Las Vegas is a great place to be a bartender. Whether you work in a local gaming bar, fine-dining restaurant, or a high-volume club, there are a multitude of opportunities to live the bartending dream. For those of us that choose to, there are even opportunities to better oneself, as with the USBG. Our Las Vegas chapter of the USBG was founded in 2001 by local legends Tony Abou-Ganim, Livio Lauro and Francesco Lafranconi, among others. Along with doing philanthropic work, the USBG has been a driving force in our industry for professional development. One key example is the USBG Championship series. It was a four stage competition sponsored by Casa Noble Tequila and was held over weeks and tested competitors on virtually all aspects of our craft. It involved an individual cocktail competition, team event and the Championship finals. The ultimate round was held at Flock & Fowl Downtown where the top three worked a shift behind the bar and were judged on many facets of bartending with a focus on the ultimate metric of bartending, hospitality. The top three, Christopher Bellafatto, Wes Bell and Ryan Clark, were all impressive in their execution, but in the end, Ryan Clark took home the win!

We had a chance to speak with Ryan and second place winner Wes Bell and got their thoughts about the competition, the USBG and the art of our craft.

photos courtesy Ryan Clark

Ryan Clark 1st Place Winner

Where do you work and where are you from?

I work at Vince Neil’s Tatuado inside Circus Circus. I get to work with a great bar team and management; I work the party bus bar, which is a flair bar. It’s great that I get to come to work and have fun with the guests every shift. I have been in the bar & nightclub business for 25 years and am from Canada. I have been heavily involved with flair bartending competitions over the past 13 years.

Tell me about the USBG. 

I joined the USBG in 2014 so four years. I love the community and opportunities for competition and learning it provides. Because of the USBGLV I have made great new friends, been fortunate to compete and win in a few competitions that have sent me to Mexico, Puerto Rico, Louisville and next to Estonia for the IBA World Cocktail Championships. Also we constantly get the chance to learn about current and new products oftentimes from the people who make them and master distillers. Without the USBG I would have missed out on so much.

What is your approach to bartending?

Even though I have been doing this for a while, I am always trying to learn something new, whether it be a spirit or category knowledge, new technique or a different way to look at what I already have done a thousand times. But mostly I just go into work and try and treat the bar like it’s my home and be the best host I can.

What were the best parts and most challenging parts of the comp? 

Winning is always the best part; the most challenging was coming up with the finals night round. We only had a few days to get a drink menu of five cocktails in and I also wanted to stand out through theme. But at the same time that force to create is also one of the best parts.

How did it feel to win???

To be able to with the USBGLV chapter bartending competition was great; there were so many talented bartenders involved from all over the city. And after four rounds of tough competition being able to pull out a win was very satisfying. 

The Lauryn Hill by Ryan Clark

Casa Noble Reposado 1.5 oz

1 oz Raspberry Reàl

1 oz Lemon Juice

1 oz Egg White

2 dash Chocolate Bitters 

Combine in a Shaker and “double shake” (with and without ice), pour into a coupe and garnish with 2 raspberries and grated chocolate.

 

Wes Bell 2nd Place Winner

Where do you work and where are you from?

I’m currently working at Onyx Bar in the Red Rock Resort. I love that with Stations’ push towards craft cocktails and mixology I get more creative liberty and freedom than a good majority of casino bartenders in Vegas, but still enjoy the benefits of the corporate umbrella. I enjoy my bar specifically because it does afford me the opportunity to make great money on some really busy nights, but also really build relationships with my guests on the slower ones. I am originally from upstate New York, but I’ve been in Vegas for 11 years. I spent just over seven of those in the Air Force, and I’ve been behind the bar for about 3.5 years.

How long have you been in the USBG?

I’ve been in the USBG for almost two years now. I love the camaraderie, as well as the networking and educational opportunities.

How did you feel about this competition?

The most challenging part of the competition was really how quickly everything went down. Favorite part was the day I spent wearing the dress. Definitely a nice breeze that day. I was really happy to place 2nd in the comp. I know I made some rookie mistakes, but that’s because that was the first time I ever made it that far. I think I could’ve done a lot better, but was thankful for the experience 100%.

El Amargo Escoces by Wes Bell

1 oz Casa Noble Blanco

1 oz Cynar

.5 oz Drambuie 

.5 oz Grapefruit Juice

Combine all ingredients in a shaker with ice and then shake with ice, strain into a rocks glass with a grapefruit peel garnish.