A simple drinking guide for complicated times
Sure, organic artisanal beaker concoctions with 27 ingredients are fun, but sometimes you want to keep your drinking simple, with a classic cocktail, fine wine or hearty beer. We enlisted three quaffing connoisseurs to share their favorite spots with just that in mind. Raise your glass to these mainstay treasures and unfussy pleasures.
Las Vegas has a fiercely staked reputation to uphold as all things to all lushes. From the high-rollers chasing stratospherically priced cognac to the dirty-tap Schlitz-suckers, the well-developed booze-industrial complex here has to cater to every whim, fancy, price point and fad. The upshot to this — and to the craft cocktail revolution that has grown up with it — is we have at our disposal a collective liquor cabinet that stands up to any drinking city on the planet. With as many talented bartenders as we have in this burg, what sometimes gets obscured is how much knowledge and craft there is around the base spirits that go into their drinks. When you’re ready to strip down to the basics and drink like a Mad Men exec with no ice and only precious minutes before a client meeting, these are the places to tour the exotic and fascinating world of booze. Jason Scavone
Frankie’s Tiki Room: rum
If Trader Vic and Don the Beachcomber created a paradise of their own rum-soaked design with a touch of punk-fed insouciance, it would look like Frankie’s Tiki Room. It is Rumvana. Elysirum. The Happy Rumming Grounds. What we’re trying to say is this is unequivocally the best rum bar in town, if you couldn’t tell. (They boast 170 rums.) If you’re on the hunt for rums strange and exotic, you can do no better than look here. A personal favorite: 1 Barrel Rum fromBelize. A bartender’s pronouncement, “You’ll want to pour this on your pancakes,” isn’t hyperbole. It’s rich and dark and sweet and packs way more of a buzz than Mrs. Butterworth’s.
1712 W. Charleston Ave.,
Casa Fuente: bourbons and ryes
Cigars and whiskey go together like whiskey and more whiskey: perfectly. This Forum Shops cigar lounge kicks a Cubano-in-Miami vibe, but it’s the mash bill that really carries the day. The Scotch selection is impressive in its own right, but when it comes to bourbons, ryes and other non-British Isles whiskies, Casa Fuente regularly checks in with off-the-beaten-path gems.
Forum Shops at Caesars Palace,
Rí Rá: Irish whiskey
Irish whiskey may not have the old-money sophisticate charm or big-ticket brand recognition of Scotch, but the Irish have been pumping this stuff out for the better part of 400 years, at least under royal license. Taking in a slice of this craft in a spot with reclaimed back bars and tops from Old Country pubs makes sense. It’s even more fun in Rí Rá’s Whiskey Bar, done up in ’70s den chic, where it seems like a little kid named Seamus should be watching Benny Hill in the corner. The Shoppes at Mandalay Place, 702-632-7771, rira.com
La Comida: tequila
The stained glass behind the bar at La Comida makes you feel reverential, like you’re drinking in church. Tequila church. Which, as churches go, is way more fun than Sunday service with a bunch of Methodists. The metal bartop gives it an industrial vibe and faces you away from the restaurant and toward more tequila — 104, to be exact. Worship at its best.
100 Sixth St., 702-463-9900,
The Platonic ideal of places to drink absinthe is a 19th-century sidewalk café in some middle European metropolis, but an ultramodern haute cuisine palace isn’t a bad second choice to dance with the green fairy. Especially one that offers a handy flavor chart to guide your absinthe choices, with three preparations: classic, the Fire and Ice (their name for the Sochi method that involves pouring fire from a glass), and the Slipstream, a sort of absinthe lava lamp/sippy cup hybrid. I recommend the La Clandestine absinthe, classic prep with a cold-water fountain drip, no sugar. It goes lighter on the anise, which makes it perfect for you weenies who pick black jellybeans out of your Easter baskets. But it also has a distinct dry, honey finish with some nice floral tones up front.
Aria, 866-359-7757, aria.com
Mario Batali is intensely dedicated to the authenticity of his elevated peasant Italian tables, so bringing in a good old-fashioned amaro cart, boasting 20 of the Italian liqueurs, is the cherry-soaked-in-so-many-herbs on top of the sundae. If there’s any place in town that needs a robust selection of digestifs, it’s this steak palace where they also wheel out the bone-in rib eye on a cart. (Everything seems 20 percent more delicious coming from a cart.) Recommendation: Amaro Sfumato comes straight outta Trentino, an example of the rabarbaro style of amaro. It’s a rhubarb-flavored amaro, with a pleasingly bright vegetable taste to go with a super smoky, almost charcoal character.
