I am sitting in Houston’s “Living Room,” which isn’t NRG Arena or Minute Maid Park. It’s 40-year-old Four Seasons Hotel Houston, which has just re-opened with reimagined verve and urbanity after a multi-year, multi-million dollar transformation. So airy, stylish and contemporary in mood and adornment, the now-ageless hotel might have been built yesterday. Located conveniently downtown, it operates as both a haven from city life and as a thrilling grand central terminus, where one expects every gadabout in the world to pass at some point. The people-watching rules.
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Dressed up in vintage garb, I’m on a secret mission with all the covert gravitas of Mata Hari. I’ve made reservations at one of Four Seasons Hotel Houston’s newest redo additions:,Bandista, a fantastical, diminutive speakeasy, a salute to Gatsby-era decadence, Latin sultriness and libation-driven, throwback enchantment. Still in the lobby, I spy some professional basketball players and their entourages, a gaggle of bridesmaids and a film star who won’t be named, Suddenly, I receive a mysterious text with clear instructions. “Stay where you are.” Out of nowhere, two elegantly clad women approach. They beckon for me to follow them, and together we walk a circuitous route through the innards of the hotel. After some time, we reach a bookcase in a small study area. Following their directives, I enter a code, then push the bookcase. It opens theatrically to a world of wonder. Three bartenders stand behind a vintage bar in a dark, drama resplendent room. While two busy themselves with alchemy, one directs me to a barstool and thrusts a tiny cocktail in my hand (a champagne and bitters concoction served in an engraved glass), meant to be sipped as I study the menu. Over the next few minutes, a handful of guests trickle in, some taking their places at adjacent tables. With only room for 20 imbibers, the diminutive room fills up fast. It buzzes with chatter, exclusiveness and that strange thrill that comes from forbidden acts — in this case, swilling at a bar that conjures all the tabu allure and sexiness of the Jazz era and Prohibition’s creative cloak-and-dagger swagger.
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With cocktails (both re-imagined classics and inventive 2022 offerings) all mixed with top-shelf ingredients (think: WhistlePig 12-year rye), each served in heyday glasses or unexpected containers (a smoked glass box with a sailing ship inside, for one) and all born from the ingenious soul of wunderkind Bar Manager Jonathan Jones (of Anvil fame), Bandista allows 90 minutes to tipple per reservation. That equals about two cocktails per visit, each swilled at a leisurely pace. I sip my personal allotment joyfully from one of the eight bar stools, engrossed in the “behind the bar” laboratory action In front of me. Affable confabs with bartenders like Sean, who, legend has it, not only mixes perfect drinks but dreams about new ones to invent when he sleeps, add to the evening’s allure. While I love the 2022 menu options and the drinks I try, I give highest marks to the team for the best Vesper of my life, artistically re-interpreted, served in a vintage-looking glass (chilled to abominable snowman temperatures via liquid nitrogen). As coup de gras, the gorgeous cocktail comes with a hedonistic side-spoonful of truffle cream and caviar. When my time’s up, re-entry to the modern world is only acceptable because the Four Seasons Hotel Houston embraces me into its swanky modern vibe with dinner at (chef partner) Richard Sandoval’s Toro Toro, hijinks at the rooftop pool and my splendorous suite with its Upper Eastside penthouse atmosphere. I spray on some Krigler perfume (the one Grace Kelly used to wear) purchased from the boutique downstairs, wash with Erno Laszlo amenities and curl up in my world famous Four Seasons’ bed.