The construction walls are down, and nothing but a little pipe and drape stands between you and 3535, the new combo lobby/center bar poised to open October 30 at the heart of the Linq (neé the Quad). The bar’s name—you guessed it!—is in reference to the resort’s address on Las Vegas Boulevard South, but the number extends to the ambitious beverage program: Central to the menu are 35 house-made spirit infusions (think espresso bean-infused Maker’s Mark, banana clove-infused Zaya rum and hop-infused Cîroc). “And as in, ‘I need 35 managers to pull this off!’” says 3535 and O’Sheas general manager Ryan Nielsen, laughing.
If 3535 is the centerpiece of the resort, and infusions are the heart of the beverage program, then the core of 3535 itself is the Vortex. Designed by Egads, this towering resin “cloud” rises up from the floor, forms the back bar, then mushroom-clouds over bar and gaming patrons’ heads as it changes color and reacts to music programming. The same material and technology was used for the Linq’s front desk, as well as a standing communal bar within 3535. The entire bar seats about 120 people on bar stools, couch groupings, cocktail tables and in six VIP booths. The sixth VIP booth doubles as a DJ booth, with music being piped out to set the tone throughout the property. Expect to see a heavy rotation of female DJs in there.
At the bar itself, wine will be on tap (four red, four white, changing seasonally) and beer will not; your suds are bottled, craft ones that Nielsen, Linq beverage manager Thomas McNally and Linq beverage director Jay Lattimer hope you’ll find interesting. Barrel-aged cocktails will be served over diamond-shaped ice cubes. And cocktails come in two sizes: full and half. So you can try that Thin Mint cocktail, as well as a number of others, without overdoing it. A flight menu also offers three house-made infusions, three half seasonal cocktails or three half dessert cocktails for $14.
Why all this flexibility? “We want people to experience two or three cocktails, and open their minds to trying new things,” says Nielsen, who has an extensive culinary background, most recently with singer Gloria Estefan’s restaurant group. Nielsen collaborated with Wirtz Beverage Nevada’s Andrew Pollard and Southern Wine & Spirits’ JR Starkus to select the right mix of spirits to both satisfy and challenge his guests.
Beyond the bar, two custom carts will be used for everything from a Bloody Mary bar to a unique take on bottle service: Like Negronis? Nielsen will not only sell you a bottle of gin, he’ll throw in the Campari and sweet vermouth, as well as have staff show you how to make them. Five cocktail packages will include mojitos, Old Fashioneds and Manhattans.
As construction is still under way beneath the Vortex, Nielsen, McNally, Lattimer and I bellied up to a bar in the former Imperial Palace sports book—it’s remarkably preserved, somewhat like the Titanic—for a preview of the 3535 menu. Here’s where the day took us:
1. Pig Newton | Ancho bacon-infused Jim Beam, fig-infused Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Honey, sweet vermouth and orange bitters with a smoked bacon salt rim.
You gotta start somewhere—why not with Jim Beam infused with ancho bacon from Guy Fieri’s Vegas Kitchen & Bar and Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Honey infused with figs? Nielsen wants to bring the next generation of culinarians—the Millennials—into the fold, and to him that includes appreciating whiskey. “Who wouldn’t at least try a bacon bourbon or a fig bourbon?” he asks. Indeed, while a touch sweet for me, it does taste enticingly like a bacon-wrapped fig or date.
2. Wat–A-Pear | Watermelon- and rosemary-infused Tito’s vodka, St-Germaine and fresh watermelon juice.
Each infusion undergoes a 24 to 48 hour whole-fruit maceration process, then the solids are strained out. It could be done faster by pureeing the fruit or muddling it, but the whole-fruit process allows for a true depth of flavor, such as the layers of watermelon and herbs found in this Tito’s infusion. “We’re taking the time to let the fruit do its work,” Nielsen says.
3. Blackberry Bite | Blackberry- and cracked black pepper-infused Knob Creek bourbon with fresh lemon and sage, topped with Fever Tree ginger beer.
“My experience as a chef has really helped me be patient with [the infusions]: you have to check them every day,” Nielsen says. “Just 12 hours can really make a difference.” After that, he says, the trickiest part was making the cocktails using the infusions as delicious and balanced as the infusions themselves. The blackberry and black pepper-infused Knob Creek drinks as well on its own as it does in the cocktail.
4. El Fuego | Mango, orange and jalapeño-infused Sauza tequila, agave nectar, mango puree and house-made sour mix.
If you ever spiked your SunnyD in college—ahem—you will have a place in your heart for this sweet and spicy margarita. Having the dedicated juice kitchen from Squeeze at the Linq at their fingertips, Nielsen and the team have access to whatever they need, from fresh mango to house-made sour.
5. Commodore | Mint and apricot infused Courvoisier VS Cognac, fresh lemon, egg white and peach syrup topped with La Marca prosecco.
What started as a Sidecar called the Debutante became the Spider, then this ode to Boardwalk Empire. The mint and apricot infusion is delicious on its own, but works very nicely with the lemon juice and even the unexpected topper of prosecco. Still, the question lingers: Why go through all the trouble to infuse spirits when there are flavored spirits a plenty on the market? “We could have 15 vodkas, but we can infuse our own, and I think you can taste the quality,” Nielsen says. “We wanted to take a fresh approach, nothing artificial. If they can do it, we can do it better,”
6. Pumpkin Pie | Pumpkin-infused Captain Morgan’s spiced rum, Rumchata and house-made pumpkin puree with a graham cracker rim, garnished with whipped cream.
What?! Another pumpkin spiced something? Yes. Because fall. But infusing plain pumpkin in vodka imparted little or no flavor other than raw squash. And bourbon simply wouldn’t have it. So, for that familiar, comforting flavor of pumpkin pie, Nielsen adds brown sugar, clove and nutmeg to the much more complementary Captain Morgan’s, and condensed milk to the pumpkin puree. The resulting cocktail is rich in flavor, but light and silky in texture. Find this treat on the seasonal flight menu.
7. Sushi-Tini | Wasabi and ginger-infused Bombay gin with fresh citrus and a soy-honey reduction rim.
This is a strange one. But it works! What begins as a “dare shot” of wasabi and ginger-infused gin makes a very nice cocktail when served up, lengthened with fresh lemon juice. So why infuse gin, which is already basically an infused vodka? “I don’t think vodka exists after an infusion [ingredient] hits it,” Nielsen says. But gin sticks around, stands it ground. The result is very light, probably the lightest cocktail on the menu, but it’s frustratingly tasty. It’s also garnished with chopsticks and a piece of actual sushi. Nielsen is certain, “This will be the most Instagram’d cocktail on the menu.”