in and taking on more responsibility. Then, the things that are more difficult [than] in regular bars start to become doable.”

Below, Dalton talks about the unique opportunities and hurdles that come into focus when running a hotel bar.

The Catahoula.

Quiet hours are real.

“A challenge unique to hotels is that your busy hours have to come before bedtime unless you can soundproof the entire bar. We have a rooftop bar, and in summertime New Orleans, no one wants to hang out until after dark because days are too hot. That means if sundown is at 8 p.m. and guests start complaining about noise at 10 p.m., you really only have two potentially lucrative hours.

In September, we had a big, rowdy party with a few hundred people. When there are no laws saying to shut down, it’s hard to tell your bartenders they have to stop making money, but we shut it down at 11 p.m. and still had a guest check out because of the noise. From a business standpoint, it’s an interesting problem, deciding whether or not to turn down money. But in the end, it’s the hotel guests that count the most, because, in a way, it’s their house for the night.”

The Catahoula’s Chinguerito, left, and Rum Cannonball.

You can’t always eighty-six someone.

“Another interesting problem is that it’s not always possible, or at least not easy, to eighty-six someone. I’m rarely a fan of eighty-six-ing a guest anyway, but sometimes it’s necessary. We had one hotel guest who decided to make the bar his home for the week. Without going into too many details, he probably ran away 20 guests who couldn’t stand the conversations this person forced upon the world. We had visits from the police (twice) and an ambulance (once) because of the most unusual shenanigans. I wish I could go further into it, but I want to respect privacy.

After a few days, we decided we could not in good conscience serve this person any more alcohol (for his health more than the other guests’ sanity, honestly). But when the person is sleeping in the building, it makes for a lot of uncomfortable interactions. Instead of refusing service once like in most bars, I think every bartender had to have the conversation. He hoped we weren’t thorough enough to brief the entire staff, even trying to order a beer at 8 a.m. from the barista. Tricky, tricky.

Nathan Dalton. Andrew Kist

You can get super creative—and interactive.

“Along with the challenges, there are a lot of opportunities that come with a hotel. You can have game night or cocktail class, for example, and invite the hotel guests. They’re often interested in who might be staying two doors down. After hours, you can offer drink kits for people to make their own drinks, especially if they took the class on it earlier in the day.”

You can make it as personal as a guest wants.

“When you want someone to feel at home, there’s a wide array of degrees to that. I stayed in a bed-and-breakfast once and was invited into the owner’s quarters to hang out and watch TV. It’s up to each hotel [bar] how personal they want to get, but the opportunities to push the envelope abound.”