Five contemporary throwback drinks to enjoy right now in Las Vegas.
By Xania V. Woodman
Attracting imbibers from all over the world, Las Vegas’ bartenders adore modern classics—and like playing with them even more. Bar owners Giuseppe Gonzales of New York City, Tony Abou-Ganim of Las Vegas and Sam Ross—who has a foot in both camps—know what it takes to create a cocktail that will stand the tests of time, place and taste.
They all agree that “modern” begins in the 1980s, with the Cosmopolitan and the Vodka Espresso. And all three are of a mind that to become a modern classic, the drink must be easy to remember, replicate and riff with. Take, for example, the Gin Gin Mule, created in 2000 by Pegu Club proprietor Audrey Saunders at Manhattan’s Beacon Restaurant. “Essentially a Mojito crossed with a Moscow Mule, but made with gin and homemade ginger beer of sorts—a rarity at the time,” author Robert Simonson writes in his handy, searchable new app, Modern Classics of the Cocktail Renaissance. Time took care of the ginger beer issue. And there is now no shortage of tasty riffs, such as the Gen Gin Mule ($12) made with genever at Downtown Las Vegas’ Oak & Ivy. (Saunders’ Old Cuban, created in 2001, $12, is faithfully re-created there, as well.) Here are five more modern classics to sip on your next visit.
Created by Tony Abou-Ganim in 1996 at Harry Denton’s Starlight Room in San Francisco
Founder and author of The Modern Mixologist, world-renowned mixologist Abou-Ganim made his most famous contribution thus far to the cocktail canon, just eight years after the introduction of the Cosmopolitan. The Cable Car was so named for the Nob Hill cable car tracks running beside the Sir Francis Drake Hotel, atop which Harry Denton’s Starlight Room sat like a crown. Two years later—at a time when Rose’s lime cordial was still as close to the fruit as you were going to find behind most bars—Abou-Ganim was spreading the gospel of fresh ingredients, and introducing the opening bar staff of the Bellagio to the citrus press.
It was at Bellagio that the Cable Car was presented to the world, and it has since traveled around it many times. While the drink was originally created with Captain Morgan spiced rum, ounce orange curacao, 1 ounces fresh lemon sour and served up in a cinnamon-sugar-rimmed glass, Abou-Ganim admits he’s a big fan of another spiced rum these days. “Sailor Jerry’s bottled at a little higher proof supports the flavors really nicely, and—who knows?–if some of these [new spiced rums] were available prior, they might have ended up being in the drink.” Abou-Ganim added egg white to the recipe when he brought it from California to Nevada. Well, not real egg white, not just yet. “Because the world—at least the world at a major casino in Las Vegas—wasn’t quite ready for egg white,” he says. At his bar, Libertine Social in Mandalay Bay, the drink is made with egg white ($16).
The Cable Car is also still served at Petrossian Bar and all casino bars in Bellagio ($16). At Fusion Mixology Bar in The Palazzo, you can also find a Caribbean Cable Car ($17), made with Sailor Jerry spiced rum that has been infused with pineapple, mango, orange and vanilla beans.
Created by Sam Ross in 2005 at Milk & Honey in Manhattan
Co-owner and operator of Manhattan’s Attaboy and Brooklyn’s Diamond Reef, Ross was subbing 2 ounces of Compass Box’s Asyla blended Scotch into the typically bourbon-based Gold Rush (itself a modern classic and also a product of Milk & Honey circa 2001), along with ounce each honey-ginger syrup and lemon juice, when he topped his creation with ounce smoky Peat Monster Islay Scotch, and…a legend was born.
“I look at it as that gateway whiskey drink: It’s complex enough for the hardened whiskey drinker, but also gentle enough for someone who’s not a huge whiskey drinker to begin with.” So ubiquitous is the sweet and spicy Scotch-on-Scotch drink, in fact, that you should be able to order it anywhere you would also feel comfortable ordering a Manhattan or Old Fashioned. You might also see it made with, say, a tequila base and topped with a smoky mezcal. “Another things that makes me feel real warm and fuzzy,” he adds. Just in time for summer, Ross riffs on his own drink at Diamond Reef with the cheeky, frozen slushy Penichillin.
In Vegas, you’ll find it on the menu at The Dorsey in The Venetian ($18), where Ross created the opening menu; all over the Cosmopolitan, at Momofuku ($18), Vesper and Zuma (where it’s made with Suntory Toki Japanese whiskey and smoked with stave-wood, $16); and at industry hangout The Sand Dollar Lounge ($16), where the Ardbeg Scotch is atomized over the top.
Created by Sam Ross in 2007 for The Violet Hour in Chicago
Just when you thought all the equal-parts drinks had to have been created already, here comes one of the simplest and most delicious of them all. When he conceived the drink for the opening summer menu at Chicago’s The Violet Hour, Ross says it briefly accidentally ran as the “Paper Airplane,” made with Campari, but the official Sam Ross recipe is an ounce each of bourbon (43 percent ABV or higher, please), Amaro Nonino, Aperol and fresh lemon juice. The bourbon was the final cast member added to the ensemble, and is, along with the other ingredients, a source of great interpretation.
“Ideal as a nightcap, this has become a popular drink for bartenders to tweak, component by component (spirit, liqueur, amaro, citrus), often ending up with a very different final cocktail,” author Kara Newman writes in her 2016 book entirely dedicated to equal-part drinks, Shake. Stir. Sip. “It’s one of my favorite drinks,” she adds. “I order it in cocktail bars all the time, and every time the bartender visibly perks up and says, ‘That’s one of my favorites!’”
In Las Vegas, you’ll find variations at Other Mama (Sadako, $12), where it is made with Japanese whiskey and Jelinik Fernet; at The Golden Tiki (Paper Plank, $12), with aged rum and a Pernod rinse; and at Vanguard (Irish Air Force, $10), with Jameson Black Barrel and Bruto Americano.
Created by Giuseppe González in 2009 at Clover Club in Brooklyn
Labeled “odd,” “frightening” and “weird” by authors and critics, the opaque, crimson Trinidad Sour stars an off-putting 1 ounces of Angostura Aromatic Bitters as its base—a decadent dose at the height of the Great Angostura Shortage of 2009. From there, it’s 1 ounce orgeat, ounce fresh lemon juice and ounce rye whiskey (100-proof preferred). Creator González lost the competition for which he created the drink, not to mention drained three cases of bitters in a week while the owner was away. (“One day, I’m gonna write a book called The Nine Times Julie Reiner Should Have Fired Me!” González says, laughing.)
Despite losing his first competition and causing a three-week dearth of Ango at Clover Club, González, a third-generation barman, ultimately walks away a winner, as the drink is now standard around the world as well as at his own bar, Manhattan’s Suffolk Arms. The release of Amaro di Angostura (a sweeter, lower-proof bitter liqueur) has taken some of the pressure off bars; recipes using that, notes González, should probably up the rye and lower the orgeat.
The Trinidad Sour graces the menu at Vesper in The Cosmopolitan in both its original form ($16), as well as a riff, the Paradigm Shift ($16), with a split base of Amaro Meletti and Cardamaro, aged cachaça, yellow Chartreuse, citrus and pistachio orgeat, served with a “choose-your-own-adventure” pipette of bitters. >