The mentor: Chris Hopkins
Property mixologist at The Cosmopolitan
Back story: Hopkins’ mixology skills have taken him from Australia to London to San Francisco until he settled at The Cosmopolitan when it opened in 2010. He worked as the general manager of Vesper, the resort’s lobby bar, before being promoted to his current position.
Mixology mentorship: Bartenders throughout The Cosmopolitan have won a number of awards at national competitions, and Hopkins is no exception. However, today he holds the position of vice president of the Las Vegas chapter of the United States Bartenders Guild, so his role has shifted into one of mentorship for other promising mixologists. “The people working at the bar here are not just working a job,” he says. “They are invested in their careers.”
Killer concoction: Two cocktails that represent Hopkins’ current mixology style: By Any Other Name, a bright, citrus drink that contains gin, lemon juice, strawberry/rhubarb/rose water syrup and a dash of egg white; and The Last Samurai, a twist on a classic Rob Roy that’s spirit-forward and complex.
Find him: Because every bar at The Cosmopolitan has a different vibe and menu, Hopkins spends time working behind the counter at all of them to learn about the clientele. “I like to know what they’re drinking and what they’re in the mood for,” he says. Knowing that helps to direct the drinks program to a certain extent. If you really want to pin him down, however, chances are you’ll find him at Vesper or Bond.
The mind-reader: Juyoung Kand
Master mixologist at Commonwealth and Park on Fremont
Back story: Kand worked at a variety of bars, restaurants and hotels in Philadelphia and Los Angeles, where she helped to develop drinks. Two-and-a-half years ago, she moved to Las Vegas, and today she’s a mixologist at Commonwealth and Park on Fremont as well as the Laundry Room, Commonwealth’s speakeasy bar.
On developing menus: Because the bars where Kand works are so new, she was tasked with the challenge of developing new cocktail menus entirely from scratch. Location, theme, target demographic and the season all played a role in the inaugural offerings. “When we opened Commonwealth, we did darker drinks, heartier drinks and some drinks with cream in them because we opened in the winter,” she says. “When we opened Park on Fremont, we opened in early spring, so we went for lighter spirits and refreshing drinks.”
Feeling out the guest: For indecisive guests, Kand asks three questions: What’s your favorite cereal? What’s your favorite candy? If today was your final day on earth, what would be your final meal? Based on the answers, she can tell what range of spirits is suitable for the guest, how much citrus is appropriate and whether a heavy or lighter beverage would be best. “I say that every drink is a variation of a classic, and I try to keep it classic and simple,” she says. “No more than four or five ingredients, the fourth and fifth being modifiers.”
Find her: Kand tends bar in the Laundry Room Wednesday through Saturday.
The host: Johnny O’Donnell
Bartender and resident ‘funologist’ at La Comida
Back story: O’Donnell learned about hospitality and bartending from his family’s business when he was a kid living in Ireland. “It was then that I noticed a big part of bartending is about bringing the community together over a drink,” he says. Today, O’Donnell’s proudest moments have more to do with the people who experience his cocktails versus the cocktails themselves. “I personally like to introduce strangers to strangers because once that occurs, they aren’t strangers anymore,” he says. “I especially love it when the strangers become couples and come back to visit and tell me their story.”
Accolades: In 2010, the Nevada Restaurant Association named the mixologist as “bartender of the year” out of the 5,000-plus bartenders in Las Vegas.
Killer concoctions: One of O’Donnell’s favorite cocktails is the Verango de Jalisco, which, he says, “starts with a smile.” The drink combines Casa Migos Reposado Tequila, fresh cilantro and mint, topped with soda and served in a mason jar rimmed with tajin. “The cilantro complements the mint, resulting in a very refreshing cocktail,” O’Donnell says. For those willing to try something more daring, he recommends the Siempre Caliente, which includes five splashes of a special hot sauce.
Find him: O’Donnell mans the bar at La Comida from 5 p.m. to close Tuesday through Saturday. (He also suggests people swing by for happy hour, weekdays 3-5 p.m. for $5 fresh fruit purée margaritas.)
The ambassador: Wendy Verdel
Mixologist at Fusion Latin Mixology Bar at The Palazzo
Back story: Verdel started tending bar 21 years ago at British pubs in Florida, where she learned a valuable lesson as she was learning the ropes. “If someone asked for something I didn’t know, I was told I should ask him what’s in it,” she says. “If they didn’t know, then I was to tell them that if they didn’t know what was in it, they shouldn’t drink it.” Verdel continues to tell patrons that they should know what they're drinking.
Accolades: One of Verdel’s proudest mixology moments was winning the Macchu Pisco competition. She traveled to Lima, Peru, to represent Las Vegas and was honored by the Peruvian government by becoming an American Pisco ambassador, a role she takes “very seriously,” she says. “I continue to introduce people to my favorite spirit, educating them while crafting both classic and unique cocktails with it. If you ever want to learn about it, just stop by and ask. I love to talk about pisco.”
On creativity: “My favorite guest is the one who walks up and says ‘Be creative,’” Verdel says. She loves introducing people to new spirits, and she promises that those who approach her bar with an open mind and palate will not be disappointed. “The days of rum and Coke or screwdrivers will become a thing of the past."
Find her: Verdel works at the Fusion Latin Mixology Bar in The Palazzo Friday through Tuesday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.