Mezcal, a close cousin of tequila, is one of the hottest spirits out there right now. In Las Vegas, bars are serving up innovative cocktails and shots made with the smoky and spicy liquor. The following are five places to taste what all the hype is about during a night out:
The Golden Tiki
Along with its creative rum and mezcal cocktails, The Golden Tiki in Chinatown offers a major dose of kitsch. Upon entering, you are handed a treasure map/menu that recounts the legend of William Tobias Faulkner, the enigmatic figure around whom the bar is based. When you look around, you notice that the unique decor features shrunken heads, a twinkling sky with shooting stars, and a 3-D talking tiki god above the bar, making the watering hole resemble an amusement park ride. After taking a look at the menu, you order the Kokonut Sunrise, which features mezcal and anejo tequila combined with honey syrup, pineapple, and house-made pomegranate grenadine to even out the smoky flavor. Finish off your experience with a delicious shot of the elusive Dole pineapple soft serve.
The Laundry Room
Hidden behind a secret door inside downtown bar Commonwealth, The Laundry Room requires you to text for a reservation in order to gain entrance. The speakeasy, which derives its name from its origins as the laundry room for the neighboring El Cortez Hotel, is one of the most exclusive bars in town. In a city that preaches “bigger is better,” this exclusive bar actually has less than 30 seats. Once you make your way inside, the hostess holds you in a dark room and explains the rules, one of which is that you’re not allowed to take pictures. Afterward, you are encouraged to read the additional guidelines that are published inside the multi-page cocktail menu. Prepare yourself to wait a bit for your beverage of choice, since only one bartender works behind the stick at any given time. While the mezcal cocktails take shape, snack on the completely addictive flavored popcorn served in vintage crystal dishes. You may be drawn to the Mezcalian Stallion, which features mezcal, bitter aperitif, Italian vermouth, and orange bitters, served over large rocks with an orange peel. After your first sip, the bitter, smoky, and herbal notes will fight for dominance in an all-out flavor battle in your mouth.
Chef José Andrés’s experiment in the complements and contrasts between Mexican and Chinese cuisine boasts a menu with a vast selection of mezcal cocktails. No matter which side of the world you choose to order from, at China Poblano, there’s a mezcal cocktail that pairs perfectly with your meal. With the Rou Jia Mo, a fatty, rich street sandwich made of braised pork, you might want to try the Oaxacan Old Fashioned, which is made up of mezcal, tequila reposado, agave, and brandied cherries. However, with the classic chilaquiles drenched in green tomatillo salsa, you should go for the Ron Copper margarita, which is composed of tequila blanco, lime juice, a sal de gusano-accented rim, and a mezcal float.
Tucked away in a strip mall on the southwest side of town, Other Mama is one of the hottest new restaurants in Las Vegas, heralded for the way it infuses its menu of raw delicacies from the sea with Asian flair. As soon as you sit at the bar, you’ll be drawn to order The Penelope, a cocktail made of pomegranate-infused mezcal, lime, citrus cordial, Stiegl-Radler grapefruit juice, and agave. This tasty drink brings out the flavor in dishes such as the spicy tuna tartare served with crisp waffle fries and the Meyer lemon-accented Amberjack crudo, a mild-tasting fish that absorbs the intense notes of the mezcal. But be forewarned: You will have to fight all the best chefs in town for a seat at the bar, which is an off-duty, culinary in-crowd hangout for a big night out.
If you’re looking for a more upscale version of a tequila shot, visit the Clique lounge inside The Cosmopolitan. Eschewing the standard Las Vegas-style bottle service for custom-made carts where cocktails are crafted by mixologists, Clique quite literally comes to the table with a surprising twist. One look at the drink menu will make you want to try the Don Sandia, which blends Del Maguey Vida mezcal, fresh watermelon juices, and fresh lime juices with agave nectar. This mixture is iced, shaken, and then strained into a hollowed cucumber. Order a round and then nosh on chicken skewers with fatoush, harissa yogurt, and lettuce cups.