Nectaly Mendoza celebrates classic cocktails at the award-winning Herbs and Rye

A trip to Herbs and Rye offers an escape, and an education. The bar’s menu is a gargantuan, multipage affair broken up into eras, from the “Gothic Age” — a period spanning the first 100 or so years after American independence — through the “Tiki Boom” during the second half of the 20th century and today’s “Revival.”

This year, the man behind it all is receiving recognition for the space he’s created. In March, Nightclub and Bar named owner Nectaly Mendoza Bartender of the Year, and at the end of July, Herbs and Rye won the Spirited Award at Tales of the Cocktail for Best American High-Volume Cocktail Bar. Though the award was certainly exciting for Mendoza and company, “it was huge for this city because it let people know, they’re here,” Mendoza says. “They do do cocktails, they do know what they’re doing and they do understand what the beverage world is.”

Seven years after opening the bar at 3713 W. Sahara Ave., Mendoza is jet-setting around the world for competitions, conferences and bar openings. We caught him on one of his stays in Las Vegas to talk about the recent win and Herbs and Rye’s success.

Review-Journal: There are so, so many bars in Vegas both on and off the Strip. What do you think makes Herbs and Rye succeed?

Mendoza: Hospitality. I know a lot of people say that, but it’s a different style of hospitality. When you’re in a city like Las Vegas, a lot people think hospitality is the shiniest pencil, the nicest candle and the prettiest bar spoon. And that’s all nice and dandy, it’s like, they want the fanciest plates and silverware, but that’s really not what hospitality is. Hospitality is how you serve those things. The best hospitality you get is at your grandmother’s house, at your mom’s house, at your friend’s house. It’s actually caring. It’s not polishing a glass because it’s part of your job, it’s polishing a glass because you want your guests to have the most polished glass possible. It’s respecting the handshake. Understanding who people are, what they are coming through the door and giving them what they need for that moment in time to make your experience the most memorable experience possible.

RJ: Is that something you knew when you first opened Herbs and Rye?

Mendoza: Yes and no, I mean I’ve always been a lovable dude, I don’t feed really toward the (expletive) and negativity. Like I don’t really feed much into negativity, I’d just prefer to walk away from it.

RJ: What would you say you’ve learned over the seven years you’ve been running Herbs and Rye?

Mendoza: What I have learned over the seven years is that no day is the same. Everyday, we pull back the curtain and the show starts, and we never know who’s in the crowd. And it is our duty to make sure that that crowd leaves satisfied, happy and most importantly, you never know what’s going to come through the door. … But really appreciating the value of what people are, who they are and looking out for what is the best of them and they’ll look out for the best of you. I would say, probably if I had to say, what is the biggest thing I’ve learned, it would be that.

RJ: Your menu is huge, and the cocktails on it span many, many decades. What kind of research went into developing your cocktail menu?

Mendoza: Lots and lots of books, lots and lots of books. I’ve always been a huge cocktail-head as far as classic cocktails. As surprising as this sounds, for me owning a cocktail bar, I don’t really look at a lot of modern techniques, modern cocktails. I’m a classic-head, I love classic cocktails. I do appreciate and respect the new cocktails that are being made, but I love the history of them, I love everything about them.

RJ: Do you have to adapt any of the older cocktails for today’s tastes?

Mendoza: We don’t adapt it to people’s taste. Like, if somebody wants a Hemingway, and they want sugar in it, we don’t add sugar. We want people to understand what people were drinking in those times. Just because you don’t like a cocktail, doesn’t mean it’s wrong, it means you don’t like that style of cocktail. And that happens. … Don’t tell us it’s wrong, it’s just something you don’t like. And we’ll find you something you’ll like on the menu, we have a wide variety, but we don’t adjust the recipes to modern-day tastes. The only adjustments we do are when those products are no longer available. So say the gin is no longer available, or something else is no longer available, we’ll adjust to the most accurate of what we find.

RJ: What will the next era of cocktails bring?

Mendoza: I might get shot in the foot with this one, but I really think that era of the suspender, bow tie, master mixologist, 40-ingredient cocktail (expletive) is out the window. I think the rock-star bartenders, the true bartenders and the true cocktail-heads who are out here to make real drinks with old-school ingredients is coming back. …

Cocktails are garnishes to (people’s) experiences. That’s what that is. The cocktail is not the feature. If you ever went to a restaurant and had a great dinner, you probably don’t remember what it was, because the dinner was me and you. Me and you had a great conversation. We enjoyed the moment. I don’t remember what kind of sauce came on the steak. It’s about the relationship that we built. I think that is coming back, that style of hospitality, which is the next form of what’s going to happen to cocktails. So cocktails will always be amazing. I mean, we have amazing talent throughout the world here, but I think the next big thing is, the focus is on the guest.

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