Bad case of wanderlust? The liquid cures at these Vegas bars and restaurants spotlight spirits and liqueurs from faraway places and centuries past.
The Weapon of Choice cocktail at Hakkasan draws its unique flavor from baijiu, the national drink of China.
Italian Style: Downtown Cocktail Room—This fall the seasonal menu at Downtown Cocktail Room (702-880-3696) focuses on Italy. The B-Movie Detective cocktail puts a Mediterranean spin on the traditional Bloody Mary, mixing marinara and mozzarella (yes, you read that correctly) with grappa. Italian herbal liqueurs, meanwhile, show up in drinks like the What’s a Matta You?, a no-holds-barred blend of vermouth, beer, and the bitter, artichoke-based Cynar.
French Imports: Bardot Brasserie—The trove of unusual European spirits at Aria’s Bardot Brasserie (702-590-8638) includes Holland’s malty take on gin, Bols Genever, which reentered the US market in 2008 after a half-century absence. Likewise, Bardot’s signature drink, And God Created Woman, reintroduces a French aperitif that disappeared during Prohibition: Byrrh. “Byrrh is similar to vermouth, but the primary bittering agent is cinchona bark instead of wormwood,” says Craig Schoettler, Aria’s property mixologist. “The herbaceousness of the drink’s gin is softened by Byrrh’s rich red fruits, cocoa, and oxidative qualities.”
Tropical Kick: Rose. Rabbit. Lie.—Not known for playing by the rules, the mixologists at Rose. Rabbit. Lie. (877-667-0585) wield heavy-duty ingredients like absinthe, pecan-favored Chartreuse, and Velvet Falernum from Barbados. The tropical liqueur is a primary component of the bar’s Scorpion Daisy, a heady marriage of Karma tequila reposado and mezcal. “Falernum lends spice and nuttiness to cocktails and also provides a great weight,” says lead mixologist Rustyn Vaughn Lee.
Caribbean Breeze: The Golden Tiki—Velvet Falernum also plays a starring role in several drinks at The Golden Tiki (702-222-3196), Chinatown’s new ode to mid- century tiki culture. The Three Dots and a Dash cocktail couples the liqueur with rhum agricole, a type of rum made in the French Caribbean using fresh-squeezed sugar cane juice rather than molasses. Also on the menu are tantalizing blends of Panamanian Cana Brava rum and apricot liqueur (the Hotel Nacional) and Cuban and Jamaican rums, Spanish sherry, and the sweet Italian liqueur Galliano (the Polynesian Haze).
Asian Sensation: Hakkasan—Baijiu, the world’s most-consumed spirit, is virtually unknown in the United States, but that’s changing as cutting-edge cocktail programs such as the one at MGM’s Hakkasan (702-891-3838) embrace the grain-based liquor’s intense, deeply earthy favor. Hakkasan’s Weapon of Choice uses baijiu from the 600-year-old distillery Shui Jing Fang, balancing its savory qualities — born of sorghum and a fermenting base called qu—with No. 209 gin, Death’s Door Wondermint liqueur (artisanal schnapps made with peppermint extract, bitter almond, rosewater, and absinthe), and Hum liqueur (with hibiscus, ginger, cardamom, and kaffr lime). Or opt for a straight (tiny) shot—as it’s traditionally consumed in the spirit’s home country of China—for an unforgettable taste adventure.
Alpine Run: Yardbird Southern Table & Bar—The essence of Central Europe comes alive in an unexpected setting: Yardbird Southern Table & Bar (702-297-6541), where a drink called the Rumble and Sway combines two rums (smoky Bacardi 8 and smooth Atlantico reserva) and cherry liqueur with Nux Alpina, an Austrian liqueur made by steeping green walnuts in grape brandy. “Some people compare this cocktail to a Manhattan,” says Greg Waters, the restaurant’s operations manager and the creator of the drink, which is topped with a bourbon-soaked black cherry, “but it’s in a class all by itself."