Tim Haughinberry looks entirely at home in his new office. A former antique car garage on Western Avenue has been transformed into his company’s national headquarters, complete with attractive, modern cubicles, ample warehouse space, a burgeoning art collection and an impressive glass-enclosed conference room.
But Haughinberry isn’t selling timeshares, insurance or home-security systems from these new digs. In a word, Back Bar USA sells experiences. And specifically branded experiences, via three divisions: one that establishes and manages corporate beverage programs, another that creates meaningful branded events, and a third that creates, staffs and fully executes turnkey promotions.
“We did 4,000 tasting activations last year just in the State of Nevada,” Haughinberry says. But don’t look for Back Bar’s name on those: “Sometimes you don’t even know that Back Bar is there. It’s our job to represent the brand.”
What Back Bar’s three tiers have in common is liquor, so the chic new HQ—all 8,000 square feet of it—therefore features a fully equipped kitchen for massive cocktail batching exploits and the first commercially available Tobin Ellis Signature Cocktail Station by Perlick (which will soon be manned by Las Vegas’ first “barceptionist”). And that conference room table? It breaks up into banquet tables for special events. Narrow desks for bartending demonstrations are stored in the warehouse.
This is the house that ‘party’ built.
Haughinberry founded Back Bar USA in 2008, at a time in Las Vegas when trust was at an all time low. The Pure Management Group offices had just been raided by the IRS. Casinos and liquor brands were being fined for pay-for-play schemes. Haughinberry—a former bartender-turned-liquor salesman for Southern Wine & Spirits—knew the ins and out of the business: He had attended UNLV for a while in the 1980s, gotten his sommelier certificate and, in 2001, launched, expanded and later quietly grounded his own spirit company, Montecristo Rum. He had even purchased Henderson’s Gold Mine Tavern in 2007, which he still owns. By then it was clear that where Haughinberry succeeds the most is in the intangible, with relationships.
When he saw the need for a trustworthy third-party marketing firm, he filled it by parlaying all his marketable skills into Back Bar USA—at first working from his Montecristo partners Robert and Michael Frey’s offices, and later from another small warehouse. But with 21 full-time employees and more than 200 promo models, bartenders and other part-time staff, Haughinberry knew 2015 was the time for a change of venue.
Something else that has changed: Haughinberry has created a fourth tier, one that produces signature Back Bar USA events. It started with the company’s own 2013 holiday party, where Haughinberry was praised for being able to bring the disparate corners of the industry together for a common cause, then took off with Las Vegas Invades Tales of the Cocktail in 2014 and July’s Beer & Barrel Project at Mandalay Bay. But come 2016, Haughinberry’s full attention will be on the third annual For the Love of Cocktails, Back Bar’s burgeoning cocktail week that benefits Tony Abou-Ganim’s Helen David Relief Fund (Feb. 12-14, ForTheLoveOfCocktails.com).
“This year we got the United States Bartenders’ Guild involved, the Downtown Project, Caesars Entertainment, MGM Resorts …” Haughinberry says. Little had he known back when he was just starting out that someday he would rattle off such an august list of collaborators. He might not have believed it at the time.
“When that Southern sales position came along, it was an accumulation of everything I was good at. I wouldn’t be here otherwise,” he says. “That was just another stepping stone. I don’t know where we’re gonna end up, but this is just another stepping stone to something else.”