Last week, we celebrated a birthday with a trip to Las Vegas. It was our first visit to Sin City since we started this blog, and of course we had to check out the cocktail offerings. Our guide was a Thrillist article on the city’s 15 best cocktail bars.
The photo above shows our first stop: the classy Mandarin Bar, which overlooks the Strip from the 23rd floor of the Mandarin Oriental hotel. The city lights view reminded us of our visit to the Mandarin Oriental in Tokyo. The birthday boy got a complimentary seasonal cocktail called the Robin Hood, a Vieux Carré variant with apricot-infused Scotch in place of the usual rye. Our other selection was Mr. Wonka’s Gift, a rum drink made with crème de banana, Montenegro amaro, and chocolate bitters and served with a banana chip. We weren’t surprised that the drink named for Willy Wonka was on the sweet side, but the Robin Hood was a little sweet for our tastes as well. Still, the atmosphere was hard to beat. (Note: the Mandarin Oriental was changed to a Waldorf Astoria in 2018, with an equally nice bar.)
Our next stop was the Cosmopolitan, which has three entries on the Thrillist top-15 list. On a previous trip, we enjoyed creative cocktails inside their multi-story crystal chandelier (drinks vary by which level you’re on, we recommend the 1.5th floor). This time we tried Clique, a bar on the casino floor that was just opening when we got there at 4 pm. We were intrigued by their “tableside mixology” menu, but it turned out they didn’t start serving that until 6. We ended up getting two drinks with tea-related ingredients: the Liquid Sword, made with cognac and a rooibos-orange cordial, and the champagne-based Bergamot Spritz, made with bergamot vodka and passion fruit juice. The Liquid Sword was too sweet (and we couldn’t taste the red tea), but we liked the spritz a lot — the passion fruit gave it a nice tartness.
We had the best of our on-Strip drinks at Bound, inside the Cromwell hotel. In keeping with the name, the menu was presented as a leather-bound book (the bill was too). The barrel-aged Blood and Sand — made with Scotch, sweet vermouth, and Cherry Heering — came out well balanced. We also had the smoky and refreshing Humadorita, which was like a margarita, but the tequila was infused with tamarind and the glass was prepped with applewood smoke.
On our last day in Vegas we left the Strip and headed downtown, where we found that the cocktails were two-thirds the price and we liked them better. We had afternoon drinks at Oak & Ivy in Container Park, a small boutique-filled shopping center built partly from shipping containers. One of us had the Senator, a spicy rye drink with ruby port and ginger liqueur. The other had a custom Manhattan-style cocktail with rye, amaro, and tiki bitters. This creation was served with a burnt cinnamon stick that gave it a delicious aroma — we’ll need to try that ourselves. Between the unusually rainy weather and the carefully assembled cocktails, we felt like we were visiting Portland again.
Our last stop was our favorite: the Velveteen Rabbit. It’s a cozy hideaway decorated with vintage furniture and projected video art, well worth the short Uber ride from either Downtown or the Strip. We had two very different cocktails there, shown in the photo below. The lighter one is the Nevadan, made with rye, yellow Chartreuse, and orange bitters. It was dry and refreshing, especially with the lemon peel garnish. The darker drink is the Velvet Waltz, a concoction of chai-infused dark rum, sherry, Averna amaro, vanilla, and Tippleman’s burnt sugar syrup. It tasted like a warmly spiced dessert. We’ll want to come back here on our next Vegas trip — and we’re sure we’ll make more happy discoveries as well.