Dissed and dismissed!

Making a case for Vegas as a drinking destination to fly for

GQ/Bombay Sapphire’s Most Inspired Bartender: Christian Sanders from Miami, FL.

It’s not so much that GQ magazine snubbed Sin City in this month’s issue. It’s that ... okay, yes, it’s that they snubbed us.

There, nestled amid the ads for hair restoration, suits and deodorant and the pretty pictures of girls in men’s-shirt nighties (all right, there was also a great piece on Iran), was a special section, “The 10 Best Drinking Cities in America.” Note: My editor pointed this out to me (I don’t regularly peruse the gentlemen’s quarterlies; but admittedly, the smoldering photos of models in Burberry blazers, peering lustily from behind bee-stung lips, have their appeal).

Given the article’s title, I at first expected a more collegiate-level countdown of the 10 best places to get tanked and hopefully laid, like maybe New Orleans, Miami, Chicago, Boston … places with an affinity for tailgating, kegs, stadium blankets, show-stopping quarterbacks and the women who love them. And I could easily see Vegas getting a nod for sheer escapist value—gambling, sports books, off-duty dancers, bottomless cups and no one looking.


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An open(ly snarky) letter to GQ (8/26/09)

But no, this is not a missive from the man cave, it’s a thinking man’s drink piece (or maybe a drinking man’s think piece?), “a way to experience a city’s history through its taverns and dive bars,” a new way to look at travel and “America’s greatest pastime.” In no particular order, we learn of the undeniable cocktail culture and accompanying pub grub of San Francisco, Chicago, New Orleans, Nashville—an eye-opener—and of course New York City.

Portland gets a hearty nod for craft-beer culture, and I’ll be the first in line at Henry’s 12th Street Tavern and New Old Lompoc when I visit that beer town this fall. That leaves four “best drinking city” slots, by my count. But instead of topping off the list with, say, Las Vegas, San Diego, St. Louis and a wildcard like Toronto with an obvious wink to its being Canadian, GQ drops the ball, rounding out the list with four microscopic asides: three more beer towns (Austin; Denver; Portland, Maine) and one possible future beer town, Salt Lake City, Utah.

I’d have given them Park City, Utah, the denizens of which prefer to call it Park City, Colorado, so far do they fall from the Utah teetotaler stereotype. At least they have the state’s only distillery, but Salt Lake?!

Granted, it was a writer embedded in each of the first six cities who reported back on their town’s mixological virtues, but did Vegas even get an invite to the party?

Vegas didn’t make the top 10 of Bombay Sapphire/GQ’s Most Inspired Bartender competition this past Monday either, despite Noir Bar’s Andrew Pollard’s Sapphire Flyer being one of the most balanced cocktails I’ve ever encountered. Stranger still that Bacardi USA VP of marketing Giles Woodyer had no trouble extolling the virtues of Vegas’ cocktail culture and could name names. The competition’s winner, ironically, was from Miami, a city also snubbed. Take that, “Top 10 Drinking Cities in America.”

The tricks of his trade.

And so, GQ, I think what you meant to say was …

Maybe it’s not your first thought for cocktail culture, coming from points elsewhere as you likely are. And maybe it’s not even your seventh or 10th, but if drinking is on your agenda—and I mean drinking here, people, not tipping back tall-boys at the Rhino—then Vegas should be on your itinerary.

Strange and wonderful things are going on literally at the crossroads of old and new Vegas, where Las Vegas Boulevard meets Fremont Street, the original Strip. There you will find the divey Beauty Bar (for when only Dixie’s finest plastic cups and PBR will do), the fire-lit hipster cave of The Griffin, the vintage throwback chicness of Don’t Tell Mama piano bar and not far away, Sidebar, Dive Bar and Firefly Downtown.

But the granddaddy of them all is Michael Cornthwaite’s Downtown Cocktail Room, where George Austin Sproule keeps it classy with quarterly menus, classic spirits and fresh produce. If they’d let me, I’d probably pick up my mail there daily.

Mixology’s sworn gatekeepers are spread throughout the city. Find them at the Mirage’s new Rhumbar, at Bellagio’s Fontana and Petrossian Bars, at the speakeasy-esque Noir Bar, at the quirky Artisan, at Nora’s Cuisine and wherever BarMagic’s Tobin Ellis and John Hogan are stirring up trouble.

The greatest sin of Sin City would be to come just for the beer, though Vegas does have over 10 breweries, too.


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