Palazzo, 702-789-4141, carnevino.com
Herbs & Rye: gin
Classic cocktails expertly prepared is enough of a selling point. Even better, that focus on the classics makes bartenders’ fave Herbs & Rye the de facto home of gin in Las Vegas (they boast 52), considering our forefathers were wise enough to use gin, whiskey, and not much else in their bartending. Filling out Herbs’ encyclopedic cocktail menu are gin-fueled classics such as The Vesper, the Last Word, and the Corpse Reviver #2.
3713 W. Sahara Ave., 702-982-8036,
Las Vegas Distillery: bourbon
A bedrock of Henderson’s burgeoning Artisan Booze District, the Las Vegas Distillery gave us the first in-state bourbon of the modern era, and for that, we should be forever grateful. The tasting room is open to the public as part of regularly scheduled tours, right out on the distilling floor. As of October 1, the distillery added a side-room bar open Fridays and Saturdays, for maximum exposure to straight-from-the-source hooch. Affable owner George Racz says that the Nevada 150 bourbon is his baby, and the Grandma’s Apple Pie moonshine is the crowd-pleaser. But it’s his five-year anniversary line of 12 whiskeys for 2016 that are the hot new jam. That includes the kamut whiskey, a light, hot tipple with touches of straw and a plum character that’s unlike any other whiskey we can place. Plus, kamut is an ancient grain out of Asia, so, you know,
7330 Eastgate Road #100, Henderson,
Red Square: vodka
You can’t say they’re not on point. Red Square brings just a hint of foreboding Siberia to its vodka operation with an ice-top bar, ensuring your water of life stays plenty chilly. (Though to really capture the full Russian experience, there should be TVs playing insane dash cam footage at all times.) But the real star is the Vodka Vault, which involves
furs. OK, fake fur. But still.
Whisky Attic: scotch
Much like Pizza Hut and Shake Shack, any business named for a location and the thing they sell tells you exactly what you’re getting. And unlike Pizza Hut, the Whiskey Attic won’t leave you full of regret and a serious disappointment in yourself. By appointment only, the Attic is a learning environment more than a social one. And what better to learn about than their 3,800 different whiskeys on hand, including 1,800 scotches. Open the door to the Attic and gaze on its shelves and you’ll weep like Alexander, for there are no more whiskies left to conquer. Personal favorite: Samaroli Evolution 2011 Vintage. Why settle for one boring 12-year-old Scotch when you can get 26 different vintages spanning more than 30 years in one bottle? This Samaroli covers everything from 1957 Mortlach to 1989 Bowmore. You can really taste the ’70s. Tastes like Carter-era malaise and peat.
4780 W. Harmon Ave. #12, 702-217-6794, whiskyattic.com
Las Vegas isn’t really a wine bar sort of town. Wine bars generally require (and promote) a certain level of contemplative thought, and Las Vegas is usually about as contemplative as a UFC cage match. But this doesn’t mean there aren’t fabulous places to sample some outstanding wines; it just means you have to go to some of our finer restaurants to find them. Below are my 12 favorite sipping venues, places where our town’s great sommeliers take enormous pride in pouring vintages from around the globe — and where you can sip, savor and contemplate to your palate’s content. John Curtas
Greek wines may be unpronounceable, but they’re also delicious. They’re also substantially underpriced compared to similar seafood-friendly wines from France and Italy. Don’t even try to master the odd lisps and tongue rolls of Assyrtiko, Moshofilero or Mavrodaphne. Just point and smile, or ask the staff for help. (I promise they won’t make fun of you.) Anyone who orders anything but Greek wines with Estiatorio Milos’ seafood should be sentenced to a year of drinking nothing but Harvey Wallbangers.
