Earlier this month, downtown hotspot and craft cocktail bar Velveteen Rabbit competed for the title of Best Margarita in the Fifth Annual Margarita Festival at Lake Las Vegas—and won.
But that’s not all that was on the line—a trophy, a trip to Mexico and some serious bragging rights were also at stake. Produced by tequila specialist Kevin Vanegas of Wirtz Beverage Nevada and the United States Bartenders’ Guild Las Vegas, the competition welcomed more than 20 of the city’s heaviest hitters, including mixology talents from the Cosmopolitan, Hakkasan, Herbs & Rye and more.
But it was the festival’s underdogs, Velveteen Rabbit co-owner Christina Dylag and bartender Lyle Cervenka, who ended up on top. “When we first entered the competition, it was like, ‘If we make top five, awesome,’” Dylag says. “People come in and ask for something unique all the time. Off-the-cuff cocktails … it’s a pretty consistent thing that we do.”
It’s that confidence and skill that won the hearts of the judges—USBGLV president Andrew Pollard, Nightlife and Beverage journalist Xania Woodman, and Alliance Beverage Portfolio and Mixologist director Layla Lynn. But before they advanced into the Iron Chef-style rounds of competition, the Velveteen Rabbit duo had to impress the public with a pre-batched margarita they dubbed El Conejo (that’s Spanish for ‘The Rabbit’). After batching more than eight gallons of the cocktail—a mixture of Cointreau, lime, tequila, carrot juice (and ginger for garnish)—the bar served up the El Conejo for days following their big win.
But don’t expect to wander in and order one of these babies now that the jug’s run dry. The Rabbit’s moving on to bigger and better things, like their new menu, also unveiled in September. The latest offers up signature cocktails like the Gods Gift (gin, peach liqueur, lemon, jasmine green tea syrup, egg whites, orange bitters and a scotch rinse) and the Chesapeake Greenhouse (Scotch, smoke beer reduction, tomato, basil, Chesapeake Bay bitters and more). Whether you’re a seasoned bourbon drinker or a more modest cocktail connoisseur, there’s a little something for everyone. Still itching for the El Conejo (and how could you not)? Dylag’s up for another challenge. Just ask the bartender, she says, and they’ll make you something just as good. If not better.