Spirits Confidential with Max Solano
As we continue where we left off from last month’s Part 1 of our whirlwind three-day London cocktail experience, I discussed some of the key takeaways and differences between what potentially gives London bars the edge, let’s say, over bars here in the US. I also expressed my desire of transparency to anyone who typically puts out articles or lists that are “Best of..” because a) these lists are always subjective and b) it is almost never made clear what the judging criteria is. Rest assured, that’s not the case here.
Just before we begin our countdown, I want to highly emphasize that even if you took our five lowest ranking bars on our list, they would arguably still be Las Vegas’ top cocktail destinations. The scoring system we devised had to be unbiased across the board as categories such as ambience, location, food quality and offerings, music selection, décor, etc. could very easily sway the overall experience and were not taken into consideration. For example, a high-volume dive bar may not be scored in the same manner as perhaps a five-star hotel with an elegant lobby bar.
Our intent and focus were solely on the cocktail menus and cocktail offerings so specific categories we scored each venue on were: depth of the cocktail menu’s unique offerings, cocktail menu design and creativity, overall cocktail menu depth, cocktail presentation, cocktail translation (description ties to cocktail flavors and theme), cocktail balance & quality, cocktail value & lastly, level of difficulty & time of execution. Each of these categories had a specific scoring range attached to it and the three of us on our own time carefully evaluated and scored each venue. Once done, we got together, tallied our scores and discussed the results! So, without further ado, let the countdown commence.
15. Black Rock - Highly recommended to us by several local bartenders, this is an exceptional treat, especially if one is a whisky aficionado.
Highs: Boasting over 400 whiskies, three large curio cabinets display these fine and diverse whiskies with specific flavor descriptors for each cabinet in this cellar bar. Cocktails and most drams were priced exceptionally well. And, the coolest part… Each table had its own water tap!
Lows: Very basic cocktail menu with a just a handful of signature selections and highballs. Although the cocktails were well executed and priced well, they were very pedestrian, as was the one-page menu.
14. Lyaness - Formerly known as Dandelyan, which was named World’s Best Cocktail Bar in 2017 at Tales of the Cocktail, as well as a slew of other accolades in 2018 before closing and reforming its newest identity.
Highs: Deep List of unique cocktail offerings and intrinsic ingredients.
Lows: Very underwhelming cocktails on several levels including balance, complexity and overall delivery. They are attempting to be far too avant-garde by listing ingredients such as “King Monkey nut” and not having any relevance or translation in the cocktails. From a cocktail perspective, it was disappointing.
13. Duke’s Martini Bar - If you’re a fan of a classic martini or contemporary riffs, this spot is not to be missed!
Highs: Impressive tableside service with a beautifully loaded martini cart that is used to create every featured libation on the menu. Also, value is very good!
Lows: Of course, all of the featured tipples are spirits-forward and obviously do not offer many lower ABV options.
12. Elementary - Very recently opened in 2019 by friends Alex Kratena and Monica Berg, Elementary is one of the two bars that comprise Tayer & Elementary.
Highs: Basic, done very well! Delicious seasonal cocktails and frozen options on tap.
Lows: Perhaps a little too basic. And, the offerings are fairly limited just to distinguish itself from their second, more intricate bar, Tayer.
11. Callooh Callay - Dive bar meets speakeasy! This trendy venue boasts a main bar and another bar tucked away in a more quiet lounge setting along with a hefty cocktail menu (more, like catalog)! Since 2008, Callooh Callay has gobbled up some great accolades including World’s Best Cocktail menu in 2012, World’s Best International High-Volume Bar by Tales of the Cocktail, as well as several times named in Drink’s International World’s 50 Best Bars.
Highs: This abundant cocktail list has offerings for everyone and very well priced! The menu is a vast compilation of cocktail inspirations since 2008, which explains why such depth!
Lows: Beware, there are a lot of options and may take some time to navigate through the entire list, and I believe some of the cocktails even rotate out. Cocktails are very solid, but based on their volume, do not expect anything over the top.
That’s it, for now, ladies and gentlemen! Next month, the countdown carries on as we get closer to number one with numbers 10-6. Stay tuned … Til then, chaps!