Whether you're in it for the buzzy bar action, the world-class art, or the prime people watching, you'll want to linger in the lobbies of these 12 scene-stealing hotels. Pull up a chair and enjoy the show.
Gstaad Palace, Switzerland
This fairytale-like grand dame, on a lofty perch above the tony-yet-discreet Swiss village of Gstaad, is a year-round magnet for the beau monde—but the winter season is when things really heat up. With its plush furniture, views over the Bernese Alps, roaring fireplace, and general air of clubby coziness, the Lobby Bar is the place to rub shoulders après-ski with the glitterati, who flock here every year to socialize and be entertained from dusk 'til dawn. (There's nightly live music in the bar, which stays open until the very civilized hour of 2:30 a.m.) Famous guests over the years have included stars like Marlene Dietrich, Louis Armstrong and Roger Moore; these days, you're likely to spot regulars like Valentino Garavani and Madonna, who both own homes near town.
Gramercy Park Hotel, New York
When legendary hotelier Ian Schrager and art-world giant Julian Schnabel get together on a project, you can guarantee the result won't be for wallflowers. Sure enough, their storied 185-room Gramercy Park Hotel has taken its place in the New York hotel pantheon thanks to its decadent, baroque design and notable past guests including John F. Kennedy and the Rolling Stones. Today, NYC's well-heeled gather in the lobby-adjacent Rose Bar, known for its hand-carved fireplace, custom Venetian glass chandelier, and walls that feature works by 20th-century legends including Cy Twombly, Jean-Michel Basquiat, and Damien Hirst. Expect to share cocktail hour with a famous face or two: the guest register often includes stars like Ashley Olsen and Blake Lively.
QT Melbourne, Australia
Since its splashy opening in mid-2016, this 188-room newcomer has added a much-needed dose of boutique hotel glamour to Melbourne's CBD. The high drama begins before you've even entered the striking Angelo Candalepas–designed building. You're met at the glossy copper entrance by "Directors of Chaos" (door staff dressed in theatrical black-and-white costumes and Cabaret-style black wigs) who can do everything from hail cabs to recommend restaurants and drop insider tips on navigating the city. Once inside QT, there's always something happening, be it a group of social butterflies congregating over pastries at the lobby's Cake Shop, execs holding an impromptu meeting on the midcentury modern-inspired couches, or fashion shoots on the dramatic staircase leading up to the main bar and restaurant.
Ace Hotel Portland, Oregon
No other hotel chain nails the hipster vernacular quite as expertly as Ace, what with its industrial-chic styling, cool downtown locales, and laid-back lobbies that act as living rooms for a city's creative set. In Portland, all the Ace tropes feel right at home. The 79-room hotel is set in the old Clyde Hotel building, in the hip Pearl District, where its perpetually buzzing lobby is made for all-day lounging thanks to free WiFi, an antique photo booth, packed bookshelves, and an adjoining Stumptown coffee shop. Guests can borrow one of the hotel's standard bikes (or rent a sleek handmade one designed by Jordan Hufnagel) to explore the city on two wheels. JS Tip: visit the famous Powell's bookstore just up the block and bring back something juicy to read on the lobby's capacious modular sofa.
The Little Nell, Aspen, Colorado
Deep-pocketed snow bunnies adore this cozy 92-room Aspen hideaway for its understated five-star style and acclaimed restaurant Element 47, known for its award-winning 20,000-bottle-strong wine cellar. Make new friends (or schmooze with old ones) and kick back with a glass of wine in the convivial Living Room, which wraps around a two-sided fireplace—or, if you want the feel of the lobby in the open air, follow the social media clues to find the hotel's pop-up champagne bar, which appears in various locations on the mountain.
Mama Shelter Paris
Once upon a time, Paris was all about gilded, grand hotels steeped in tradition. Then, Club Med chief executive Serge Trigano and legendary designer Philippe Starck came along and changed everything with Mama Shelter Paris, a former parking garage turned magical 172-room hotel in the burgeoning neighborhood of St. Blaise, in the 20th arrondissement. Starck’s whimsical design aesthetic reaches full expression in the moodily-lit lobby, which features curiosities like metallic tree-stump stools, bird-cage light fixtures, and a huge chalkboard ceiling covered in graffiti.
