A casino is the perfect place for a bar crawl. You park your car, put on your drinking shoes and bounce from bar to bar, sobering up just enough between stops to prepare for the next round. At Wynn and Encore, new property mixologist Chris Hopkins has been cooking up fresh cocktails for venues all over the casinos. We snagged the man behind the menus and set off for a taste of his work.
Botero, Star of the Show, $12
Behind the bar in a crisp gray suit, Hopkins is making introductions. First himself—37 years old, an Aussie from Perth whose accent’s been diluted by 15 years away from his homeland, slinging drinks from London to San Francisco. Next, Grey Goose Le Melon, a bright new flavor from the premium vodka giant that’s the centerpiece of our first cocktail.
“The mojito is the king of Las Vegas during the summer,” Hopkins says. For Botero’s weekend patio lunch he’s created the Star of the Show, a vodka variation that blends Le Melon’s mild fruit with St-Germain, homemade spiced syrup, big mint leaves and a blast of bubbles. Instead of muddling the mint he gives the whole thing a quick shake, “just to release the oils.” The result is sweet, spicy and deliciously herbaceous—a tasty start to an afternoon of conversation and intoxication.
Wynn Pool, Water of Life, $16
And the conversation takes plenty of hard right turns. One minute we’re getting a history lesson on gin (the first flavored vodka), the next we’re discussing Australian hospitality customs, his track-star past and U.S. road trips.
When Hopkins was ready to ditch San Francisco, he drove his Jeep 7,000 miles across the U.S. to choose his next destination. Vegas won out, and today it’s easy to see why he stayed. The scene at Wynn’s pool is idyllic, warm but not sweltering, with water jugs placed at intervals to keep guests hydrated. But Hopkins smiles; there’s a cocktail for that.
He calls it the Water of Life, a “detox/retox” piña colada without the sugar and cream. “We all have our guilty pleasures in life, and I love a piña colada,” he says.
This one’s blended with Skyy Infusions Pineapple, Cruzan Coconut Rum, pineapple juice, coconut water and fresh pineapple, and it’s drier than expected, the kind of cocktail you don’t need to chase with water.
Andrea’s, V.A.M.P., $16
On the way to Andrea Wynn’s namesake restaurant, we talk “bartenders’ handshakes,” orders and habits that separate industry insiders from average schmos working the stick: the DTO (or Daiquiri Time Out), bone luges (in which you eat bone marrow, then take a shot off the empty bone) and Miller High Life (best ordered with a shot of Fernet).
These days, Hopkins is the guy in the suit, but he says he still likes popping behind the bar, mixing a drink and chatting up the guests. He gives a shaker of Double Cross Slovakian vodka, Belle Paire liqueur, ginger syrup and mint a toss before topping the whole thing off with Martinelli’s Sparkling Cider and sending the V.A.M.P. across the bar.
Hopkins launches into the wonders of cardamom, but I’m lost in the ticklingly sweet tincture that’s going down just a little too quickly.
Lakeside, Weather the Storm, $17
Our last stop is home to Hopkins’ proudest drink of the day, a Tiki-styled beverage based on the New Orleans Hurricane. Built with Haitian Barbancourt rum, strawberry liqueur, dry curaçao and passion fruit purée, the Weather the Storm is “cocktail history, my way,” Hopkins says—a riff on a classic, an homage to a city and a complement to Lakeside’s new dayboat-caught Hawaiian seafood program.
Even if you forget all of that, it’s delicious, because being Chris Hopkins means finding the balance between geeking out and pleasing the people. And he makes it look easy.