Photo Credit: Erik Kluever

The myriad of personalities that our Las Vegas service industry collects never ceases to amaze. Just when you think that you can put your finger on the pulse of it, you will meet someone new that challenges your preconceived notions. What is the typical Las Vegas bartender? We can only hope that it is Erik Kluever. He’s a man that moved through several career paths before settling on hospitality and if you ask him how, you can say that the whiskey made him do it!

Tell us about your professional journey. How did you land on the hospitality industry?

My foray into this industry began five years ago, vacillating between career paths and upholding family expectations. Whiskey did it! It sounds absurd maybe, but whiskey moves me—how various grains, production methods, traditions, climate and wooden barrels create a beverage exhibiting such depth of flavor and complexity. This fixation, this enthusiasm, pushed me towards hospitality, where I could impart my wonder and passion to guests while staying abreast of the latest trends and innovations. At some point, despite my love for bartending, I aspire to transition into whiskey representation and ownership of a liquor store. Okay, fine, maybe a bar too. 

We have all lived through a traumatic year and an economic shutdown. What did you do to stay sane?

Amidst the pandemonium, uncertainty and dread that settled over Las Vegas during the shutdown, I took refuge within my books. The shutdown afforded me extended time for reading on various subjects by many authors, from the literature of Hemingway and Goethe to whiskey encyclopedias by Dave Broom and Michael Jackson. And when I wearied of my studies, my neighbor and friend, Amy, who I regard as my “sister,” would accompany me on walks outside with her dogs, Molly and Amelia. 

Tell us about Oak & Ivy and your role there.

Oak & Ivy is an American whiskey and craft cocktail den, nestled cozily within two repurposed shipping containers and equipped with a dizzying array of booze—by no means limited to only whiskey. My role, as a Creative Lead, entails a visible component, behind the stick, interacting with guests and crafting cocktails, and a behind-the-scenes component, where I help conduct managerial aspects of business. 

The Bartenders Guild has been a guiding force for many in our industry. How long have you been a member and what is your take on the USBG?

I’ve been a USBG member since 2016. My love for the USBG proceeds from its commitment to mentor, educate and develop members into bar professionals who will elevate the drinking and dining experience for our guests. 

Its esteem, for me, grew twofold during the shutdown. Recognizing the peril many of its members faced without employment or government assistance, our local chapter partnered with liquor brands to provide groceries and warm meals every week. Those groceries and warm meals helped satiate our hunger and alleviate our stress while everything around us appeared so bleak. It reminded us of community. It reminded us of the good, even during this unprecedented pandemic. 

What inspires you outside of bartending?

Well, if people felt reluctant to label me “odd” before, this answer will remove any doubt. The ancient philosopher Plato’s work, The Apology of Socrates, inspires every facet of my life. Socrates delivers a powerful line towards its conclusion: “the unexamined life is not worth living.” This line inspires me to embrace adventure, travel wide, question authority, acquire knowledge, pursue truth, discover meaning and live a full life ultimately. 

What do you love about our bars, bartending and bar culture? 

Oddly enough, much that I love about our industry mirrors that which I love about literature. I love stories and meeting new people. Bartending exposes me to a sea of diverse people daily with whom I exchange ideas and experiences. Just like reading books, by conversing with guests, I’m transported to distant places and informed of matters unknown before. 

Bars promote community, celebration, safety and escape. Sometimes all a person needs is a clean, well-lighted place to exist, like a bar, and I feel privileged to contribute to such a place. 

It excites me to introduce guests to new flavors and sensations that transform their conception of cocktails and drinking generally. No shortage of guests have little regard for cocktails, figuring alcohol, no matter what, tastes the same—mostly unpleasant—and is desirable solely for its effect. I derive great satisfaction dispelling this misconception by tailoring cocktails to fit the flavor preferences guests relate while exercising my creativity. Drinking should be fun, tasty and satisfying.