Las Vegas is a drinking town—that much we know. But just what kind of drinking town is it? Between tourists and locals, a booming brewery scene, world-famous wine lists, and a very passionate cocktail community, it really defies any easy description.
“We’re a place [where] you can get everything,” says Adam Rains, one of the scene’s leading figures. He creates the cocktails at Batali & Bastianich’s renowned steakhouse, Carnevino.
With EDC Las Vegas 2017 just around the corner, we’re celebrating 21 years Under the Electric Sky with a list of 21 drinks that sum up the Las Vegas spirit. Considering all there is to offer here, narrowing it down was a task more challenging than it appears. As you can imagine, a lot of research was needed… lots and lots of “research.”
Note: We’re not ranking here, to be sure. This list will probably generate enough debate even without that!
Hunter S. Thompson was known to drink pretty much anything, from margaritas to beer, rum, Wild Turkey, Chivas Regal, Chartreuse, Bloody Marys, mint juleps and gin. But for the purposes of paying tribute to the Kentucky-native gonzo writer who allegedly spent some time in this former Downtown dive—now hipster headquarters—while on “assignment,” this tart-sweet, heat-busting smash is composed of Old Crow bourbon, Aperol, lemon, ginger, mint, and Angostura bitters.
With a classic nickel bar, tile floor and brass fittings, the bar of this Michael Mina spot is frankly just an idyllic place to imbibe anything. But the original cocktails here deserve attention, including this celebration of French flavors, made from prune-infused Calvados, Benedictine, yellow Chartreuse, and mole bitters.
While the amaro-heavy bar in Mario Batali’s fancy steakhouse may just look like a place where you can pass the time while waiting for your table, it’s one of the savviest spots to wet your whistle on the Strip, thanks to master mixologist Adam Rains and vet barman David Cooper. Rains changes this recipe at least four times a year, selecting ingredients from the Intuitive Forager market to inform the flavor profile. Whatever it is, get it.
Although it’s one of Downtown’s most popular eateries, Carson Kitchen isn’t generally considered a drinking destination, which seems like an oversight. Their drinks are consistently smart retakes on the classics, including this Old Fashioned riff that has remained on the ever-changing list since opening: Slow N Low whiskey, fernet Vittone, amaro Del Sole, Regan’s #6, and Angostura bitters.
Definition of a successful cocktail: when it’s never officially been on a menu, yet it’s still a bar’s most requested item. As one of the most enduring drinks from Cosmopolitan property mixologist Mariena Mercer, it features a “Szechuan button”—not Chinese, but African, actually—that changes your taste sensations as you chew it. It garnishes a mix of kaffir leaves, ginger puree, vodka, lemongrass syrup, lemon juice, coconut ginger rooibos tea, and ginger beer. If you haven’t had it at least once, you haven’t really drunk Las Vegas.
Everyone has been blathering about the penicillin ever since mixologist Sam Ross created the bar menu at this sexy new casino lounge. But the rest of the country already knew about that modern standard. Instead, let’s highlight this one, made of Four Roses yellow label, Fernet Branca, syrup, and lemon—a serious whammy for a memorable night on the Strip.
Legend has it that this concoction came about simply as a snub to cocktail culture. (Ironically, the same owners ended up creating the ultimate cocktailery, Frankie’s Tiki Room.) Sure, it contains a bartender’s choice of random if-you’re-dumb-enough-to-order-it ingredients. But just like the proudly divey punk-rock mecca that houses it, the Ass Juice has stuck around long enough to become an institution. In fact, its ridiculous name has been trademarked.
This place with the obscure door was the first to offer serious mixology Downtown, and it continues to be relentlessly creative, while its new bro-bar celebrates a throwback vibe without apologies. The Orthodox Caveman, a 2011 release that has stood the test of time, combines Lagavulin 16 Years Old, cachaça, Campari, amaro Sfumato, and tiki bitters for a frothy mouthful that evolves as you drink it. Secondary shout-out to the new Bangkok Surprise, a likely contender to be around in six more years.
Since late chef Kerry Simon created the first crazy Bloody Mary bar here, Vegas has gone nuts for the iconic brunch cocktail, with over-the-top options from Andiron to Standard & Pour and even Bloody tableside service at Morels. But my heart still belongs to the complex, handcrafted recipe at this Palazzo casino bar, made with infused vodka and 13 other ingredients. It’s said many stay at this hotel just to drink their fill of them.
