Need a sip of summer escape? These cocktails give you a taste of your dream destination — whether you’re out and about or mixing at home
A cocktail can evoke a lush garden without wilting into a cloying bouquet. At downtown’s Itsy Bitsy (702-405-9393), the Sugar Plum Fairy has bubbles and an orchid perched on the rim, but the lightly sweet blend of vodka, plum wine and sparkling sake keeps it sophisticated. The second-level Chandelier Bar at The Cosmopolitan (cosomopolitanlasvegas.com) pours the Royal Tenenbaum, which blends delicate Combier Pamplemousse Rose liqueur with slightly woodsy reposado tequila like a flower blooming out of the earth, topped by cilantro and cucumber.
The Chunnel at The Barrymore (barrymorelv.com) is a simple concoction of Hendrick’s gin and St. Germain, finished of with a twirl of lemon. It looks as minimal as a Chanel suit, but the botanical and rose flavors that characterize Hendrick’s blend with the elderflower liqueur into a taste as sumptuous as a flower-bedecked Oscar de la Renta gown. (To put a bloom on your own mixology, look for liquors with floral notes or add a splash of rose petal nectar to a gimlet or martini.)
Want to summer somewhere civilized? Tea is the most aristocratic of libations, only meeting liquor during the rare teacup-spiking or the dreaded Long Island Iced (which is no tea at all). But tea has become a favored cocktail ingredient with light taste and softening effect especially suited to summer drinks.
In the clubby atmosphere of Bound in the Cromwell (caesars.com/cromwell), the focus is on the circular marble bar. There’s a selection of updated classics, including a modern take on 18th-century Fish House Punch made from Appleton rum, Hennessy VSOP, Grand Marnier, lemon and black tea: Imagine Ernest Hemingway holding forth, gripping one in his hand. Summerlin’s new hotspot, Andiron Steak & Seafood (andironsteak.com) applies as much creativity to the cocktail selection as the dinner menu. The 50 Shades of Earl Grey blends Tanqueray gin with Earl Grey syrup and lemon, topped by a splash of prosecco — half proper lady, half party girl.
Sometimes you just want to get where you’re going. The quick buzz of the moment is the ubiquitous Fireball shot, but there are other methods. Itsy Bitsy’s Shiso Crazy is a classy way to drink your brown liquor (almost) straight. Rye whiskey is shaken with a hint of shiso pepper and a splash of chocolate bitters to give an undertone of smoky sweetness to the liquor. Of course, if you want to keep things firmly non-fancy, the Velveteen Rabbit’s ‘Merica (702-685-9645) is a shot of jalapeño and mustard seed-infused bourbon served with a can of Olympia beer and a “charcuterie stick” (let’s just say tiny hot dogs are involved).
One place everyone manages to go this season is to the party. Le Central Bar at the Paris (caesars.com) recently renovated, redone in a whimsical Louis XIV look and a new cocktail menu designed for Vegas-style drinking, with cocktails for four that do bottle service one better. The Vodka Lemonade Berry Porthole comes in a round glass carafe full of berries and booze. There are also several varieties of sangria, all spiked with flavored Stolichnaya, liqueurs and fruit. Shared beverages accommodate celebrations and suit Le Central’s Marie Antoinette/Alice in Wonderland aesthetic. (Sangria is often a good choice at summer soirees, whether formal or spontaneous. It can be an elegant concoction of champagne, cognac and exotic fruits or a resourceful mix of hostess gift wine, seldom-used liqueurs and berries two days from going squishy. Regardless of provenance, guests will drink it up.)
As things heat up, thoughts turn to hula girls, tiki heads and fruity cocktails. For the authentic ersatz Polynesian experience, Frankie’s Tiki Room (frankiestikiroom.com) is the gold standard. The menu runs from traditional drinks such as the Zombie, with its light and dark rums and 151 on top, to house originals like the Sea Hag, a blend of rums, guava juice and Cherry Heering liqueur that goes down dangerously easy.
If your vision of the tropics is more along the lines of Elvis and the Brady Bunch, the kitsch at the Peppermill’s Fireside Lounge (peppermilllasvegas.com) permeates both the setting (firepit water feature) and the menu (heavy on the ’70s). Their Blue Hawaiian is a classic, made sweet and smooth with Curaçao and pineapple, while the Scorpion Bowl is a legendary wrecker of men and the occasional ship. (To bring the exotic home, try a mix of light and dark rums, which will add depth even to simple drinks.)
