It’s hard to take a fresh look at bartending in a town as old school as Las Vegas. However, with the opening of the two-in-one bar concept Libertine Social at the Mandalay Bay hotel, Tony Abou-Ganim, a.k.a the Modern Mixologist, has done just that.
The idea for the bar, opened end of August, dates back to when Abou-Ganim and chef Shawn McClain met on an episode of Iron Chef America, in which, not surprisingly, they won. In creating it, the time Abou-Ganim has dedicated to mise en place is considerable, he says, as is the focus on educating the bar staff on consistent execution while having fun.
The venue features the more intimate Arcade Bar within the main bar space. Abou-Ganim’s new take on this ancient business includes ideal-to-share pitchers, refined shots and bottled, barrel-aged and tap cocktails, as well as a complex ice program. He says he tried to draw on ideas and trends culled from his close to four decades behind the bar and combined them with the latest technology to make the drinks service both speedy and sleek.
Arcade Bar, he says, pays homage to the past with a cocktail menu that focuses on lost and forgotten pre-Prohibition classics. The Fizzes and Social Swizzles section of the menu features drinks such as the Bird of Paradise Fizz, made with Bombay gin, Marie Brizard liqueur, blackberry, lemon juice, rock candy syrup, egg white and seltzer water. The Queen’s Park Swizzle is a tribute to the Trinidadian classic, made with El Dorado 15-year-old rum, demerara syrup, lime juice, spearmint and Angostura bitters.
The five entrees in both the Fizzes and Social Swizzles categories cover all of the main spirit bases, including Rittenhouse rye, Plymouth gin and Effen blood orange vodka. A handful of punches are also served in shareable servings. And Abou-Ganim sourced authentic swizzle sticks and unusual containers, with a small hole on top for ice with a pouring spout, in which to serve the shareable quaffs.
Shots have long played a prominent role at the bar, and Abou-Ganim wanted to elevate the experience a touch. The current selection includes pineapple- and vanilla-bean-infused Plantation rum and house-made spiced whiskey shots.
In order to pull together such a complicated and upscale cocktail menu and serve it at lightening speed during busy nights, Abou-Ganim reached out to a few reliable sources. Fresh, cold-pressed juices are used from Ripe juice company to pre-batch cocktails a couple of times per week. Two on-tap drinks, served at 37 degrees and developed in tandem with Tender Pour, are also on the menu.
The ice program makes use of the Scotsman pellet ice machine for the swizzle program and for Mint Juleps, Smashes, Daisies and Mojitos; Premium Ice’s four-by-four blocks for Punch Bowl service; and two-by-twos, spheres and diamonds for other drinks such as the barrel-aged Boulevardier. And the bar’s bottled cocktails are batched every couple of days to ensure “a fast, fresh, consistent and unique drink experience for our guests,” he says.