Over the course of his 15-year hospitality career, Andrew Pollard has likely touched more bar programs than many of his peers will in a lifetime. Most recently, the Phoenix native has spent six of those years exercising his creative muscles as a beverage-development specialist for Breakthru Beverage Nevada, and as such, he was creating as many as 80 to 100 cocktail menus each year. His original recipes have been featured at major Strip casinos and in small neighborhood bars, and have also been batched to epic proportions to refresh the attendees of five consecutive Life Is Beautiful festivals.
“If there was a new bar opening in Las Vegas, it probably had a drink I made at some point,” Pollard says. In his new position as Wynn Resorts’ assistant director of beverage development, however, Pollard’s creativity and energy will be focused solely on the 27 bars that make up the Wynn and Encore properties.
Pollard arrived in Las Vegas in 2004 to open Tangerine in Treasure Island as a barback—or, as he puts it, “Iceman.” It’s there that he got to support two pillars of both flair and classic bartending: Ken Hall and Tobin Ellis. In 2006, Pollard stepped into the role of lead bartender at Social House in the same property, but it was a year later, with the opening of Noir Bar at the Luxor, that Pollard says he truly cut his teeth. For the first two-plus years of the speakeasy-style cocktail bar’s life, there was no menu, and all drinks were bespoke. It was also at Noir Bar that Pollard created what he considers his first signature cocktails: the Violet Femme, the Blackberry-Sage Smash and the Hot Mule. And they were massive hits.
When the Cosmopolitan opened in 2010, Pollard stepped out from behind the bar to become one of three opening property mixologists, as well as general manager of Vesper lobby bar. Along with a newer creation, The Mayan, Pollard’s original cocktails became his calling cards and cemented his reputation for having a sharp palate. After 16 months at the resort, Breakthru (then Wirtz Beverage Nevada) recruited Pollard and his palate to the beverage-development team, where he thrived. Six years later, an earlier conversation with Wynn executives was again revived, and in this go-around, the timing was perfect.
“I wasn’t looking for a job; I wasn’t unhappy,” Pollard says about accepting his new role at Wynn Resorts. But the promise of “personal growth, professional growth, that pride of ownership—it’s all the things I’ve been doing the last six years [at Breakthru], but now I get to focus all my efforts in one place.” In his new executive role, Pollard takes the lead on all beverage development, also managing a central commissary kitchen that produces all in-house syrups, juicing and batching; creating specialty and holiday menus; and training bar staff. “I’m here for the opportunity to accomplish something, to sink my teeth into this program. Ultimately it’s for the Wynn guest, and I’ve been empowered to create that for them, which is really exciting.”
Pollard’s slate is not blank, however: The Wynn beverage program has had three other chiefs before him, including Patricia Richards, who established the program and departed after six years to pursue multiple advanced academic degrees; Chris Hopkins, who is now the national account portfolio ambassador for Bacardi USA; and most recently Damian Cross, who left in May to become corporate mixologist for Station Casinos. “A lot of Patricia’s program is still in place because it’s working,” Pollard says. “Chris brought great guidance, leadership qualities and refinement, and metrics that took the program to the next level. Damian was more operationally focused, finding solutions, refining and streamlining.”
Considering his own legacy, Pollard says he wants to champion innovation and enthusiasm, “not just maintaining, but creating an identity. I want to get these bartenders motivated for change, good change, made for the right reason.” As he did with Life Is Beautiful, creating a line of Festival Champions, cocktails that were the workhorses of that program, Pollard will hone Wynn’s Signature Sips menu of cocktails available at all bars property-wide. The goal is a brand within a brand, with “fashionable” being Pollard’s mantra.
“I always say: I’m not trying to reinvent the wheel, I’m just trying to make it go faster.” He will do that with private-label and exclusive offerings, master classes and consumer events that rally Wynn’s loyal following around premier brands. “Not being everything to everybody, but giving that guest something perhaps they don’t know they like, something unique that they can remember.” First on his to-do list is a relaunch of The Dream—a Signature Sip currently made with Perrier-Jouët Brut Champagne, St-Germain Elderflower Liqueur and hibiscus flowers—that will get a modern update early in the New Year.
One thing that will aid Pollard in his initiatives is his work ethic; like a computer program, he has “bartender mode” running in the background at all times. Whether it’s a cocktail aficionado at Noir wanting “something with gin and citrus,” or his bar team at Vesper, or the client of the moment at Breakthru, Pollard has made hospitality his default setting, offering crisp service of thoughtfully prepared cocktails, genuine engagement and a searing desire to know what drink makes you tick.
“My goal isn’t to come in here and try to change everything overnight, to be the hero. It’s not going to work that way,” he says. “No, it’s going to be drink by drink, bar by bar, bottle by bottle, bartender by bartender and server by server. All the pieces will eventually come together. Once that happens, it will be very powerful.”