The heat is on at these six Vegas bars, where crafty mixologists are making magic with smoke, barrel again, and earthy, aromatic spirits like whiskey and mezcal.
The Smoke Missing Mirrors cocktail from Sage at Aria.
Cherries on Top: Lago
The word has spread about Lago (866-259-7111), Julian Serrano’s new outpost overlooking Bellagio’s fountains, but what you may not know is that the Italian restaurant has assembled a one-of-a-kind cocktail program, whose every drink is paired with its own complex garnish. The Rose and Rye’s pièce de résistance is a sprinkling of maraschino cherries that have been hand-smoked to complement the rich flavors of Bulleit rye whiskey, Carpano Antica sweet vermouth, and bittersweet Aperol. Fresh-squeezed lemon juice and a dash of rose petal syrup, meanwhile, give the drink a welcome hint of sweetness.
Sugar and Spice: Jaleo
At Cosmopolitan, the menu at Jose Andrés’s Jaleo (702-698-7950) features a kicked-up take on the traditional Blood and Sand called the Sangre y Fuego. The beverage’s base of mezcal (instead of Scotch), Cherry Heering, and Spanish vermouth is aged in five-gallon bourbon barrels. “This creates harmony between the three spirits, and the wood softens the edges,” says David Oseas, Jaleo’s general manager. In place of orange juice, bartenders add the restaurant’s sweet, house-made sangrita to the aged mixture for a fresh, slightly spicy overall taste. “There’s never a bad time for this drink,” Oseas adds, “but it matches best with our grilled dishes.”
Smooth Operator: Rx Boiler Room
As anyone who’s ever ordered a traditional whiskey and Coke knows, the soda’s syrupy sweetness can overpower even the strongest of spirits. Rick Moonen’s steam-punk-inspired hangout inside Mandalay Bay, Rx Boiler Room (702-632-9900), offers an antidote in the form of its Smoked Whiskey and Cola, which marries the bar’s house-made cola syrup—a feather-light blend of citrus zest, lavender, ginger, vanilla bean, cinnamon, nutmeg, and sugar—and Fever-Tree soda water with George Dickel whiskey that’s smoked on-site using cherrywood chips. The concoction arrives in a glass skull filled with plumes of smoke and garnished with two brandy-saturated cherries.
Heat Wave: Double Helix Wine & Whiskey Lounge
Even though Double Helix Wine & Whiskey Lounge (702-473-5415) specializes in drinks made with the famous brown liquor, this under-the-radar watering hole in Town Square has debuted a drink so fiery it requires a disclaimer. Enter the Burning Man, a combination of deceptively refreshing cucumber and basil juices that gets its heat from sliced jalapeño and Mestizo mezcal from Oaxaca, Mexico. The finished product carries enough of a bite that the bartender will alert you to its power before mixing it—a warning that’s sure to excite rather than deter the most ambitious of drinkers.
Smoke Screen: Sage
With the masterful Craig Schoettler at its helm as property mixologist, Aria has reached new heights of cocktail creativity in its on-site restaurants, and Sage (877-230-2742) is no exception. For the cognac-based Smoke Missing Mirrors cocktail, Schoettler’s team employed everything from PolyScience’s hand-held smoking gun to wood chips in the quest to reach the desired level of smokiness, eventually deciding to torch a bourbon barrel stave, then “rinse” the inside of the glass with the smoke that rises off the stave. “The aroma is like nothing we’ve been able to replicate other than in this fashion,” says Schoettler. “Campfire, toasted marshmallow, honeyed vanilla—a very unique smoky aroma.”
Flaming Hot: Mercadito
At Red Rock’s Mercadito (702-979-3609), the restaurant’s signature Big Nose Goes to Mexico cocktail gets a full-blown torching upon being served. A blend of blanco and reposado tequilas, dark rum, almond syrup, and guava purée, the drink is something of a cross between a margarita and a mai tai, with a flaming rum float tacked on for added flair. After pouring the ingredients into a salt-rimmed Collins glass, bartenders fill half a lime with 151- proof rum and ignite the flammable booze with a long match, resulting in the kind of woodsy flavor that can only be achieved by actually setting something on fire.