Herbs and Rye: Classic Cocktails 101

Herbs and Rye frontHerbs and Rye at 3713 West Sahara Avenue is the kind of place that you could drive right by and never even notice it. It’s dark. It has no windows. The sign is barely lit and the building sits back a bit from the road. Entering through that dark wooden door from a shadowy parking lot could be a little intimidating on your first visit. Don’t let that stop you. If you want the best things the city of Vegas has to offer, you have to scratch beneath the surface of things. Beyond that door, it’s nothing like what you would expect.

Herbs and Rye BarInside you will find beautiful chandeliers hanging from a dark ceiling, dark woods everywhere, from the tables, to the floor and along and behind one of the best looking bars I have had the pleasure of imbibing at. Seats are wrapped in dark leather and quite comfortable – even the barstools. Deep, dark textured reds on the walls give the room some color without making it too bright. The exposed brick on the walls and the brass lanterns on the bar make the room feel almost as old as the city itself (Las Vegas was founded in 1905). It is a scene that wouldn’t be out of place in an episode of Boardwalk Empire, save for the flat screen television over the bar. As inviting as this space is, please don’t come to Herbs and Rye for the decor, come for the cocktails.

Here’s what makes Herbs and Rye special: There are plenty of bars in Vegas where you can have a 25 year old “mixologist” make you their version of a hundred year old cocktail. This isn’t one of them. If you want an authentic, perfectly made classic cocktail, then this is the place to go.

Don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against those bars making fancy variations on classic cocktails… in fact, some of my favorite bars in Las Vegas fit this description. However, I believe you should taste a dish before before seasoning. So in order to fully appreciate the drinks at places like Downtown Cocktail Room and The Lady Silvia, I recommend you come to Herbs and Rye and taste the drinks that are the inspiration for those modern twist cocktail lists that are all the rage at other bars. No other bar in Las Vegas takes their cocktails more seriously.

Herbs and Rye menuThe cocktail menu at Herbs and Rye absolutely dwarfs the food menu. And you’ll probably learn something new on every page of it. Cocktails are listed according to the period in which they were invented, and there’s plenty of back-story to inform your choice of libations. Each time period has an informative description. Below that, the listing of each drink tells you what’s in it, and gives some history of the drink – who invented it or recorded it, and where. Throughout the menu are reproductions of vintage books and advertising that further illustrate the history of the drinks and add a bit of whimsy.

Herbs and Rye CocktailThe cocktails they serve are all authentic classics – creative variations are not encouraged, in fact I could tell I made the bartender rather uncomfortable when I asked about them, and that’s a good thing! The bar is teaming with liquors, cordials, bitters (many house-made), glassware (they even have copper mugs for a proper Moscow Mule) and garnishes. They use premium ingredients and take care to build your cocktail the way it might have been done fifty years, or one hundred and fifty years ago. The drinks are strong and flavorful, and the bartenders are knowledgeable enough to help you discover your new favorite old drink. If you already have a favorite, they can probably make it – correctly.

And that’s the reason that every budding classic cocktail enthusiast should make a pilgrimage here. To taste the drinks (as close as possible to) the way they were originally intended. To get a delicious and intoxicating lesson on the origins of a truly American invention – the cocktail. Who knew learning history could be this fun?

  • Happy Hour is from 5-8pm and 12-3am, with half-off select dishes (even the steaks).
  • The music (and the crowd) gets younger and louder the later it gets, so come early for low key and relaxing, late for more of a club-like atomopshere.
  • It’s okay to bring the winos and the beer drinkers. Unlike some of Las Vegas’ more elite cocktail lounges, Herbs and Rye also happily serves beer and wine.

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The Lady Silvia

Lady Silvia EntranceAs someone who has never smoked, it took a while for me to get used to casinos and bars in Las Vegas. While I am all for freedom of choice and believe that a smoker should be able to choose whether or not they want to smoke, it is honestly hard for me to breathe smoke-filled air. I tend to get an allergic reaction to smoke, complete with stuffy nose and watery eyes.

