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Desert Companion

Profile: David Cooper, Bartender, Carnevino

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David Cooper
Photography by Anthony Mair

Coop is a Las Vegas treasure. Bartender David Cooper, that is — “Coop” is what his regulars have long called him, at Carnevino now and at plenty of places before that. What makes him a treasure? In a city of hotel bartenders — that ever-familiar face amid the crowds of strangers — there are a few of the old guard who have adapted to the new trends of craft cocktails and mixology while maintaining an old-school commitment to warm, personalized service. For someone to master both, as Coop has, is a rarity.

Lineage also helps; his father owned several neighborhood joints around the valley in the ’60s and ’70s, so even as a kid he knew his way around a bar. And then there’s longevity. The nickname “Coop” has followed him through various bars in town over a lot of years, including a memorable graveyard stint at Caesars Palace from 1983-90. Those were the days before smartphone cameras and TMZ, when an off-duty celeb could come in and unwind. “Robin Williams and Billy Crystal came in for the Dunes comedy festival before they were famous, before anything,” Coop remembers. “Robin was one of the most quick-witted, brilliant men I’ve ever met.

“There were some stories … Rodney Dangerfield snorting coke at the bar, Evel Knievel sleeping there and hanging out a lot. He became one of my best friends, as well. He actually took me on my first round of golf.”

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Coop says he worked all over Caesars — including Seahorse Lounge and Bobby Flay’s Mesa Grill — and actually met his wife there. But even a Las Vegas treasure can hit a sour patch. After 24 years there, he lost his job in 2007. “That taught me humility, respect and that it’s not all a game, but a business. It matured me as a bartender and as a person.”

He bounced back with jobs on and off the Strip, winding up with his current gig in the Mario Batali empire. It’s a good fit for his personality. “Everyone steps it up at all of Mario’s restaurants,” he says.

 

Before he matured as a bartender, he was an under-matured bar helper at his father’s place. “It was called the Pour House Bar, out on Boulder Highway,” Coop says. “He had Danny’s Bar, the Dew Drop Inn — everyone thought they were competition, but they were all his.” Even before he could drive, Coop recalls, he was restocking the bar at night, washing glasses, edging into the family business. After high school, he kept it up. When a bartender wouldn’t show up for his late night shift, Coop, as the owner’s son, would fill the spot behind the bar.

Thus began a life and career marked in part by a desire to not lose his edge. Coop recently finished the Academy of Spirits at Southern Wine & Spirits, a class taught by mixology icon Francesco Lafranconi. Not only did he freshen his skills, he learned firsthand the dividends of a long career devoted to good service. “I was 25 years older than almost everyone in the class,” he says, “but people were coming up to me like I was a rock star! It’s such a compliment when people who care about the business know me by reputation.”

Coop’s vast network of connections in the Vegas hospitality industry has given him additional options, too. After that fateful first round of golf with Evel Knievel, the sport eventually became a passion second only to his family. He dreams of strolling the greens in the U.S. Senior Open someday. It’s also led to a nice little sideline. “These days I’m hired to throw (golf) tournaments for businesses, for brands in the food and beverage industry, other companies. For example, if a car dealership wants to throw a golf tournament, I would put that all together.” He’s creating a charity tournament to help a victim of testicular cancer get back on his feet. “We’re hitting balls to save balls, so to speak. Help him out for a few months while he recovers now that the cancer is in remission. We do it for the sake of doing good.”

 

Bartending as a Cooper family tradition didn’t end with him. “My family’s all in the business,” he says proudly. “My wife and daughter are behind the stick at another top steakhouse, my sons are both front of house on the Strip. We have opened bars and trained staff, worked in the finest places for years.”

The next step? Putting all that collective know-how to work by consulting with prospective bar owners. “We are going to teach and consult our way of bartending with human connections,” Coop says. “We want managers and employees to be proud of what they do and where they work. We’re going to teach that.”

 

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