Tony Abou-Ganim and his Champagne Punch (image: Levy Restaurants)
Flat beer and overcooked hot dogs have long been a disappointing stadium staple. With the April 7 opening of the new 20,000-seat T-Mobile Arena, a Las Vegas concert and sporting event venue, volume-savvy mixologist Tony Abou-Ganim is aiming to change that. The Las Vegas–based barkeep, who created the drinks program for the Bellagio hotel when it opened in 1998 and has done stints behind the bar in New York and San Francisco, faced some big demographic challenges in getting the stadium’s many bars and bar carts up and running.
The stadium has 40 full-time mixologists and 50 to 60 bar chefs that make drinks, create in-suite by-the-glass and bowl punch service and operate Mojito carts around the arena. The punch selection includes the Sunshine Sour Punch, made with Finlandia grapefruit vodka, lemon and orange juice, and clover honey; and the One-Two Punch contains Mount Gay and Appleton Estate rums, orange curaçao, fresh pineapple, orange and lime juices, Angostura bitters and nutmeg. The different venues make use of five kinds of ice, and Abou-Ganim also provides private consultations with the arena’s suite owners to customize their spirits selection.
Mojito (image: Levy Restaurants)
Few sporting and concert venues have ever really focused on the cocktail side of their revenue stream, despite the fact that beverages can account for 75 to 80 percent of total food and beverage revenue, according to Abou-Ganim. In some ways, Las Vegas, with the volume of drinks it has churned out on casino floors, was the appropriate place to try to focus on making cocktails worth buying at a stadium.
Speed is of the essence, says Abou-Ganim. A two-person Mojito cart team can turn out eight to 10 drinks and charge for them in 10 minutes or less. In-depth training and use of new technology have also been essential.
One of the shortcuts Abou-Ganim used was a system to pasteurize fresh cold-pressed and organic juices called TenderPour. He also created a variety of juice mixes, dispensed by a draft system, that contain three to six different flavors already mixed together to facilitate high-speed cocktail preparation. The fresh fruit juices made by Ripe are kept fresh by a high-pressure preservation system. Cocktail prices start at $13 and go up from there, making them parity priced with The Strip.
Atomic Fizz (image: Levy Restaurants)
While Levy Restaurants and MGM Grand hotel, which operate the drinks program, wouldn’t allow Abou-Ganim to discuss cost and investment, he said the labor and equipment costs were the biggest factors in putting the drinks program together. While the servers are not yet union, he notes, they are likely to become so in the future.
The arena’s signature drink is the Atomic Fizz, made with Grey Goose Le Citron vodka, Aperol, agave nectar, prickly pear puree and Eureka lemon juice, and 1,100 them were served in a 40-minute span to T-Mobile employees on opening night. Ever the perfectionist, Abou-Ganim was doubtful initially about speed and quality going hand in hand but now hopes the stadium’s combination of training and technology is going to up the cocktail-quality ante all around the country.