Vegas icons from Sinatra to Zsa Zsa all had their signature, go-to cocktails. Here’s how to catch a bit of their buzz
Las Vegas is a city where a personality can tower over the landscape like a giant neon sign or an enormous Ferris wheel. Long after their names have left the marquee, people still come here seeking a bit of Elvis or Frank, trying to grasp a hint of their legendary mojo, if even for a moment. Times may have changed, but these icons can still provide guidance for drinking in classic Vegas style.
Hunter S. Thompson
Most Las Vegas icons earn their status over decades: It took Hunter S. Thompson a long weekend. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas remains the blueprint for every off-the-chain and over-the-top trip to Sin City ever since. Of course, the Horse-a-Round bar at Circus Circus has been turned into an ice cream parlor, but there are still trapeze acts and creepy clowns aplenty. Get yourself a double Wild Turkey, stake out a spot under the big top and let the games begin.
For a direct liquor-based homage to the good doctor, Atomic Liquors (702-982-3000) offers the Hunter S. Mash, essentially a mint julep juiced up with Aperol and ginger in honor of Thompson’s southern heritage — and his hair-raising trip to the Kentucky Derby, which inspired some fine and crazy writing of its own.
Liberace was the headliner who opened the Riviera back in 1955, part of a career on the Strip that would last more than 30 years. Vegas may have changed since his day, but there’s still enough flash and glitter to make “Lee” feel right at home. And they do have that Riviera sign lit up at the Neon Museum …
Another spot that would appeal is the Fizz Bar in Caesars (702-776-3200) — and not simply because one of the backers is that other flamboyant Vegas piano player, Elton John. Imagine him ensconced amidst the gloss and shine, sitting beneath a David La Chapelle photograph, drinking a Kiss the Bride, a mix of champagne, vanilla and cake-flavored Three Olives vodka that tastes a little like a full-length white mink coat probably feels.
If there’s a paragon of how to enjoy Las Vegas, it’s the Chairman. Frank was very specific about his chosen cocktail: Jack Daniels on the rocks, two cubes of ice. As he called it, “A gentleman’s drink.” It’s available everywhere, but why not hit one of the joints Frank used to frequent back in his Rat Pack days? The Golden Steer still maintains the velvet wallpaper and tuxedoed waiters it had when it opened in 1958. It’s easy to imagine Frank sipping his bourbon while watching his Caesar salad be made tableside to his particular specifications (no vinegar: lemon juice).
A modern rendition of the Sinatra vibe can be found at Sinatra restaurant in the Encore (702-770-5320). The décor works a Palm Springs vibe with garden views and touches of orange — Frank’s favorite color. The menu features Italian dishes he favored, like Veal Milanese and Clams Posillipo but, naturally, there are also libations. The Sinatra Smash has earned the approval of the James Beard Foundation and, while it’s a little sweeter than what the man himself favored (there’s Gentleman Jack whiskey, but also blackberries and crème de cassis), we still think it’s elegant enough to earn his nod.
Zsa Zsa Gabor
She may have gotten married nine times, but one really must consider Zsa Zsa Gabor the ultimate bachelorette: After all, this is the woman who used to hold press conferences about her relationships with other women’s husbands.
Zsa Zsa and her sisters Eva and Magda also headlined their own Las Vegas show.
Unsurprisingly, it was mostly witty one-liners about romance, delivered in fabulous gowns. Today, one can imagine Zsa Zsa meeting her sisters for a leisurely lunch — along with plenty of dish — at Giada’s in the Cromwell. Afterwards, she’d glide down to the clubby atmosphere of Bound to meet with her divorce lawyer over a La Belle Vie, essentially a Bellini gone Provence luxe with champagne, white grape juice and a splash of Martell cognac. Here’s to freedom, darlings!
Bugsy Siegel’s time in Las Vegas may have been brief — he owned two casinos during the course of three years, but he left a deeper mark than many with 10 times his tenure. Siegel got his start in the liquor business (read: bootlegging), but Bugsy wasn’t much of a drinker: He was notoriously vain, so he feared developing a pot belly that would ruin the line of his custom suits. (And when Bugsy began losing his hair, his barber literally feared for his life when he found too many strands in the comb.)
The El Cortez was the first casino Siegel owned, and they continue to pay homage to the affiliation by prominently featuring him on advertising posters and naming their new restaurant Siegel’s 1941 (702-385-5200). The menu has something to please every member of the mob — corned beef and cabbage, spaghetti marinara, matzoh ball soup — as well as themed cocktails. The Siegel Spritzer has a spiked-lemonade appeal with a mix of grapefruit liqueur, vermouth and lime, while Siegel’s girlfriend Virginia Hill is given the nod with Virginia’s Margarita, a cocktail inspired by her time in Mexico — where she received her “Flamingo” nickname. While nothing of Bugsy’s original Flamingo resort remains, you can pay your respects at a commemorative plaque in the gardens.