The Cosmopolitan Las Vegas, 702-698-7930, milos.ca
Restaurant Guy Savoy
The list is as thick as a dictionary and, at first blush, not for the faint of heart or parsimonious of purse. But look closely, and you’ll find a surprising number of bargains for less than $100. Or ask sommelier Phil Park and he will happily point them out to you. The champagne bar is where you’ll find serious oenophiles perusing the list a full half-hour before their reservation — just like they do in France. Caesars Palace, 702-731-7286, caesars.com
Chada Street/Chada Thai
These two sister restaurants are a few miles apart, but connected by a love of white wines that owner Bank Atcharawan has successfully brought to Chinatown. Both lists are deep in rieslings and chardonnays, and the Champagne selection at Chada Street puts most Strip lists to shame — at decidedly gentler prices. Not for nothing does every sommelier in Las Vegas treat both of these venues like their personal after-hours club. Chada Street: 3839 Spring Mountain Road, 702-579-0207, chadastreet.com; Chada Thai: 3400 S. Jones Blvd., 702-641-1345, chadavegas.com
A pinot noir wall, lakeside dining and the gentlest markups in town ($10 over retail) make Marché Bacchus a must-stop on any wine lover’s tour of Vegas. Jeff and Rhonda Wyatt are always there to help you choose a glass or a case of whatever mainstream cab or offbeat syrah suits your fancy. Or do what I do: just stick with Burgundy and go nuts. 2620 Regatta Drive #106, 702-804-8008, marchebacchus.com
Ferraro’s Italian Restaurant and Wine Bar
What I love about Italian wines is what I love about Italians and Italian food — they are friendly, passionate, fiercely regional and perplexing in a good way. Don’t know your Montelcinos from your Montepulcianos? No problemo: Gino Ferraro is there to help you parse the Barbarescos from the Barolos. Come here for one of the greatest Italian lists in America at one of our finest Italian restaurants.
4480 Paradise Road, 702-364-5300,
I don’t understand Spanish wine any more than I understand how José Andrés can have so much energy and so many great restaurants. But the next best thing to knowing a lot about a country’s wines is knowing a sommelier who is eager to teach you. Chloe Helfand is that sommelier in Las Vegas, and she’s always there with a smile and a lip-smacking wine you don’t know, made with a grape you’ve never heard of. Which is one of the reasons we love sommeliers — and Chloe.
SLS Las Vegas, 702-761-7610, slslasvegas.com
Mark Hefter’s wine program is a lot like Mark Hefter: fun, interesting, intelligent, and all over the map. Hefter has poured wine everywhere from Le Cirque 2000 in New York to Spago and Circo in Las Vegas, and needless to say, the man knows his grapes. With more than 50 wines by the glass, he can dazzle anyone from the novice drinker to the dedicated oenophile. But what we love about his list is its eclecticism. Here is where you can sample the world’s most interesting wines at very friendly price points. Curious about those orange and pink wines that are all the rage these days? This is the place to start.
Wynn Las Vegas,
If your measure of a great wine bar is the number of by-the-glass options offered, look elsewhere. If you rate your wine-tasting by quality — of the breadth and depth of the list, the bar snacks, the staff, and the mixology (should you stray into creative-booze territory) — then Carnevino is your place. The list is conveniently located inside the (massive) menu, and the mark-ups are not for the timid. But the excellence of everything — from the steaks to the pastas to the Super-Tuscan verticals —
will take your breath away. The Palazzo, 702-789-4141,
Lotus of Siam
Robert Parker (yeah, that Robert Parker) calls Lotus’s wine card the greatest German wine list in America, and we have no reason to argue with him. It’s also shoulder-deep in sake, Alsatian whites and Austrian Grüner Veltliners — all of which match, in surprising ways, Saipan Chutima’s fierce and fiery country Thai cooking. This is where you’ll find almost every wine professional in town on their day off, usually at a table groaning with riesling bottles.