Even far from lush fields, green trees and cool breezes, you can still close your eyes and drink in the countryside. Searsucker’s cocktails menu (searsucker.com) is heavy on garden flavors, with many beverages based on their house-infused liquors such as blackberry-peach bourbon or seasonal berry vodka. The Peter Rabbit blends cucumber-infused gin or Pimm’s with basil and lemon, finished with pickled carrot.
At Hash House a Go-Go (hashhouseagogo.com), the spiked Watermelon Lemonade is garnished with a thick triangle of the fruit and echoes it inside the glass with a layer of green melon liqueur floating below pink vodka goodness. It’s a bit of a country fair cocktail; if you prefer a garden party, the Velveteen Rabbit’s Tootie & Rhuby is an elegant blend of gin, rhubarb, basil, salted strawberry and a meringue topping that helps the flavors blend and spread on the palate. (Remember the herbs in your own garden (or refrigerator) when garnishing or mixing: Rosemary complements whiskeys, basil or lavender puts a spring in vodka and gin goes nicely with thyme and lemon.)
The sensible traveler
Those who eschew alcohol don’t have to limit their choices to regular or diet: You can still sip something with the flair of a cocktail, if not the kick. Atomic Liquors (atomiclasvegas.com) fixes up a cherry Coke with Grenadine, cherry bitters and, of course, a few maraschinos. Down the street at the Perch (theperchlv.com), the make-your-own Bloody Mary can be ordered virgin-style: If you have lemons, olives, celery, horseradish and hot sauce to play with, who needs vodka?
PublicUs’ coffee bar (publicuslv.com) has a master barista blending up unique beverages like the Espresso Old Fashioned or The Cannon, which is a mix of espresso, shot with lime and shaken over ice. (At home, try one of the many flavored sodas on the market, from lavender to blood orange, or add a dash of bitters and a twist of lime to seltzer for something that’s cooler than a Shirley Temple in more ways than one.
The very word “summer” evokes cocktails by the pool, something that’s become not only a pastime but an industry in Las Vegas. The Downtown Grand’s pool bars (downtowngrand.com) are pouring the eponymous Pool Deck cocktail: Made from Deep Eddy Ruby Red Grapefruit vodka, agave, lime and a splash of soda, it’s a bit like a lighter, carbonated Greyhound.
The Encore’s Daylight Beach Club (daylightvegas.com) has added a selection of mojitos to their menu, available in regular, large and pitcher sizes. Along with the traditional recipe, there is a Daylight Melon made with Bacardi Grand Melon and watermelon juice, as well as a Dragon Berry with dragonberry rum and strawberry juice. At the MGM Pool (mgmgrand.com), a Pineapple Coconut Mojito used pineapple Ciroc vodka, lime, mint and coconut water. (Coconut water is a good mixer for poolside drinks, diluting alcohol while hydrating: Not a bad idea when the temperature is in the triple digits.)
The hot spot
The desert in summer may seem hot enough, but cocktails with jalapeño, chipotle and shishito range from subtle to “Whew!” Atomic Liquors’ Smoked Melon has an addictive, sweet heat from Mezcal and habanera, but splashes of melon and beer keep things refreshing. On the second level of the Chandelier Bar, the Devil May Care is a refined, fiery version of the Bloody Mary: Hangar One chipotle vodka and house-made mix are kicked up with Sriracha gastrique, rosemary and dill. Delicious, but do yourself a favor and ask for a glass of water when you order.
If you want to calibrate your own spice level, the margaritas at Mercadito in the Red Rock Casino Resort & Spa can be adjusted to your personal preferences for heat and “smoke” via Yucateco green chile or atomized Mezcal. (If mixing at home, you can guard against over-heating by trying a cilantro vodka in your Bloody Mary or a margarita with jalapeño tequila.)
Sometimes, air-conditioned elegance is getaway enough. The Monkey Bar at SLS (slslasvegas.com) is small but a thorough escape from summer: It may be blazing-bright outside, but inside it’s dim, with the tinkle of a piano and the clink of ice cubes. The Monkey Suit is a Bulleit Bourbon Manhattan made festive with torched banana and marinated cherries; the Monkey Fuzz Gimlet blends Absolut Apeach and peach purée with a hint of crushed Sonora pepper. Another place to hide in chic is the old-Hollywood-styled Barrymore, whose Sage Gumdrop is a Lemon Drop for the sophisticated palate with citron vodka, sage liqueur, lemon and a sugar-black pepper rim.