04/15/2013 12:34 pm ET Updated Apr 16, 2013

Check in to Classic Nightlife: Paris's Best Hotel Bars

Picture this: Crisp French bartenders pouring velvety wines and classic cocktails, a jazz trio tinkling in the corner, a chic crowd engaged in scintillating conversation, and couples curled into softly lit nooks for romantic tête-à-têtes. Surely you've stumbled into that quintessence of Parisian nightlife, the neighborhood bar, right?

Think again. As it so happens, you're just as likely to find that archetypal Parisian nightlife experience in the lobbies of some of Paris's finest hotels. Not just for hotel guests, hotel bars here draw droves of locals with sophisticated scenes that go well beyond the traditional (and sometimes bland) lobby lounge. They run the gamut from polished hideaways infused with the grandeur of royal palaces (but without the stuffiness) to seductive spots for painfully beautiful crowds. The styles may vary, but the common current that runs through all of them is that certain je ne sais quoi that makes every one of these picks oh-so Parisian.

For a refined nightcap after a civilized night out, you'll want to seek out one of our more elegant picks. If you're looking for a fête fit for royals, head to Four Seasons Hotel George V Paris's Le Bar. Dramatic chandeliers and plush red velvet seating imparts Old World charm, while classic cocktails lend an accessibly convivial atmosphere. The Lavalley murals of Château de Fontainebleau at Le Meurice's Bar 228 also allude to royal fêtes, but the classic French feel is balanced with a whiff of British clubbiness−think dark wood, leather furniture, and a range of whiskeys. Nightly live jazz and light sparkling off the vintage crystal decanters add some levity.

For a brush with literary royalty, on the other hand, settle in at Le Bar de L'Hotel at L'Hotel, where Irish scribe Oscar Wilde famously spent some of his last days. The bar has retained the same understated elegance and legendary discretion that once attracted Wilde and other luminaries ranging from Salvador Dalí to Frank Sinatra to Elizabeth Taylor. The antique-laden space, lit by warmly glowing lamps, is dotted with Wilde lore and paraphernalia. Sink into one of the comfy velvet armchairs for engrossing conversation, a glass of wine, and perhaps even a hint of literary inspiration.

If you're looking for something a little more sultry, slip in among the starlets and socialites at white-hot hotel bars that appeal to those in the spotlight. These picks definitely move beyond the tame jazz trio as musical backdrop and infuse the classic Parisian lounge experience with sizzling energy. At Le Bar du Plaza Athénée, the "blue hours" (6:00pm-11:00pm daily) feature azure lights and down-tempo cool music, while things heat up for "red hours" (11:00pm-2:00am Thurs.-Sat.) with ruby lights and electro-rock. The split-identity concept is a magnet for celebs from Madonna to Mary-Kate Olsen and the model set during Fashion Week. At Pershing Hall Bar & Lounge, the pink-lip gypsy bar pulls in an audacious party crowd, while the magical "vertical garden" of exotic shrubs in the courtyard is an enchanting backdrop for a little night romance. And at Hotel Costes, the spotlight is squarely on the DJ - his saucy tunes are the ideal soundtrack for this Baroque boudoir brimming with glam trendsetters.

With such distinctive scenes, it might seem like there's no "hotel" left in these hotel bars. Yet these spots all manage to dispense with the pitfalls of typical hotel bars while preserving their best feature: a steady stream of international movers and shakers coming through to rub elbows with fashionable locals, making for an always-interesting scene. Brush up on your French: at these choice spots, you never know who might be the other half of your tête-à-tête.

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