Cameo Bar, inside the Viceroy Hotel in Santa Monica, is a swanky California seaside hotel's take on a traditional English lounge, which is to say, laid-back enough that the pretty waitress will look the other way if you're wearing flip-flops, yet classy enough to put even the most pretentious dandy at ease. With a whiff of retro Haunted Mansion about it, the place is awash in dark-yet-reflective surfaces. There are crown moldings, wingback armchairs, dove-gray walls, orchids on tables, green settees and white leather bar stools embroidered with crests of lions. Moody groove music bleeds from the lounge into the lobby and main restaurant. A couple of staunch white ceramic greyhounds flank the elevator near one of the bar's entrances, reminding rowdy drunken types to keep their composure.
On any given night, you will find the place bustling with attractive 30-somethings — aspiring actors, designers, folks from the local Westside tech scene — soaking up lavender martinis and mandarin gimlets, dishing in a languid, world-weary manner about all the other droll bars they've been to. Perhaps you'll meet a Swiss tourist or two, camped out in one of the tented cabanas by the pool. During summer, the Viceroy does a sort of poolside grill party called “Taste of Tuesday,” with tiny $5 tasting plates of miso salmon, elk tenderloin and the like, essentially bite-size portions from the menu of the hotel's in-house restaurant, Whist (named after the tricky 18th-century British card game).
You could while away an entire evening here, just watching the people come and go, trying to guess which are locals or foreigners — the first central pleasure of hotel bars in general. The second central pleasure will come into play toward the end: If you're too pickled to stand, or if a handsome stranger has caught your fancy, you won't have to drive to find a discreet place to retire. For propriety's sake, don't canoodle in the bar. Get a room. You're already there.