H.L Mencken called the cocktail: “The greatest of all the contributions of the American way of life to the salvation of mankind.”
Click here to hear ELV (the slightly soused sobriquet of John A. Curtas) espouse the merits of civilized drinking in the sloshed, sonorous sounds for which he is known, or continue reading after the jump.
Saving the human race may be a bit of a stretch, but there’s no doubt that well-made drinks are doing their part to salvage the gastronomic black hole that is downtown Las Vegas.
A small revolution began a little over two years ago downtown. It wasn’t the good restaurant we’d hoped for, but it was a start. That revolution is continuing these days, and still has nothing to do with food, but the drinks are getting better than ever and for that small miracle we are grateful.
Unless you’re a teetotaler, you’re probably vaguely aware that a certain mixology renaissance has been underway in the bars of America for several years now. Bored with the same old, same old, the bartenders or mixologists started taking their cues from creative, avant garde chefs, and started treated alcoholic libations like the creatures of recipes that they are. Combine this with the farm-to-table, organic movement, and voila, you have cocktail bars that would no more think of using a soda gun than they would of serving a Harvey Wallbanger.
This cult of the cocktail began (of course) in New York, but the chant has been taken up in cities all across America, and now it’s in full swing in our little burg. At places like the original Nora’s, you can get a Spicy Daisy – made with chilies, vodka, blackberries and lime – that tastes like a Mexican Hat Dance in a glass, or cruise down the road to the Silverton Hotel where John C. Dupont will mix you up an original concoction made with one of his small batch bourbons. Restaurant Charlie makes its own mixes, syrups and garnishes, and all of the bars in Encore have drink menus personally created for them by uber-cocktail gal Patricia Richards.
What these crazy kids are up to is seasonal, inventive creations that take their cues from what good chefs do with solid goods everyday. All of them are acolytes of Tony Abu-Ganim, who himself is a disciple of Dale DeGroff, a New Yorker who almost single handedly started this trend (and was like a voice in the wilderness for a decade) – back in the early ‘90’s.
Speaking of wildernesses brings us back to downtown, where the Downtown Cocktail Room is about to celebrate its second anniversary. Two years ago, owner Michael Cornthwaite and barman extraordinaire George Sproule opened a small lounge that has become a destination for hipsters and lovers of serious (and seriously good) mixed drinks. Sproule patrols the small bar like a slightly mad alchemist that wants to seduce you with his concoctions. One sip of his Downtown Dill and he will do just that, and you’ll wish you drank more.
The Downtown Dill is the ultimate Bloody Mary — marrying as it does the tang of tomato water with the accents of good vodka and the edgy essence of salt and dill. It may not be the salvation of downtown, but at least we can now drink in style, as we wish and hope for our urban core to get some.