“It’s nightlife for adults,” is how Sam Ross explains the uptick in craft cocktail bars opening up and down the Vegas Strip.
“They’re a departure from the Las Vegas normal,” Ross says about these dens of fancy drinking, contrasting them with the footlong slushie fratboy cocktails offered in some places and the bottle service, exorbitantly overpriced and attended to by scantily clad waitresses, in others.
Ross, who made his name as a bartender at Milk & Honey — the New York bar that launched a million speakeasies — now plies his trade in Vegas.
Since 2016, he’s had a hand in opening three craft cocktail spots: the Dorsey at the Venetian, and Rosina and Electra Cocktail Club at the Palazzo.
The Dorsey is a stately and dimly lighted lounge where all the juices are fresh-squeezed and all of the ice is hand-cut.
“I’ve been working on projects on the Strip since 2010, and the quantity of quality cocktails up and down has greatly improved,” Ross says. “It’s insane how you can get so many high-quality venues jam-packed into such a small area.”
This is not just an anecdotal trend.
Patrick Lang, vice president of global restaurant and nightlife development for Las Vegas Sands, the company behind the Venetian and Palazzo, says that the Dorsey has recorded two consecutive years of double-digit growth since opening. According to him, it, along with Rosina, is among the highest grossing venues per square foot among the city’s bars and restaurants. And according to the University of Nevada, Las Vegas’ Center for Gaming Research, between 1999 and 2017 total beverage revenue at Vegas casinos increased by 1 billion — with a b — dollars, though the study doesn’t specify how much of that is derived from drinks made by bartenders in vests and suspenders.
“We felt the craft cocktail movement had not fully taken root in Las Vegas,” Lang says. “Las Vegas is one of the leading culinary markets in the world, and we wanted to elevate the cocktail game and bring a fun yet more sophisticated nightlife experience to Las Vegas.”
“It’s a big mix of people,” says Ross of the clientele at the new cocktail bars. “It’s for the visitors to Las Vegas that don’t want to go to nightclubs after dinner. They want to enjoy a well-made drink that’s not being served in a yard glass.”
You could argue that Vegas’ craft cocktail movement began just off the Strip in 2009, with the opening of Herbs & Rye, a restaurant and bar serving cocktails with house-made ingredients.
“At that time, no one was really doing any real cocktail program,” says owner Nectaly Mendoza. “Las Vegas was a nightclub scene. That was the first thing to really hit.”
Mendoza recognized that his city had plenty of talent behind the bar, but most of it was being deployed in high-volume clubs. With Herbs & Rye, he shifted focus toward ingredients and technique — quality over quantity. The casinos took notice, and soon other places, such as Vesper in the Cosmopolitan, opened with cocktail menus that emphasized fresh ingredients and unique spirits.
The group behind the Los Angeles bars Honeycut and the Normandie Club opened Skyfall Lounge two years ago on the 64th floor of the Delano hotel, where they sling $18 to $20 cocktails that have very un-rat pack ingredients including spiced pear, fresh raspberry syrup and peach and rose-infused vodka.