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Faena Hotel Miami Beach, Florida
When it comes to glitzy hotels, Miami has more than its fair share of head-turners—but the new Faena Miami Beach really breaks the mold. Contemporary art aficionados and lovers of high drama will swoon at the property's design, which was overseen by the creative team of filmmaker Baz Luhrmann and his wife, costume designer Catherine Martin. The lobby, a marble soaring space known as "The Cathedral," is lined with monumental gold columns and murals by Spanish artist Juan Gatti. Walk its long red carpet and marvel at the floor-to-ceiling window views of the Atlantic Ocean along with the hotel's famous Damien Hirst showpiece—a poolside skeleton of a woolly mammoth dipped in 24-karat gold and encased in glass.
Four Seasons Hotel Hong Kong, China
Even in a city known for its top-notch luxury hotels, the Four Seasons Hong Kong dazzles. With its awe-inspiring setting on Hong Kong Island and fabulous views of Victoria Harbour, this swanky high-rise guarantees that any stay embraces a king-of-the-world kind of feeling. It all starts in the huge, airy lobby, with its soaring glass atrium, curving planes, and luminescent surfaces. The space acts as a central hub for the hotel's well-heeled guests who gather to meet, work, or simply contemplate the famous infinity pool, with its underwater music and uninterrupted views across the harbor. Just off the lobby is the Lounge, a serene pitstop where the talking point (more often than not) is Allium, a sculpture by English artist Ruth Moilliet.
You might find yourself waylaid in getting to your room once you've had a taste of this Mayfair landmark's swank-tastic lobby. Get hypnotized by the huge sparkling Dale Chihuly light sculpture and the grand Art Deco style of the foyer and you'll soon find yourself crooking your little finger over afternoon tea or curling up in one of the banquettes in the Reading Room. Famous guests over the hotel's illustrious 200-year history have included royalty of both the literal (Queen Victoria bedded down here) and pop culture variety (Brad Pitt, Mick Jagger, and Mariah Carey have all been in residence.) You might even end up being cast as an extra in a British show: scenes from the BBC series Perfect Strangers were shot in the lobby in 2001.
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Bellagio, Las Vegas, Nevada
Everyone knows that the best people-watching at Vegas' hotels goes on in the lobbies, and the Bellagio's is one of the most legendary. Settle in at the 24-hour Petrossian Bar for afternoon tea or a flight of vodka tastings and prepare to be entertained both by passing guests and musicians who perform on the Steinway grand piano. Look up and admire Dale Chihuly’s Fiori di Como, a sculpture created from 2,000 handblown glass blossoms. Just don't miss the Conservatory, a 14,000-square-foot living floral playground transformed each season by a team of horticulturalists and designers (there's even a special display to celebrate Chinese New Year).
The Ritz-Carlton, Tokyo, Japan
This Ritz's 45th-floor Lobby Lounge and Bar in Midtown Tower—Tokyo’s tallest building—affords you a lofty perch high above the city, in a space that literally feels like being in the sky. Settle into one of the overstuffed chairs and take in the panoramic skyline views while listening to live Bossa Nova (from 2:30 p.m. to midnight) or sipping a decadent cocktail like the "Diamond Is Forever Martini." There's also a lavish, traditional afternoon tea service that's very popular with both tourists and locals. In the evenings, arrive early if you want a window seat: not surprisingly, views this special are in high demand.
The Langham, Chicago
Set in an iconic Mies van der Rohe tower overlooking the Chicago River, this beloved Windy City fixture sports a lobby fit for its setting. The second-floor space is a dazzling study in glossy surfaces and head-turning art (the Czechoslovakian glass bead installation suspended from the ceiling, in blue and gray shades reflective of the river, is a showstopper), with glass and wrought-iron doors that open onto the Pavilion, the location for the hotel's celebrated afternoon tea. Initiated by The Langham, London in 1865, the ceremony includes proprietary Langham teas, sweet and savory bites, and live music, and is a big hit with fashion types and celebrities passing through town.