Las Vegas barman Jair Bustillos has been tapped to establish and maintain the Mexican flavor of the beverage program at the highly anticipated Bandito Latin Kitchen & Cantina by owner and operator Kent Harman. A former Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirits of Nevada mixologist and spirits educator, Bustillos will serve as Bandito’s lead mixologist, bar manager and “Tequila Maestro.”
For the last three and a half years, Bustillos, who was born in Cuauhtémoc City, Chihuahua and who attended UNLV, has been creating cocktails and training opening staffs for clients of Southern Glazer’s, and doing so wherever he was assigned. With Bandito, Bustillos comes into his own and gets to work from his own memories and inspiration. “Really, I just want to show my side of cocktails, where my inspiration and where my best childhood memories come from,” he says. “I want to show my story, an extension of myself, not just what I’m assigned to do or someone else’s dream. I love realizing [the ideas of others], of course, but now I think it’s time for mine.”
The opening cocktail menu currently features 11 cocktails, seven of which focus on agave-derived spirits (six tequila, one mezcal) and four of which are variations on the Margarita, but that may change with the seasons. Weekly cocktail specialties will capitalize on whatever’s fresh, and locally made beer will join the usual suspects. Aguas frescas ($4) offer refreshing nonalcoholic options, as well.
In addition to those, Bustillos is excited to offer non agave Mexican spirits such as Gracias a Dios Gin, which features botanicals from all 32 states of Mexico, and Mexican-inspired cocktails that don’t necessarily rely on an agave spirit base. The Savory Sasha, made with The Botanist Gin from Islay, Scotland, Cointreau, sweet and sour, fresh tangerine juice and Pok Pok celery vinegar that is shaken, served over a large square cube and garnished with a dill sprig. “Bright orange, very savory, simple and it complements the food,” Bustillos says.
That Latin-inspired food will be overseen by executive chef Chris Kight and will, Bustillos says, “not only complement, but also contrast [the cocktail program] in every way, from the smoke in certain cocktails to the spice or the sweetness.” Staff will be trained to pair Bustillos’ cocktails to Kight’s cuisine and vice versa by getting to know their customer, “and then, getting to that ‘Ah-ha!’ or ‘Oh, wow!’ moment. It becomes an experience at all times. Our cocktails are simple in terms of execution, but there’s a little ‘wow’ garnish that complements a lot of the food.”
Mostly, Bustillos is just eager to focus on one bar for a time: “This summer, I helped open so many places, and after like two or three weeks, we kind of washed our hands [of the place] and moved on. I’m excited to just really man [this bar] and call it my own, not just open it and send it off like a teenager. This time, it would be good to grow together.”
Bandito currently estimates a late-May opening.