The perfect reprise from the dry, windy chill that marks a Las Vegas winter is something that has warmed the bones of mankind for eons. A wee nip of the hard stuff can bring a little life back in your belly, and the drink-making wizards in our city are serving up festive cocktails to make your season extra bright.
Down at the cozy Frankie’s Tiki Room on West Charleston Boulevard, bartenders bring out a couple of special deep-cut cocktails from their book “Liquid Vacation,” as well as the traditional hot buttered tum. A “hot toddy” style drink originating in the 1600s, this mix of butter, aged rum and hot cider with mulling spices has been cheering people up for centuries.
Frankie’s two originals, Rum Rum Rudolph and the Santaloha, blend spiced and high-proof rum with citrus and spices. Rum Rum Rudolph is especially lovely, a Christmasy version of the classic Painkiller, adds a house-made cinnamon and vanilla syrup and fresh grated nutmeg on top.
Over at Carnevino Italian Steakhouse at the Palazzo, the bar program never fails to produce some inspired, seasonal offerings. One of its newest, the Honeymooner, combines calvados (a French apple brandy) with the sweet orange flavor of dry curaÃ§ao, fresh lemon and Benedictine. The “core” of this apple-forward drink gives some terrific harvest flavor, while letting the oft-misunderstood Benedictine spread out and show off a herbalist shop full of aromas.
Just down the hall in the same casino, the new mixologist at Delmonico Steakhouse, Juyong Kang, is using the month of December to launch festive, seasonal punch. It rotates weekly, but the first is a potent concoction of Pyrat XO rum, orange vodka, vanilla, clove, pineapple and cranberries. This bad boy is served hot or over ice, depending on how much of the warm Las Vegas sun still punches through the cold air.
At Herbs & Rye on West Sahara Avenue, a long-standing favorite among locals and tourists alike, the fabulous men and women behind the bar have a menu all in their heads and are able to whip something up at a moment’s notice. For something to complement winter, bartender Matt Graham came up with the Banana Hammock. He shakes together Avua Amburana Cachaca, yellow chartreuse, a homemade lemongrass-banana infused honey syrup and fresh lemon juice. A couple of quick shakes of this in his Boston shaker, and it’s strained onto ice in a Collins glass, then topped with a Belgian quad ale and garnished with a dried banana chip.
“Cachaca is part of the rum family,” Graham said. “Instead of cooking sugar cane and using molasses, cachaca is distilled from the juice of fresh pressed sugar cane after it is harvested. The Avua Amburana is barrel-aged and has a lot of cinnamon and baking spice.”
The piney chartreuse and sweet, malty Belgian quad build on this, making it one cozy, delightful, complex drink.
One can always be certain that the drinks at Downtown Cocktail Room are going to be truly interesting. One particularly cozy concoction is called Tea & Biscuits. It’s built in a bar mug, the kind you tend to get when ordering an Irish coffee, and is a mix of Italian herbal amaro, English breakfast tea and a wafer-thin little ginger biscuit to accompany it. It’s built over ice, with the teabag in the glass, so you can steep it too your liking.
Back on the menu is a yearly crowd favorite, named simply Pumpkin Spice. A bit more grown-up than a latte, bartenders put together bourbon with a house-made pumpkin spice syrup in a rocks glass with ice. Simple to make, but with a good bit of experimentation and work behind it. The result is an interestingly balanced and satisfying drink, one easy to consume the whole night.
The Golden Tiki, the hot new spot on Spring Mountain Road, is bringing back an old winter tiki classic, the Tom and Jerry. Originally from 1820s Britain, the famous Trader Vic’s made his own version with a jarred batter, one of his first products. It’s a dense, foamy, frothy kind of eggnog, to which Jamaican rum and hot water are added.
Adventurous drinkers may like to try it with hot tea or coffee instead, to make it into a whole new, interesting drink. It’s the kind of classic communal party cocktail that was popular around the time of Charles Dickens, a surprisingly interesting and underrated age for all manner of mixed drink.
Winter is the best time for hitting a cozy little cocktail bar — something about hiding away from the cold and enjoying a sip of something wonderful truly brings people together. It’s like a whole bunch of strangers cuddling under a big duvet cover, but in a much less creepy way.
A retreat from the winter chill speaks to a very primal, ancient part of us. It lets us relax from the inside out, truly comfortable in the dark, warm, fuzzy noise.