When it comes to drinks in Las Vegas, Mariena Mercer knows it all. The Las Vegas native, now overseeing the drink programs at some of Sin City's hottest spots, is blazing a trail in the world of spirits. So who better to ask about the city's trendiest sips than its own cocktail queen?
You oversee the mixology programs of several spots at The Cosmopolitan, so how do you distinguish the cocktails for each? MARIENA MERCER: While creating cocktails for the 21 different menus I oversee, I try and be attuned to the personality and inspiration of the venue. At the risk of sounding overly romantic, each menu really is a love affair with the space. While creating the Opium menu, I immersed myself in all things outer space, resulting in the Spock-tails being served in anti-gravity bags, robots & space helmets. For the menus at Red Plate and Scarpetta, I became fascinated with the music, arts, culture, and philosophies of China and Italy. Each cocktail drinks like a love letter to its respective country.
What would you say are the restaurant's signature drinks? MM: I’d say The Verbena cocktail served at the Chandelier is definitely the legacy Cosmopolitan cocktail program. It’s not on any menu (all word of mouth), only served at The Chandelier bar, and the most popular cocktail on property. It’s such an experience, people are always excited to share it with their friends, which is a beautiful thing. Drinks should connect people, and this one certainly does. It is an exotic margarita of blanco tequila, yuzu, ginger and a Sichuan flower (also known as a Buzz Button.) When you eat the Sichuan Flower, your mouth starts to tingle, awakening your salivary glands and allowing you to taste different nuances and flavors.
Is there a drinks trend in Vegas you're already starting to see? MM: Using fresh ingredients and high-quality spirits, with an attention to craftsmanship. Bars in Las Vegas have certainly embraced the movement of high-quality cocktail programs and execute them in incredible volume. It’s inspiring to see bars like Herbs & Rye being celebrated on a global level for their efforts.
What's one ingredient you wish mixologists would stop using? MM: Group thought. I’m an advocate of individualism governing creative pursuits and taking chances. I find it refreshing when a bar has a unique creative vision, as opposed to doing a play on the same tired drink that everyone else is “ironically” remaking.
What's one ingredient you wish mixologists would use more? MM: Eye contact. I like to nerd out more than most bartenders about esoteric ingredients (see grasshopper below!), but the reason I go to a bar is the warm hug of connecting with another human over a cocktail. In the digital age, it’s easy to research a recipe and make a decent drink at home. Bars are for comradery, connection, and revelry. A good bartender is a conductor of energy in the room, masterfully making everyone feel welcomed and exhilarated. Oh, and sherry. Everyone should drink more sherry. It’s delicious.
What's the best cocktail you've had in the past year? MM: The Flying Grasshopper, which is served in an ornate vessel with pisco, branca menta, herbal liqueurs, Tahini & Carob Wine, bedizened a dried grasshopper. It’s from my absolute favorite bar in the world, Night Jar in London. Their cocktails are all multi-sensory experiences that tip the scales when it comes to creativity and technique. I get giddy just thinking about it.
What's your go-to drink of choice? MM: I really just love a vermouth or sherry, neat. If there is something to celebrate, I love a French75 as champagne is really just happiness that’s been bottled.
What's one drink everyone should come try at The Cosmopolitan? MM: The Verbena has to be your first stop. After that, go for We’re All Mad Here—a whimsical Alice in Wonderland sipper served at Chandelier 1.5.
When not at The Cosmopolitan, where can we catch you sipping away? MM: I love Starboard Tack. It’s the quintessential Las Vegas juxtaposition of kitsch and authenticity. It’s a 1970’s celebrity hangout (Tom Jones had his own booth!) that has reopened with much of the same décor with a focus on sophisticated rum cocktails and Polynesian-inspired food. The bartenders are excellent, the crowd is uber-hip, and the music is rocking.
I also adore Velveteen Rabbit. It has such unique cocktails and the Dylag sisters are fierce vanguards in the industry.