Drinking & Dining

39. Dining with a Scene

Off-Strip: Vintner Grill

This beautiful New American bistro is hidden in an office park in Summerlin. But when it opened in 2007, you might have thought you had found one of Scottsdale, Ariz.’s hottest new Stetson Drive spots. Filled with folks as well-appointed as the room itself, Vintner satiated an unfulfilled niche for casually elegant dining and socializing in the ’burbs. Then the recession hit. And Town Square opened. But Vintner Grill has survived while other spots have closed, and people keep coming back to enjoy the stylish scene, the sexy wine list and chef Matthew Silverman’s menu. It’s always busy after work, but especially so on Thursday nights; DJ Jenna comes on at 9 p.m. spinning up-temp lounge, the kitchen turns out a fabulous small-bites menu and the crowd skews a little younger than the 40-is-the-new-30 regulars.

On-Strip: N9NE Steakhouse at the Palms

It’s hard to keep your cool when you walk through the glass doors of N9NE Steakhouse. With a loyal clientele consisting of celebrities, athletes and musicians such as Kobe Bryant, Demi Moore, DJ Jazzy Jeff and Maroon 5, just to name a few, it’s obvious this hip-yet-elegant Palms eatery is the spot to see and be seen. With an eclectic musical mix ranging from house to indie rock in the background, N9NE’s service teams manage extravagance while remaining friendly. It’s also one of the few places where you’ll find sirloin, sashimi and a smokin’ (literally!) s’more dessert on one menu. N9NE has something to please everyone’s palate, as well as their eyes and egos.

40. Having the Best Year Ever

John Simmons, Firefly

Recession, schmepression. Successful people know today is the time to leverage themselves for tomorrow, and nobody local has done as good a job at cooking up that opportunity than chef John Simmons. Within the year, he has taken his loungy tapas sensation Firefly from one surefire, hottie-laden location on Convention Row to three with the addition of sangria spots downtown (at the Plaza) and the west side (at West Sahara and South Fort Apache). It wasn’t always like this; Simmons tells of early years of operating day-to-day on credit-card advances. But all that seems like a distant memory for the Chicagoan, who is also working with the Plaza on additional projects for the property after the renovations—not bad for a business built on bacon-wrapped dates.

41. Best Lounge

Vanguard Lounge

Partners in business as well as life, Andrew and Jennifer Wheatley took on a beast when they set about opening their coastal-cool urban bar and lounge on East Fremont this summer. Using their combined 30 years of operations experience, they renovated a former guitar store into the hip concrete boîte we enjoy today. The beverage program spreads itself pretty evenly across the genres with original cocktails, interesting beers and a unique boutique wine list (VanguardLV.com), not to mention a 4-7 p.m. happy hour that takes prices from affordable to a downright enjoyment obligation. Vanguard opens as early as 3 p.m. for those meetings that could use lubrication and stays open late for the nights that require the society of DJs and downtown hipsters. And talk about cool: Who’d ever imagine they’d see a wine bar with a covered patio and garage door wall on Fremont?

42. Best Bar

Chandelier Bar at the Cosmopolitan

What’s three stories high, two-million crystals wide and serves drinks that smoke, sip and crunch? While you work that out, we’ll be living it up in the minutes-old glamour-glimmer of the most expensive adult playground around. Up we go in the glass Wonka-vator to the Chandelier Bar’s top floor for flirty, feminine cocktails such as the gin-y Misty Rose, then make a dramatic sweep down the underlit wraparound stairs to the inside bar where GM and property mixologist Mariena Mercer (a.k.a. Miss Wizard) is whipping up oddities not so much imbibable as they are edible, including the Fire-Breathing Dragon (freeze-dried raspberries send smoke out of your nose and mouth) and the lemon-ginger Verbena (Szechuan Button flowers give you Spidey-sense tastebuds for 10 minutes). Back down on Earth, we cross the finish line to the two bottom bars, one a satellite bar dedicated to updating the Cosmopolitan cocktail, and the main bar with its menu of award-winning cocktails contributed by Mercer and the balance of the Cosmopolitan’s Mixology Dream Team, Kristen Schaefer and Andrew Pollard. To the winners go the spoils, no?

43. Happiest Locals Happy Hour

Nickel Beer Tuesdays at Todd English P.U.B. inside Crystals at Aria

When it comes to happy hours, 2-for-1s are always nice, and cheap shooters are fine, but a beer for a nickel? That’s downright fantastic! And that’s the deal, honestly, every Tuesday night at Todd English P.U.B., where 8-ounce glasses of Pabst Blue Ribbon are just a nickel, 9-11 p.m. Unsurprisingly, the promotion is incredibly popular with both cash-strapped students and savvy, thirsty, working professionals, so it can get crowded. Still, the busy, boisterous atmosphere is just part of the fun. Get a much-coveted spot at the wood or be subjected to a $12 food minimum to get the deal—but considering English is a three-time James Beard Award-winning chef (and the price of beer elsewhere), that’s not exactly harsh punishment.

