Teaching your underage child how to mix drinks could be seen as bad parenting. But when David Cooper taught his daughter Amanda how to make the perfect margarita, he was simply passing on the family business. Today, the 25-year-old Amanda tends bar with her stepmother Lisbeth at Gordon Ramsay Steak, while David (whom friends refer to simply as Cooper) slings drinks at Mario Batali’s Carnevino. Together, they represent the first family of the local bartending scene.
David alone has spent more than 40 years working in Las Vegas bars—and has seen just about everything you can imagine. His father, whom he describes as a professional “slot cheat,” owned six bars (some on the record, some off), where David worked as a teen, stocking them and occasionally pouring drinks. His first “legitimate” job was at famed mafia hangout Villa D’Este, which he believes was secretly owned by the infamous Tony “The Ant” Spilotro. As a valet, he parked cars for movie producers, models and mobsters.
“One day a server came out,” David recalls, “and brought me my bowl of food. And he said ‘I can’t believe you do this job.’ And I was like ‘What do you mean, I’m a valet.’ And he said ‘No, you start cars for the mob.’ And I went home and told my mom, and she made me quit because she was afraid I was gonna get blown up.”
Once he was legal, David returned to bartending at Caesars Palace, where he poured drinks for Rodney Dangerfield, Billy Crystal and Robin Williams, among others. (He describes seeing Evel Knievel walk naked into the Caesars’ fountains as simultaneously the best and worst thing he’s ever witnessed at a casino!) Caesars was also where he met Lisbeth, who was working as a barback after immigrating from Mexico to Las Vegas by way of Idaho. (She, too, soon graduated to bartending.)
When I ask the couple who makes a better cocktail, they laugh before David diplomatically replies that it depends on the spirit. If it was tequila, he insists his wife would be victorious, while he would win on bourbon or rye.
When asked which of her parents’ cocktails she prefers, Amanda is equally diplomatic, telling me, “I would have my dad make me a cocktail to start, then [my stepmom] would make me one to finish.”
Despite Amanda’s early cocktail lessons, David says he was a little surprised to see his daughter enter the family business. “We thought she was going to be the one to be the FBI profiler or some kind of big important crazy job,” he explains. “But with her love of people, I think [bartending] was natural for her.”
Amanda, who’s also an aspiring model and dancer, began her first bartending job on her 21st birthday. She’s already worked for Wolfgang Puck, José Andrés and now Gordon Ramsay, and explains her career choice simply: “I am my father’s daughter!”
Given the family’s strong attachment to both Las Vegas and its dining scene, they also feel a need to give back. Last month, the entire family (including Amanda’s two brothers, who are also in the food and beverage industry) organized their annual charity golf tournament and silent auction in Henderson. About 80 players, most from the local restaurant community, helped raise enough money to feed and clothe a local family over the winter months. Needless to say, all the Coopers spent some time behind the four bars set up on the course, pouring drinks for the participants.
“[Being] true Las Vegans, we wanted to do this golf tournament to give back to a local family,” Amanda says.
And they’ll continue to give back to the rest of us, from behind the stick, year-round.