Trying to sum up Vegas’ revived passion for Tiki, both here and at friendly rival Frankie’s Tiki Room—not to mention several bars on the Strip now making Tiki drinks again—might be hard with just one cocktail. You could say the mai tai, but that would be boring. Instead, let’s go with the Golden Tiki’s Painkiller, a classic piña colada variation made with Pusser’s Rum, fresh orange and pineapple juices, coconut cream, and grated nutmeg, twisted up with a good dollop of pineapple Dole Whip—because they can.
While it’s a pain to make, this frothy Golden Age New Orleans gin drink encapsulates everything Herbs & Rye has done to revive and revere classic cocktailing here. So go ahead and order 10 of these when the bar is slammed during its famous happy hour, and test the mettle of the maverick drink-slingers behind the “best high-volume cocktail bar” in the US, according to Tales of the Cocktail. You wouldn’t be the first.
Reminiscent of many retro bars in New Orleans and San Francisco, the Laundry Room—a subdued, reservation-only back room inside Commonwealth—offers a full menu of pre-war-style cocktails (i.e., no vodka) by recipe or tailored to your taste. Nearly anything could be chosen to represent it, but let’s go with this brandy Alexander riff, containing bourbon, cacao, honey, cream, and nutmeg, since that’s about as untrendy as it gets. And delicious.
While this bar-restaurant offers two distinct menus carefully curated by Tony Abou-Ganim, full of flips, fizzes, smashes, and every other classic cocktail format, we still feel the right thing to do here is order the Italian classic that he had a huge hand in re-popularizing. If you find him behind the stick here, by all means, request it as he would make it for himself.
Bobby Flay’s original Vegas restaurant gets little respect. (Hello, it’s outlived every one of its neighbors at Caesars Palace.) This original signature mix of blanco tequila, cactus pear syrup, and fresh lime might also seem like no big deal. But it works here, and works well, and keeps on working. Order it.
The tiny yet terrific bar in Downtown’s Container Park focuses on a variety of mules, barrel-aged cocktails, and whiskey flights. But this uncommon concoction may be one of Vegas’ most complex, mixing apple-scented Clyde May’s whiskey with a touch of butter, allspice dram, apple bitters, caramelized brown sugar, and a torched-to-order apple slice, served with a mini syringe of Becherovka to contrast. Yowsa.
Though he originally created this drink in San Francisco, Tony Abou-Ganim brought his signature combination—spiced rum, fresh lemon sour, and curacao, with an orange peel and sugar rim—when he came to Las Vegas to oversee the Strip’s first craft cocktail program throughout Bellagio. There’s no better way to pay tribute to the George Washington of Vegas bartending than to order this in the cornerstone bar where it’s still served with pride.
Some kinda slushie thing—Purple Zebra and beyond
While most locals wouldn’t be caught dead with one, those oversized frozen cocktails in the ridiculous drink holders undeniably define Vegas drinking for many. If you must, start at this spot located at the LINQ, which features one of the biggest selections, but by all means walk it to spots like Margaritaville, PBR Rock Bar, and Carnaval Court for refills. Vegas, baby!
A divey blues bar on the edge of Chinatown, the Sand Dollar Lounge has none of the glitz of a typical Vegas lounge, which is part of its appeal. Still, many of the city’s best bar folks sling drinks here, and the rest are filling the stools. Its spirits list and original drinks are both deceptively smart, including this AC/DC tribute, which uses Whistling Andy pear and pink peppercorn gin, Aperol, lemon, syrup, Peychaud’s Bitters, and muddled pink peppercorns with a lemon twist.
The most relentlessly creative bar in Las Vegas without question, Velveteen Rabbit fearlessly changes its entire menu seasonally, launching cocktails created collaboratively by its rotating staff, many of whom show little attachment to the classic structures whatsoever. This one has been off the menu forever, but it still gets requested regularly, a sure sign of success if there ever were one. Its drink DNA alone is impressive: mescal, Lustau sherry, Cynar, crème de vanil, and lemon zest.
For about five years, Patricia Richards single-handedly ran one of the Strip’s biggest and best mixology programs, with original cocktails at some 30 bars across this lavish twin-resort complex. Arguably her most successful drink, the Sinatra Smash is made from muddled blackberries, fresh sweet & sour, vanilla syrup, crème de cassis, and Gentleman Jack. It was originally created for Sinatra—the Italian restaurant, not the actual singer—and later spread property-wide by request, still selling strong some eight years later.
Zuma head bartender Seongha Lee may not have created this gin & tonic reminiscent of night-market cocktails to go (and of course, goldfish delivery systems), but the execution by his team is so elegant that it transcends novelty. Expect this new Japanese showplace and the cocktail to both be keepers.
EDC Las Vegas 2017 takes place Friday, June 16, through Sunday, June 18, at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. For more information, visit the official website.