The key to the success of the annual Nightclub & Bar Convention and Trade Show is understanding the business of partying and the people who make a career of it.
This year’s event, attended by nearly 40,000 people and held last week at the Las Vegas Convention Center, did not disappoint.
“I’ve been coming since the ‘80s, when it was in one little ballroom at Bally’s,” says world-renowned mixologist and partner in Mandalay Bay’s Libertine Social Tony Abou-Ganim.
“This was the place where you came to see what was new — what the new products were, what the new trends were. And it’s an opportunity for like-minded individuals to come from all over the country and meet for three days in Las Vegas and share ideas.”
‘Best In The Industry’
With five official parties, several club tours and various off-premises tasting sessions, guests probably could have shunned the Convention Center altogether, while still closing deals and gaining insights into their field. But that would have been a mistake.
“The seminars are key,” Abou-Ganim insists. “We have some of the best in the industry speaking and presenting seminars.”
Topics ranged from basics such as security, marketing and lighting to coming attractions such as the future of tipping, relationships between millennials and spirits, navigating Yelp and even monetizing cannabis. And keynote addresses by industry leaders including RumChata’s Tom Mass and Hakkasan Group CEO Neil Moffitt allowed them to share their personal success stories.
The convention floor was a cacophonous convergence of all things remotely related to bars and nightclubs. Like the organized chaos of any good trade show, it was the place to be.
Mixology competitions, award ceremonies, a server fashion show and cooking demonstrations occupied its own end of the room. The rest of the massive space was a maze of exhibition booths, where hundreds of businesses hawked their wares.
Near the front, a rotating light machine shined colored beams, periodically pausing to belch out extended puffs of smoke, just a few feet from a garden of artificial trees illuminated in autumnal colors. As fans stopped to enjoy the scene, out of the corner of their eyes they could catch a glimpse of sparks flying.
Streams of confetti rained and air guns sounded. Gamers in the crowd engaged in shuffleboard and foosball, giant Jenga towers and slot machines being pitched for states where gambling in bars is legal.
Of course, with alcohol as the cornerstone of the industry, countless ways to make it, serve it and display it were the center of the action.
■ A monstrous chrome skull noisily chilled glasses.
■ A robotic arm deposited fruit into a segmenting machine.
■ Plastic and glass stemware collections battled for consumer dollars, while another company pitched two dozen different colored sugars with which to adorn their rims.
■ Fruit purees bubbled to the fore as this year’s rage mixer.
Yet while various technological advances showed bar owners how they could prevent employees from giving away even a few drops of extra alcohol to friends and big tippers, the booze was flowing freely for potential purchasers.
Wherever one looked, deals were being discussed, and sometimes closed on the spot.
Victor Wong was one of the stars of the show, displaying his company’s Vapshot system for vaporizing minuscule amounts of alcohol and serving it in inflated balloons. “That machine that we’re using (for demos) has been sold already,” he reported on Tuesday afternoon, adding that he was in discussions to sell a larger demo machine.
Brian Schultz of Strahl Beverageware agreed the show was a success. “It’s the busiest show I’ve ever worked,” he said of the turnout. “And we do some busy trade shows over the year.”
BARTENDER OR MIXOLOGIST?
It’s a minor, yet nagging dilemma: What exactly should you call the person mixing your drink? You don’t want to be disrespectful, but sometimes the term mixologist seems a little pretentious. We asked Tony Abou-Ganim, renowned barman, creator of the cable car cocktail and partner in Mandalay Bay’s Libertine Social, when, if ever, the term is appropriate. Here’s what had to say:
“There’s a great old definition of mixologist that dates back to 1856. It says when a bartender has unusual interest or expertise in mixing drinks, they become a mixologist. And I love that definition. At the heart of it, I’m a bartender. We’re all bartenders first. But once you have that unusual interest and expertise, I think the title of mixologist really fits that.”