Can the Las Vegas Strip Handle Great Cocktails? Sam Ross Thinks So

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When it comes to accessing excess, nothing beats the Las Vegas Strip. Where else can you get a Michelin-starred meal followed by floor seats to see Britney Spears and still make it back to your hotel in time for a pai gow bender?

One thing the Strip historically hasn’t had: great cocktails. Looking to change that is legendary Aussie barman Sam Ross, who last winter helped launch The Dorsey just off the casino floor at The Venetian. The cocktail lounge is already taking the Strip by storm, showcasing classic drinks alongside seasonal specials in a casually elegant setting. Ross talked about upping the ante on the Vegas cocktail scene.

Ross’ East Side Rickey, made with Absolut Elyx vodka, fresh lime juice, simple syrup, club soda, cucumber and mint

How did you get involved with The Dorsey?

I had worked with the Sands Corporation on a Singapore project called Adrift with chef David Myers in 2013. I stayed in contact with the development team, and we continued to chat about teaming up when the plans to overhaul The Bourbon Room at The Venetian began to materialize.

What do you find compelling about this town?

I spent a large chunk of time in Vegas to get The Dorsey open initially and am back every six to eight weeks for trainings, touch-ups and menu tweaks.

I’ve always loved spending time in this city. I worked on a project at a hotel and casino on the Strip in 2010, and it’s amazing to see how much the cocktail scene has expanded since that time. There are so many passionate individuals on and off the Strip striving to create a fun environment; it’s a pleasure to be a part of it.

Ross

What’s the concept behind The Dorsey?

We wanted to create a grown-up Las Vegas experience for groups that didn’t want to be stuck in a loud club drinking watered down Vodka Red Bulls—a fun bar with exceptional drinks that can be enjoyed pre- and post-dinner, an alternative to the mega clubs.

That said, we didn’t want to create a super stuffy environment where people worshipped at the altar of the cocktail. NYC nightlife legend David Rabin (The Lambs Club, Double Seven, Lotus, The Skylark) came on as a consultant, and together we aim to casually introduce exceptional cocktails into a lively and energetic room.

Ross’ Leaving Tijuana, Febreze Brothers, Summer in the City and Doctor Monk, from left

What makes The Dorsey unique to the Strip?

It’s the little things—hand-cut ice, fresh juices, quality booze, metal straws. But this is only part of the equation. The music and DJs have been carefully curated to suit the energy in the room. The room itself, designed by Thomas Schlesser, is absolutely breathtaking. The digital artwork that cycles through on the screens is a different and unique talking point. Lastly, our amazing staff, led by head bartender Juyoung Kang and GM Casi Arnold, are so passionate about the product that we’re able to deliver.

Give us a snapshot of the drinking scene in Vegas.

The drinking scene is advancing rapidly in Las Vegas, as are the drinkers. Despite it being a tourist destination, I’ve witnessed the drinking culture shift since 2010. Back then, getting Old Fashioneds sent back because they didn’t contain muddled fruit was common.

Ross

People generally drink better now because they have a greater knowledge of quality booze and cocktails, and that’s thanks in large part to Las Vegas’ vibrant food and drink scene. It’s so great to see a Vegas staple, Herbs & Rye, starting to get national recognition for its excellence. I think we’ll start to see more and more of that as the city drifts away from being a gambling destination and becomes more of a food and drink destination.

What is it like designing a bar program for the casino crowd? What are the specific challenges?

I wanted to cover the bases as much as possible. The majority of drinkers have a go-to cocktail, be it the Manhattan, Negroni or Gimlet. I wanted to put fun variations on these classics on to the list so that we could get people to branch out a little with their first drink but still feel comfortable. Then maybe they’ll get crazy with their second drink and order something they hadn’t ever considered.

Ross’ Van Brunt Gimlet, made with Plymouth gin, fresh lime juice, pomegranate grenadine and rose water

There are a lot of seasonal and fun ingredients on the menu, and as with the overall style of The Dorsey, I didn’t want to make it too serious. It pokes fun at itself but offers the kind of variety that would satisfy a group of 10 selective individuals.

Describe the menu

The menu is split up into easily identifiable sections with the main ones being Light & Bright and Stirred & Boozy. This is always the first question I ask when working out what someone wants. The spirits are all relatively interchangeable, but whether or not someone wants the addition of citrus in their cocktail is a defining decision. There are also a handful of larger punches, virgin cocktails and little tasters.

Ross’ Harajuku, made with Nikka Coffey Grain Japanese whisky, Gran Classico bitter, Byrrh Grand Quinquina apéritif and chocolate bitters

What are some of the considerations when building a bar for out-of-towners versus a neighborhood hang?

We have a built-in crowd with the convention center located on site, but we want to make this a destination spot for people staying at other properties, locals and industry folk. We never close before 3 a.m. and are working on putting together an industry night to promote more off-duty chefs, waiters, bartenders, etc., to come by and have a cocktail and a beer after their long shifts.

What are some of your favorite drinks on the list?

The Coney Island Express is one of my favorite creations for the Dorsey menu. It’s an Espresso Martini riff using dark rum, amaro, vanilla and cold-brew coffee, served in an iconic NYC takeaway coffee cup. Pick up a copy of the Post, and you’re ready for your subway commute. We have a great selection of Japanese whiskies at the bar too, and the Harajuku, somewhere between a Negroni and a Manhattan, has been one of our biggest sellers. When in doubt, though, go with the Penicillin. It seems to make people pretty happy.

Locations: Las Vegas Nevada
Series & Type: Bartenders OnlyBar Talk

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