Pitch perfect

Behind the scenes at Progressive Bar’s big debut

Courtesy of Red Rock Casino Resort

The next time you kick back in your poolside cabana, sink into the shade or perhaps toast in the sun, sucking down a slowly melting, spiked, frozen something, take a moment to appreciate the work that goes into every decision affecting your present state of bliss. From the glassware to the garnish to the swizzle stick of cherries dribbling maraschino juice into your piña colada—behind every little detail, there lies a story.

Saturday, February 21, 5:30 p.m.

It’s cold and windy at the Cherry Nightclub pool bar, but a ring of space-heaters makes it almost possible to imagine a time when sun-kissed bodies will be splayed out on the Cherry deck, music bumping in the background, people splashing in the pool and cold drinks going down easy on a languorous Vegas summer afternoon. Progressive Bar consultant Alex Velez is putting the finishing touches on his setup, and he proudly offers me a bar spoon of his Grand Marnier “powder.” Like his fellow molecular mixologists, Alex gets his kicks not so much from champagne but from dehydrating liqueurs into powders, converting spirits and beer into espumas and foams and locking all manner of ingredients into spheres and caviars.

Progressive Bar

“It still retains that flavor of orange cognac!” he says excitedly, before moving on to the next task of readying the guanabana coconut green-tea foam that will top off his Molecular Mai Tai. On the bar, five platters stocked with organic liquors, fresh fruit purees and squeezy bottles with solemn black-and-white labels represent the making of five cocktails Alex and his Progressive Bar colleagues Emilio Tiburcio and Mark Kiyojima will present to a panel of Station Casinos executives tonight in hopes of getting their libation creations on the new Cherry pool menu. This is the kind of meeting I used to be in on back in my managerial days, but never one the public would get to experience.

On the receiving end of the drinks are corporate director of nightlife Donny Crawley, beverage director John Arishita, Cherry GM Brian Buechner, pool manager Phouthasone Vongsamphanh, assistant beverage manager/assistant pool manager Greg Mclean, director of food and beverage Joey VonBargen, and in-room dining assistant manager Dan Yovel, most of whom trickled in on the late-ish side and who now sit attentively at the bar firing off e-mails on their Blackberries, poised to get their drink on before getting back to work. I’m probably more nervous than Mark, Emilio or Alex.

Tasked with presenting the cocktails while Mark and Emilio dole them out to us in batches, Alex takes a noticeable beat—almost a prayer—before launching into his sermon. “We have gathered together today … ” Seven faces nod back, wishing him well but also wishing he’d give them a drink already. I can see some of Alex’s passionate, unrestrained performance-style presentation will be lost on a panel accustomed to executive summaries—they want bullet points, and he’s giving them an overture. “How cool would it be to come to a place called Cherry and get drinks made with cherry?!” He seems to fluster just a little. I say a little prayer myself.

But then a funny thing happens. The cocktails speak for themselves.

Donny turns to John: “Rose flower water!” The two investigate the tiny little bottle that is the secret to the refreshing, non-alcoholic Poolside Bouquet. They’re worried about complicating service and raising costs, but then Mark informs them that the drink costs just 49 cents to make. “You had me at 49 cents! Wow. I didn’t see that coming,” says Brian, tipping his champagne flute back. The compliments continue to flow, as do the drinks. “Beautiful,” says Donny of the Domaine de Fraise. “It says ‘summer.’” Joey regards the red, white and blue C-Spot cocktail and declares, “This should be the featured drink at Cherry!” Donny adds, “I really like where you guys are going with this. I’d love to do this tableside, bring the whole tray to the cabana.”

At this, Mark is beaming, Alex is overjoyed and you could light a city with Emilio’s megawatt smile. This is going remarkably well, probably better than any presentation I’ve ever sat in on. After the conclusion, Alex keeps going, pulling recipes from his bag of tricks. “Vanilla-infused simple syrup,” he says to Emilio, looking sternly at what will soon be the Adulto Batido. Donny slaps his knee, “He’s like a surgeon! ‘Scalpel!’” The night concludes in a chorus of high praise from the execs, who teeter tipsily off to work.

Sadly, in the end it all comes down to numbers, and while the Poolside Bouquet only costs 49 cents to make, it costs a lot more to liberate the recipe from Progressive Bar’s hands, money Station Casinos has no intention of spending, despite talk of renovating The Whiskey at Green Valley Ranch and rumors of big DJs like Tiesto being wrangled into playing poolside. With the United States Bartenders Guild and Southern Wine & Spirits located right here in town, and able to offer connections and discounts on product, well, it’s just a tough time to be a boutique consulting firm, even tougher to be just now emerging in the market.

“We could not fathom [paying for Progressive Bar’s recipes] in this economic climate,” Donny says two weeks after the presentation. “But it’s not over and done with. I would still like to pursue this in another venue or another arena.” And that’s music to Progressive Bar’s collective ears.


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