44. Best Cocktail

Amante Picante/Spicy Lover by Francesco Lafranconi

As featured in Kathy Casey’s Sips & Apps (Chronicle Books, 2009)

Translated as the “Spicy Lover,” Southern Wine & Spirits of America’s corporate director of mixology and spirits educator Francesco Lafranconi’s Amante Picante is a celebrated “new classic,” blending cucumber, tequila and pepper in a way that cocktail aficionados already familiar with the joys of gin and cucumber can appreciate, while also remaining approachable enough for the budding cocktailian to grasp.

Savory cocktails and sweet-heat drinks are now staples on savvy cocktail menus from coast to coast, but in Las Vegas the Amante Picante in particular has been discovered and rediscovered by countless students through Southern’s Academy of Spirits, Mixology & Fine Service, as well as by operators, mixologists and consultants, all of whom will agree that Lafranconi’s savory statement cocktail demonstrates how a relevant trend can pass from the industry to the masses. The Spicy Lover can be found heating up The Mirage’s Rhumbar, Luxor’s Tacos & Tequila (both $12) and Casa Fuente in the Forum Shops at Caesars ($14).

  • 2 quarter-inch-thick slices of fresh cucumber
  • 5 leaves of fresh cilantro
  • 2 ounces blanco tequila (try Don Julio Blanco or El Tesoro)
  • 1 ounce fresh lime juice
  • ¾ ounce raw, organic agave nectar
  • 7 drops green Tabasco sauce
  • Cucumber wheel garnish

In a cocktail shaker, press the cucumber slices and cilantro with a muddler to release the flavors. Fill the shaker with ice. Measure in the tequila, lime juice and agave nectar. Add the Tabasco. Cap and shake vigorously. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a cucumber slice on the rim.

45. Top Shelves—Best Spirits

Herbs & Rye

It’s typical of Vegas venues to tout their spirits collections by their size or price—most bottles in a category, the most expensive. But few venues champion quality over quantity, and the very best of those that do isn’t uttering a peep about it. The classic cocktail descriptions on Herbs & Rye’s menu don’t even mention brands, as branding and marketing in the late 19th and early 20th centuries was not quite as aggressive as that achieved by today’s variety of Mad Men.

About 120 spirit brands populate the shelves of Herbs & Rye’s back-bar. Owner Nectaly Mendoza says gin, rye and soon bourbon make up the backbone of his offerings, just as gin and rye serve as base to many of the classic cocktails on his menu. Among his bottles you will find the cultish new Nolete’s gins, Briottet 100 percent natural liqueurs and rare Plymouth Navy Strength gin, although the latter is more for Mendoza’s personal enjoyment. What you do not see at Herbs & Rye is almost as important as what you do: Malibu and Jägermeister are verboten; Red Bull cans will be simply handed to you intact. Real copper mugs for Moscow Mules line the back-bar, as do absinthe drippers and a real 3-gallon copper pot still smuggled in from Portugal under cover of night. Well, it probably happened in broad daylight, but we just like the imagery.

46. Best Taps

Freakin’ Frog

Our hats are off to Todd English P.U.B. for fighting the good fight with the seven-second chug challenge and the Nickel Beer Tuesdays that haunt our dreams, but we’ve gotta hand it to owner Adam Carmer for his own fight, working with 14 distributors to import Delirium Tremens, beers from the Lagunitas and Alaskan brewing companies, and hundreds of others.

On tap, Carmer offers 15 beers, which are rotated almost daily to include seasonal delights such as Dogfish Head World Wide Stout (18 percent ABV), bourbon barrel-aged Brrr from Widmer Brothers and Carmer’s new point of pride, Sierra Nevada’s 30th Anniversary Our Brewers Reserve Oak-Aged Ale. “This list has been developed by the palates of the guests,” Carmer says. Opened in 2002, the Freakin’ Frog was originally intended to be a wine bar, but the Frog’s super-smart beer clientele’s requests quickly caused the beer menu to grow to the current collection of 1,007 offerings. If you can’t decide on one, just ask the bartender to escort you into one of the Frogs’ two massive coolers to pick out a bottled brew.

47. Top Bottle Service Presentation

Tao Nightclub Cabanas

The standard of service and implied luxury of Las Vegas nightclub table service is flawlessly executed at nearly every major nightlife venue in town, without much variety between one club and the next. Perhaps a tray of chocolates? Maybe a tablet menu? Or a couple of extra sparklers? Going the extra half-marathon is Tao, which throws in a few extra amenities. The main-room cabanas are the forefathers of today’s tricked-out poolside cabanas, lacking only the pool. Boasting fresh flowers, curtains, speakers, a slightly larger area that opens up to the main room of the nightclub without being in everyone’s way and a refrigerator stocked full of complimentary water, beer, Red Bull and an array of condoms and gifts, Tao’s bottle service offers everything to take your night to the next level.