953 E. Sahara Ave. #A5, 702-735-3033, lotusofsiamlv.com
The trouble with Sage is the food is so good sometimes you forget about the wine, and the wine list is so good sometimes you forget about the food. I like California pinot noir and chardonnay with Shawn McClain’s innovative fare, but the list covers the world in all areas of consequence. Such choices here are a happy conundrum to have, whether you’re dining or hanging out in the stunning bar. Aria, 702-590-9520, aria.com
Great wine drinking in the ’burbs is harder to find than a corner without a fast food franchise. Hearthstone deserves props for actually having a wine program, and for a list that breaks down according to varietal character — “Big Reds,” “Crisp, Clean & Lean,” “Voluptuous But Light,” etc. The by-the-glass selection is solid, but what really gets our attention is the half-off Monday night specials, which allows for some serious drinking of some serious bottles. That discount only applies to bottles under a Benjamin, but if you’ve got the coin, $2,500 for a bottle of 2005 DRC Echezeaux or $2,800 for some Screaming Eagle is still a flat-out steal. Red Rock Casino Resort Spa, 702-797-7344, hearthstonelv.com
Downtown Las Vegas is so wine-challenged it makes Summerlin look like Napa Valley. Amid all the bars and hipster hangouts, though, this teeny tiny space in Container Park holds forth with a small selection of interesting reds and whites from around the globe — most in the $30-$60 range. Wine snobs will be underwhelmed, but for those looking for a break from craft cocktails and exotic coffees, Bin 702 is an oasis. Downtown Container Park, 702-826-2702
Beer and Las Vegas have been hitched together since this was a dusty railroad town with not much more than a few gambling saloons and brothels open to welcome thirsty visitors. And while the city grew, our beer choices didn’t: For much of recent history, the selection was limited to cheap major-label brewery swill proffered in cheapo bucket-o-bottles promotions. Meanwhile, other major cities across western America were enjoying a craft beer golden age. Well, Vegas is finally catching up. Pints are now being filled with high-quality drafts — many imported, yes, but many now locally brewed, too. It’s a great time to roll out a barrel. Greg Thilmont
The newest craft brew port of call is in a perhaps unlikely location: Tuscany Suites & Resort, just east of the Strip. True to the moniker, you can quaff a new beer every day of the year without repeating a draft. Be sure to pry open the handmade wooden binders listing rare, even arcane, varietals on hand. The fascinating atlas will make your inner beer snob giddy. 255 E. Flamingo Road, 702-893-8933, tuscanylv.com
Public School 702
This Southern California microchain has filled an upper deck location of Downtown Summerlin with fun décor based on schoolhouses of yesteryear — think flash cards, chalkboards, composition notebooks. There’s also plenty of good beer to be studied glass by glass. A recent favorite find of mine is a delicious pale ale aged in Petrus wine barrels from Belgium’s De Brabandere brewery: effervescent excellence that more than makes the grade.
1850 Festival Plaza Drive, 702-749-3007, psontap.com
This is one of the microbreweries that finally launched Las Vegas into the fraternity of brewing burgs such as Denver, San Diego, Seattle, and even our prim northern neighbor, Salt Lake City. Advanced yeast techniques make for libations like the Glitter Bomb, a sour-style beer glistening with culinary-grade sparkles. It looks like you’re drinking the evil wizard’s swirling seeing-stone from the Lord of the Rings. (And you’ll drink it in a colorful tasting room with Dave Grohl pillows, cuckoo clocks and sippy birds.) Another recommendation: The Evocation saison. It brought the Belgian sour to Las Vegas in the most noteworthy way.
7350 Eastgate Road, 702-462-5934, crafthausbrewery.com
Bad Beat Brewing
As the front-facing beermaker of the Artisan Booze District on Eastgate Road (GPS it for sure), Bad Beat greets you with a dozen or so beers brewed on site. The schtick is super-Vegas, from the casino-chip bottle labels to the beer names themselves, which include the Bluffing Isn’t Weisse, the Ante Up Amber and, one of my favorites, The Ringer, a delectable and refreshing pilsner. 7380 Eastgate Road, 702-463-4199, bad
It’s no secret that Velveteen Rabbit is among Las Vegas’ leading bars for inventive mixology. But don’t overlook their excellent beer selection: Behind the bar, a dozen gleaming golden mannequin hands are taps that dispense a rotating roster of fizzy craft beers. Plus, the bartenders occasionally whip up beer-based cocktails that are tasty and sophisticated.
1218 S. Main St.,
While relatively new, ReBAR is totally Vegas. Not only is it a bar, it’s also a kitsch-filled, antique boutique in the Arts District. Need a Smokey and the Bandit poster lacquered to a rustic wood frame or a gigantic Bohemian beer stein? This is your place. On Fridays, local brews such as Joseph James American Flyer are a dollar off during happy hour — a worthy way to celebrate Vegas’ liquid culture.
1225 S. Main St., 702-349-2283, rebarlv.com
Perched at a prime location in the newly opened Park between New York-New York and T-Mobile Arena, BeerHaus is a chill spot where locals can mix with our 42 million visitors over a few beevos. And what a selection there is, from exotic heavies such as the Moody Tongue Chocolate Churro Baltic porter to Golden Road Brewing’s fruity, Bavarian-style hefeweizen. Burn off the carbs with a spirited match of Ping-Pong or other bar games.
