You know that highfalutin’ mixologist at your favorite fancy bar? The one with the encyclopedia of original cocktails and rows of mysterious bottles from which he (or she) creates magic? They might love to have you think those drink recipes popped into their heads fully formed. Or maybe they just whipped them up on a slow night at a moment’s notice.
Maybe. But more likely they created the cocktails, or learned how to make them at the Alchemy Room. What could be called Las Vegas’ most influential watering hole—and hardest to get into—the Alchemy Room is a state-of-the-art, custom-made bar that’s earned the undying appreciation of every bartender who’s been lucky enough to work it. Want to know how you can get through the door?
Well, you can’t. At least, not as a customer. The Alchemy Room is actually inside the Wirtz Beverage Nevada distribution headquarters in North Las Vegas, designed specifically to offer Wirtz clients (and nearly every good bar in Las Vegas is a Wirtz client) a place to experiment with every beverage Wirtz offers (that’s more than 800 spirits, 300 wines and 50 beers) in an ideal environment supplied with housemade syrups, dozens of bitters, garnishes in abundance and every tool a bartender could wish for.
The “bar” also features a touchscreen-controlled A/V system with cameras trained on both the bar top and the person behind it, projected onto huge screens for rows of “students” (bar staffs and sometimes Wirtz sales teams, too) to learn methods and mixes.
What’s the advantage for Wirtz? In short, bartenders get to play around with brands like Jack Daniel’s Honey, Makers 46, Solerno Blood Orange, Carpano Antica, Templeton Rye and the Hangar One and Three Olives vodka ranges, all of which have become huge sellers in recent months.
“It started as an idea I had when I was at Bellagio,” says Wirtz Beverage Development Manager Drew Levinson, “when I had 25 new bartenders coming in for pool season and there wasn’t a good place to train them all at once.” Soon after, Levinson got recruited to join Wirtz and took the idea with him, opening Alchemy in the winter of 2009 after eight months of planning and custom construction.
The bar hosts as many as nine events or trainings each week. For example, staffs from Aria and Cosmopolitan trained here prior to those resort openings. More recently, 250 staffers from Goretorium, and the staffs from the new Meatball Spot at Town Square and Javier’s at Aria all learned their cocktail programs here.
“Originally, we’d budgeted that it would pay for itself in six years,” Levinson says. “And in reality, when I look at how our representation in venues has changed, it only took about 18 months.”
The Alchemy Room in Vegas has been so successful that Wirtz created a second one, which opened in Wirtz Beverage headquarters in suburban Chicago earlier this year to much hoopla. And it’s been so successful that Wirtz’s direct competitor, Southern Wine & Spirits of Nevada, has been updating its own Bacchus Room, promising by Spring 2013 to have “one of the most technologically advanced training facilities in the world ... the result of a meticulous and tireless attention to details,” according to Francesco Lafranconi, executive director of mixology and spirits education.
For now, Levinson says, “There is no other bar-training facility in the country that comes near to Alchemy and Alchemy II.” And it’s ours.