A Fresh Twist in Dining Comes to Las Vegas
By Jill DeGroff
Beside the bowl of Creole spice boiled shrimp and pickled fresh hearts of palm with the crawdaddy resting on top was something to wash it down with, and it wasn’t a glass of wine; It was a unique cocktail designed to compliment this first course of a cocktail dinner presented by master mixologist Dale DeGroff and chef Carlos Guia at Commander’s Palace, Las Vegas. This was the first of several special events being offered, where a little creative marketing on the part of general manager Michael Smith is bringing a new dimension and a lot of fun to their guests’ dining experience.
But let’s start at the beginning; a little over a year ago the Museum of the American Cocktail opened in New Orleans and enjoyed a year long stint at the New Orleans Pharmacy Museum. Due to the hurricane, some real estate plans fell through and the Museum once more needed a new home. Enter Ti Adelaide Martin, one of the Brennan Family members who seem to have a soft spot in her heart for stray pups and cocktail museums. Martin invited the Museum founders to relocate their exhibit in Las Vegas. Now Commander’s Palace has a room at the front of their restaurant completely devoted to the world of the cocktail. The new exhibit, designed and curated by Ted (Dr. Cocktail) Haigh, is a playful mix that includes Trader Vics and Tiki barware, Hollywood memorablia, rare books on mixing, an amazing assortment of bottles and shakers, prohibition literature, toys and sheet music that leads you through several different eras and covers over two hundred years of wacky cocktail history.
The festivities began Sunday night with a grand opening celebration in which classic cocktails from four different eras were shaken up by New Orleans barman Chris McMillian, served by waitresses in period dress; one dressed as a Roaring Twenties flapper serving the Monkey Gland, a 1920’s drink from Harry’s Bar in Paris that’s made with gin, orange Juice, Grenadine, and a splash of Pernod Anise.
Another server dressed in a sixties Mod costume served the Vesper, the original James Bond Martini. There was also a lovely southern belle serving the Colony Cocktail, a blend of vodka, Southern Comfort and lime juice, and let’s not forget our nineties girl who served up Cosmopolitans. All of the drinks were made from fresh squeezed juices combined with exotic flavoring and spirits, and they were disappearing quickly.
On Monday evening, two of the Museum co-founders, Jared Brown and Anistatia Miller hosted a vodka presentation at the MGM, unveiling a brand new product called Heavy Water Vodka. Spirits writers Miller and Brown (author of "Shaken not Stirred, A Celebration of the Martini") also publish the Museum’s annual journal Mixologist, Journal of the Museum of the American Cocktail which is available for sale at the exhibit, and free to anyone who becomes a member of the Museum.
On Tuesday night, DeGroff, the founding president of the Museum and author of "The Craft of the Cocktail," hosted a cocktail dinner that was attended by 60 guests. The crowd included spirits writers, bartenders, and bar owners, local media and brand managers from around the country.
The final event was given on Wednesday morning by Francesco LaFranconi: “The Anatomy of the Cocktail.” LaFranconi, director of Southern Wine and Spirits’ Academy of Spirits and Fine Service, shared his knowledge and talent with a group that consisted of industry people, the media, and some who were there to simply enjoy the show and learn how to make a good balanced drink. Francesco’s marvelous libations included the “Pan Pacific”, made with Barsol Pisco, passion fruit puree, lime juice, and a rock candy syrup, a Mon Ami Pasti, a mix of Pernod, fresh cream, and pistachio. DeGroff also presented two dirnks at the seminar: the Angel’s Passion and the Ritz Cocktail.
The Museum of the American Cocktail is the first of its kind to celebrate this unique aspect of American history and thanks to the Brennan Family, a sophisticated approach to mixology and genuine Americana is now being introduced in the city of glitz. It appears that not only will they attract workers in the hotels and restaurants, but also cocktail aficionados from everywhere who will welcome the chance to enjoy an extraordinary meal at Commander’s Palace while taking in a little history too.
The Museum of the American Cocktail will be open each day during the restaurant’s regular hours and will reside there for a year. Visting mixologists, many of whom regularly appear on television will come to Commander’s Palace over the next few months to present cocktail dinners and drink seminars. On April 13th Tony Abou-Ganim will present a Bacardi Rum Cocktail Dinner and on the 14th he will present a seminar, “Great Classic Cocktails At Home,” and on May 12th, Francesco Lafranconi will present another special cocktail dinner. Register for cocktail seminars online (cost is $45) by visiting: www.museumoftheamericancocktail.org.(Jill DeGroff is vice-president and co-founder of the Museum of the American Cocktail.)