It seems that every time temperatures rise in the desert, some plaid-trousered rube can’t help but sing the praises of “dry heat.” Generally speaking, 108 degrees is hot – dry, wet or otherwise. Thankfully in Vegas, high temperatures last only as long as you want them to. The spray misters along the strip are just a cheap come on compared to the blessed cool air conditioning that greets you inside the casinos. And the fully stocked bars promise refreshment of a wholly different variety.
Choosing the right cocktail in situations like this is not a decision to be taken lightly. Which is where Vegas Hot Spots crack crew of mixology professionals come in; we set out to uncover the ideal glass-bound tonic.
The Mojito is a Cuban concoction, and one that Fidel should be wary of. Liberation in a tumbler, we settled on its subtle, tangy flavor and alcoholic punch as the perfect antidote for summer’s century-plus temperatures.
The mix is simple: mint leaves, lime juice, simple syrup (sugar dissolved in boiling water) or confectioner’s sugar, a splash of soda water over crushed ice and, of course, rum. As with most good things, the proof is in the execution, so the VHS crew, clad in guayaberas and armed with a healthy stash of Cohibas, was off to discover Vegas’ best mojito.
The first stop of the night was Green Valley Ranch Station, the upper end extension of the Station Casino chain. The Ranch brings a down-to-earth luxury to the Vegas scene, a sharp contrast with its popular night club, Whiskey Sky. This swank warren of modern furniture and retro lighting has proven to be well worth the drive for the Vegas club-ready. VHS arrived early to take in the sunrise on the deck, overlooking the Ranch’s pool and spa area, and test the lingering heat. When the lovely cocktail server expressed doubt as to whether she could deliver a mojito, revolution loomed. But soon she was setting down lowballs filled with mint. The crew sipped, slurped, swallowed and confirmed the sublime nature of the drink. Tart, sweet, and minty by turns, the balance of flavors was perfect and the crew had themselves a contender off the bat.
The Mandalay Bay’s rumjungle, by virtue of its name alone, made the list of mojito contenders. This over-the-top restaurant and bar features walls of fire and a ridiculous variety of rums. As VHS’ resident cubanos tore into their drinks, however, it was clear that lots of rum means little without a mixologist to use it properly. The mint looked like it had been through a blender, making the cocktail hard to drink and giving our crew too many green specks to clear out of their teeth. Disappointed, our boys stubbed out their coronas and soldiered on.
A short walk down the strip brought them to Nectar in the Bellagio. A small bar and restaurant tucked into the North side of the Casino, Nectar is a funky place to watch the well-bred clientele and take in a ballgame at the same time. Perched on plastic stools, the crew was greeted by a Lisa Loeb-look alike waitress and a bartender who didn’t want to be bothered with a mojito. The drinks that arrived were good, however, tipped a little too far to the lime end of the spectrum but otherwise tasty enough. Maybe it was the sterile setting, but somehow this mojito failed to excite.
In the end, this battle royale of cocktails turned out to be a lopsided affair. With drink prices all in the eight to nine dollar range, the clear winner was Whiskey Sky. Well worth the 15 minute cab ride from the strip, it’s not Cuba but on a 108 degree day in Vegas, with a little imagination and appropriate attire, it will do.