This week’s regularly scheduled Drink of the Week has been preempted by my Labor Day weekend trip to Las Vegas, during which I punctuated lengthy bouts at downtown craps tables with excursions in search of Sin City’s finest cocktails.
My original plan had been to focus on a few of the city’s best regarded craft cocktail bars located mostly on the increasingly interesting, and more than a bit trendy, Fremont East section just a block or two away from my temporary digs up at the Golden Nugget. The only problem was that, knowing that these joints — which cater more to locals than us obnoxious tourists — would be closed Sunday night, I planned for Monday, Labor Day evening, as being my main downtown bar crawl. More fool I as that part of the Fremont Street (Hipster) Experience was basically shut down for the entire second half of the Labor Day weekend.
Of course, this being Vegas, not everything was closed and I did manage to find a few cool to truly amazing places with a few truly amazing drinks. We’ll start with my absolute favorite of the group.
What you’re looking at right now is a view of my favorite drink out of several truly excellent cocktails I was privileged to slurp down during my Labor Day of the Lost. This is the Improved Whiskey Sour, which alongside lemon, egg white, and Old Granddad Bourbon, also contains Cherry Herring liqueur/brandy and cinnamon syrup.
As to what’s up with that stencil of the bunny, the place I enjoyed this at is the Velveteen Rabbit, about 1.2 miles or a $10.00 cab ride away from the Fremont Street area. While I’ve had some lovely variations on a whiskey sour in my day, this one lived up to it’s name with the cherry and cinnamon sweetness cutting through the lemon tartness in just the right way, even as the egg white provided that silky mouth feel you regular readers know I’ve become addicted to.
Almost equally delicious, and a lot more exotic in flavor, was the Green Bitch, which contains Green Chartreuse and an even more oddly tasty herbal liqueur, Strega, along with celery juice, simple syrup, more egg white (no wonder I love this place) and the crowning touch, curry bitters. Imagine the best version of a drink made with these kind of ingredients that you can — the curry is not overpowering and doesn’t taste at all like Indian or Thai or Japanese curry, yet it tastes a bit like curry. It’s pretty wonderful.
As for the Velveteen Rabbit itself — imagine the coolest, nicest, most inviting coffee house you’ve even been to and add really outstanding booze. 20-something sisters Christina and Pamela Dylag have got something with this place.
If the hipster bars of Vegas foiled my plans with their hep but tasteful decor and super-civilized hours, Frankie’s Tiki Room was the exact opposite. This place offers mega kitsch appeal both in terms of decor and beverages, delightfully super sweet juice-heavy beverages, and, get this, no closing time — ever! Practically next door by car and a near death experience on foot from the Velveteen Rabbit, the bar combines a drab exterior with a perfectly tiki’d up interior. My 2:00 a.m. repast was the Tiki Bandit, described as a “jackpot of rums, pineapple juice, passion fruit syrup, and blue Curacao.” No surprise that I left my digital camera AND my credit card there and had to retrieve them the next morning, a bit worse for wear.
Herbs and Rye website may be, as they used to say, “under construction” but the restaurant/bar is a pretty beautifully finished work of art — even if I misunderstood it’s Yelp entry and took a couple of buses there only to find them closed on my first try. A place truly steeped in classic cocktail history and on the cutting edge of today’s cocktail revival, take one step inside and you know you’re in good hands from the classy, comfortable decor. Indeed, one of my earnest young bartenders told me he was a close friend of voluble, New Jersey-bred superstar craft barkeep Steve Schneider, who I interviewed back in June. Just to add flavor, I overhead the 60-something guy next to me, wearing a crisp, white jacket on a 90+ degree evening, complaining into a cell phone about the Gucci handbag with $1700 inside that had been stolen from his car.
There’s also a great, very long happy hour (5-8 p.m., 12-3 a.m.) which won’t give you a discount on the classic cocktails but will get you half-off a really good steak and assorted wines and well beverages. What drinks did I get? Two tried and true ultra-classics I’ll eventually be doing right here at Drink of the Week, a Ramos Gin Fizz and a Brandy Crusta. I’d give you the ingredients, but they’re easy enough to look up and what I had contained all the time honored ingredients. These guys follow the classic path and they know what they’re doing.