3782 Las Vegas Blvd. S.,
Khoury’s Fine Wine & Spirits
Welcome to Southern Nevada’s temple of beers. You’d never know driving by that a strip mall in Henderson could hold hundreds upon hundreds of bottles and cans of fermented treasures from microbreweries across the world. Stop in for educational events, plus beer release celebrations. There’s a snug but comfortable bar area, too, where you can sample the drafts on rotation.
9915 S. Eastern Ave. #110, 702-435-9463, khourysfinewine.com
Aces & Ales
This westside mainstay brings in crowds daily for its wide-ranging menu of beers, 50 of which are served by a high-tech DigitalPour system, complete with electronic display boards. Bring your friends: Aces & Ales is a place for group activities, from college football showdowns to Geeks Who Drink throwdowns. There’s an eastside location, too.
N. Tenaya Way,
East: 3740 S. Nellis Blvd., 702-436-7600,
Born and Raised
A gem of southwestern Las Vegas, Born and Raised takes the neighborhood sports bar concept to a higher level than your average local’s joint. While it doesn’t feature an extensive roster of beers, it does serve up quality pints in stylish yet casual surroundings. I try to snag the mod “Egg” chair when I visit. Henderson has a B&R outpost, as well.
7260 S. Cimarron Road, 702-685-0258;
Henderson: 10050 S. Eastern Ave., 702-685-0258, bornand
From the outside, Lovelady Brewing looks like a vintage piece of Art Deco architecture on Henderson’s historic Water Street. In fact, it’s a brand new construction that admirably kept in mind the region’s mid-century aesthetic. Inside, however, is a rustic-industrial space where adventure and innovation are on tap, whether you’re settling into the potent HopAtomic double IPA, the chocolatey Café Femenino porter or the piquant Dapper Dandy Sour.
20 S. Water St., 702-857-8469,
Tenaya Creek Brewery
Long before the brewpub craze, Tenaya Creek was quietly serving up signature suds. By the time there was a craft beer on tap at every suburban slot tavern, Tenaya Creek had established itself as a veteran in the Vegas brewing scene. But it wasn’t content with mere reliable-mainstay status. In the past two years, Tenaya Creek greatly improved the quality of its beer and made a major move Downtown. Its new digs represent not just an investment in the future of DTLV, but a continued commitment to the craft of making great beer. My favorite: the light and refreshing Tenaya Pilsner.
831 W. Bonanza Road, 702-362-7335, tenayacreek.com
Tacos & Beer
What’s a list of beer joints without some South of the Border flair? Tacos & Beer features a street art-meets-Dia de los Muertos ambiance. The beer list is no less playful. At the lighter end, CraftHaus’s Single Minded Belgian Blonde pairs well with the menu’s spicy fare, while Wet Dream Brown Ale from Brooklyn’s Evil Twin Brewing pops with citrus and spice.
3900 Paradise Road, 702-675-7572, tacosandbeerlasvegas.com
In a town with a dive bar in every strip mall, Money Plays would be just another slot tavern if not for its impressive list of craft beers (and its long-running open mic music night Thursdays). Money Plays may not boast warehouse-chic design and a bearded cicerone, but it’s got quality where it counts, with 24 drafts on tap and a virtual encyclopedia of bottled beer selections. One of my favorites is the Silly Sour from Belgium — as pleasantly surprising as this seemingly nondescript bar.
4755 W. Flamingo Road, 702-368-1828, moneyplayslv.com
Crowded bar tactics 101
by James P. Reza
Know your drink order. Most bartenders, even in fancy boozeatoriums, make money on volume. Nothing wrenches their rhythm more than an amateur who waits patiently to be served, only to have no idea what he wants when his turn comes.
Never yell at the bartender. Sure, it’s tempting. The bar is packed, the band is loud, and you’re a beer or two behind everyone else. But yelling at the bartender is a surefire way to get ignored. For a loooooong time.
Keep it simple. It’s much simpler to loudly say “JACK & COKE” and hold up three fingers than to try to order a Gimlet, an Old Fashioned, and a Skinny Pirate. Mostly applies to nightclubs and loud dive bars.
Spot someone you’d like to chat up? The protocol has changed: Point out the person to the bartender and let them know you’d like to buy them a drink. They’ll sort the details for you, safely. Or let you down, easy.