Everyone likes an underdog story, right? In this case, that underdog is Las Vegas, a city of bars and booze that has been paradoxically overlooked at events such as Tales of the Cocktail, a weeklong convergence of bartenders, mixologists, spirits professionals and aficionados in New Orleans, held this year from July 16-20.
You see, Las Vegas has never fared very well at Tales. Sure, we show up in huge numbers to attend, speak at and sometimes even lead incredible seminars; our liquor reps and ambassadors throw parties with dizzying budgets. But when it comes to competitions, showcases and awards, we are often classified as more of an attraction than a city, and get passed over for more “serious” markets such as New York and Chicago.
But not this year. 2014 marked a turning point for Las Vegas’ presence at Tales. To quote Miley Cyrus: We came in like a wrecking ball.
Mandarine Napoléon Imperial Battle of the Sexes
The world’s premier cocktail festival commenced July 16, and with a shake of the tin at Napoleon House, four men squared off against four women for a trip to the liqueur’s distillery in Belgium. The men were victorious thanks to a lineup that included Herbs & Rye owner Nectaly Mendoza’s Sangre de Napoleon.
Las Vegas Invades Tales of the Cocktail
The next night, 38 Las Vegas bartenders dazzled more than 1,500 guests, finally giving Tales a taste of our city’s creativity, class and ingenuity. Conceived and executed by Back Bar USA, the event showcased original cocktails by Ricardo Murcia, Raul Faria, Derek Crow, Tony Abou-Ganim, Christopher Hopkins, Mariena Mercer, Max Solano and Craig Schoettler. The bar is set high for next year, but if anyone can throw a party to top even themselves, it’s Back Bar.
The 86 Co./Del Maguey Presents Bar Fight Club
When Mendoza and his crew set off for NOLA in the wee hours of July 13—driving 25 hours straight in a rented suburban crammed with every manner of bar implement, electrical tool and building material—they had every hope of winning big for our city, but not the expectation. So when Mendoza was called onstage to accept the People’s Choice award Friday night, he was understandably stunned. Faithfully re-creating Herbs & Rye as a pop-up (right down to the chandeliers and wallpaper!), Mendoza took a chance in presenting judges and attendees with original cocktails instead of their usual classics. The gamble paid off. “We wanted them to know that we can do everything,” Mendoza says.
Eighth Annual Spirited Awards
Modeled after Truman Capote’s 1966 Black & White Ball, the ceremony awarded 25 superlatives, the kind that can “make” a person or place, such as Best American Restaurant Bar, Best Bar Mentor and World’s Best Bar. Earlier this year, Vesper in the Cosmopolitan was for the second time nominated for Best American Hotel Bar, but was eliminated when the field narrowed from 10 to four. Well, there’s always next year …