Hats off to Tales

The big deal about the Big Easy’s big cocktail week.

John Hogan (BMLV), Stefanie Gatsinaris (Leblon), Tobin Ellis (BMLV)
Photo: Xania Woodman

Tuesday, July 7, 2009 10:50 p.m.

By the time you read this, I will be gone. Gone to N’awlins for what I understand to be the largest and most important cocktail event of the year, Tales of the Cocktail. It is, according to my favorite beverage blogger Jeffrey Morgenthaler: “a week of cocktail seminars, workshops, classes, competitions, food, fun, friends, and—for some—nearly lethal amounts of alcohol that flows freely through the streets like so much urine in the morning sun.” He has such a way with words. And I fear he might be right.

Last Monday at Downtown Cocktail Room’s Mixology Mondays, guest-tender Gaston Martinez was mixing up the Freshest Margarita with Milagro tequila. And while I worked my way down his cocktail list, from the organic marg, Fancy Paloma, El Pepino and Spicy Mango to the off-menu Bloody Basil, the bar flooded with a tide of beverage industry folk and all talk was of Tales.

“I can’t choose one event that I'm extremely excited to attend over any other. Each event is amazing in its own right,” says Mina Group’s Amanda Gager. My partner in crime (read: drinking) during the Grand Marnier Summit this past winter, I hope to leach some expertise off the Stripsteak bartender as this is her third Tales.

I’ve also latched on to my mother duck, Lisa Bigley who with her husband, bartender Sean Bigley, are the founders and owners of and their new beverage distribution company, UBC Enterprises. No doubt they will be on the look out for hot new trends and products to bring to Las Vegas, all the better to open more bartenders’ eyes to a world beyond bottle service and energy drinks.

Southern Wine and Sprits’ director of mixology Armando Rosario will participate in one of the many workshops (with names like Your Hangover and You, Cognac: From Vines to Shaker), this one on Asian-influenced cocktails with Vegas’ own Kirk Spahn of Ty Ku.

“We get to meet and exchange ideas, socialize and everyone who comes brings something new to the table,” says Rosario of why he returns each year.

He will represent the USBG as the local and national champion, about to take his recipe for The Real Dill to Germany for world cocktail domination. But for now, he’ll serve up his drink at one of the Spirited Dinners, where bar chefs and chef-chefs collaborate on cocktail pairing dinners; I will attend the one put together by my friends John Hogan and Tobin Ellis of BarMagic of Las Vegas at The Pelican Club.

Their dinner sold out last year and proved to be the largest, so it’s little wonder why Tales of the Cocktail founder Ann Tuennerman chose our boys for their Founders Table, which will also welcome Dale DeGroff, AKA King Cocktail. Oh, to be a fly on that table’s butter!

Just minutes before getting on the first of two planes, I’m as giddy as a child about to behold Disney World. Speechless and a little harried, I will turn to my never-at-a-loss-for-words colleague Tobin Ellis for inspiration. And for once, I’ll actually let him have the last word:

How do we look to the rest of the beverage world?

I think until this year, we were kind of laughed at like, "Vegas, what are they making in Vegas besides vodka-Red Bulls and Cosmos?" despite having some of the biggest heavyweights in the industry (Tony Abou-Ganim, Bobby "G" Gleason, Drew Levinson, Francesco Lafranconi, Armando Rosario, Patricia Richards, Ray Srp, Livio Lauro, Gaston Martinez, Anthony Alba, Ken Hall, and Sean Bigley all come to mind) as well as some rising stars (Kristen Schaefer, Amanda Gager, Alex Velez, Cameron Bogue, Steve Dorsey, Andrew Pollard, Trevor Thorpe, George Sproule, Jerry Vargas, and Antonio Trillo). That is starting to change with each competition we win and/or make the finals of (USBG US Nationals, Domaine de Canton Bartender of the Year, Search for America's Best Bartender, etc.).

What is Vegas' beverage scene missing?

One true world-class cocktail bar. Two or three would be nice.

What can be done to improve Las Vegas' reputation for beverage service?

Operators and directors should look to the large pool of highly-talented and seasoned beverage professionals that call Las Vegas home and bring them in not to manage outdated ideas (aka the "martini bar" and "mojito carts") and systems, but to innovate and drive cutting-edge beverage concepts that do more than pay lip-service to the notions of "fresh" and "mixology."

Here's a novel thought: instead of spending $8 million on the walls and chandeliers, why doesn't someone spend 1/10th of that on a kick-ass beverage program driven by some of the world's top consultants (many of whom live and work here in Las Vegas.) Oh wait—one guy did that once with his new little hotel and it worked. His name was Steve Wynn. His hotel was the Bellagio. And he revolutionized the casino beverage world because he brought in a consultant with bar experience—Tony Abou-Ganim. Ah, but what does that guy know about operating successful casinos anyway...


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