So, when I heard about a smoke-free bar in Las Vegas I had to try it. And this bar is definitely worth a try – though it is more than a little hard to find. The address of the bar, 900 Las Vegas Blvd, is actually different from the physical entrance. If you want to enter the bar then you need to go to 140 Hoover Ave. One big clue is to look for the small parking lot with the Lady Silvia sign. It’s right across from the entrance.

Lady_Silvia-roomWhen you enter you are greeted by a dark hallway with bathrooms to the left. Ahead is the door to The Lady Silvia – a large, bright modern room lined by a bar on the right and a large seating area to the left. The bar is sleek and modern, framed by two TVs that were playing a Truffaut film (The 700 Blows) last time we were there. The seating area, on the other hand, resembles an old Victorian study with a modern twist. Bookshelves line the walls and comfy Victorian style chairs and sofas make up seating areas.

Lady_Silvia-PinxtosAt Happy Hour (the only time we’ve been there) the bar tends to be filled with locals who, from what I can tell, live in the adjacent apartments or condos. It comes off as more of a local hang out – kind of like the tv show Cheers, Vegas style. While the bar is open at 4pm, Happy Hour starts at 5pm and goes until 8pm Monday through Friday. The specialty cocktails are $6 and they serve pinxtos (similar to tapas) for $2/piece. There are also beer and well drink specials but, if you are going to go out of your way to come here, you should really try the cocktails!

Lady_Silvia-Cocktail2They have a wide array of premium liquors, bitters and cordials for making interesting drinks. Some of the Signature cocktails we have tried and liked are the Surrealist, the Lady Silvia and the Impressionist. The Surrealist stands out as being one of the only drinks made with green chartreuse that we’ve actually liked. I am always impressed by a place that can make a good cocktail using Green Chartreuse, since it’s strong herbal flavor often makes it hard to blend with other liquors.

We have yet to go to The Lady Silvia at night but that is mostly because we are usually downtown enjoying the free shows later in the evening. They look like they have some interesting entertainment, though, like the house and underground techno night they have on Sundays.

Lady Silvia BarYou can check out their website here: www.theladysilvia.com. And if you are looking for something to do that’s minutes away from downtown, you should check them out.

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Downtown Cocktail Room: An Air of Exclusivity

Downtown Cocktail Room Las VegasThere is a certain satisfaction in knowing a secret, being part of the “in” crowd. I have to admit, it’s fun sitting inside the Downtown Cocktail Room, sipping a cocktail, watching people try to figure out how to get inside. Some figure it out straight away, some give up way too easily. Some people are really determined, but just can’t quite figure it out. Usually someone will let them in… eventually.

Downtown Cocktail Room Las VegasDowntown Cocktail Room is at 111 Las Vegas Bouevard South, where it intersects with Fremont Street East. From the outside, this place doesn’t look very inviting. There’s a simple red neon sign atop the building, else you would never guess there was a bar inside. Once you figure out how to get inside it’s a different story. Dim lighting, dark red walls with simple black and white artwork and modern furniture transform this otherwise shabby room into a chic lounge. A dark translucent curtain over the floor to ceiling windows in the entrance creates a two way mirror effect, offering a view of Las Vegas Boulevard and of the people trying to find their way inside. The resulting vibe is that of a secret hideaway, a modern speakeasy.

If you go early, and I recommend you do, the music is usually just quiet enough to allow for conversation and relaxation. Monday through Friday from 4-8pm they offer happy hour specials, including seven dollar hand-crafted original cocktails, three and four dollar beers and five dollar wine. The cocktails are the raison d’etre, and they truly are both hand-crafted and original. The menu changes with the seasons, and the cocktails are rated based on their complexity. Level 1 drinks are as easy to drink as kool-aid, and level 5 are incredibly complex and filled with unusual flavors – the sort of drink that you need to work up to.

Downtown Cocktail Room Don't Fig With MeOn my last visit, I went right in the middle and ordered the Level 3 “Don’t Fig With Me”, aptly described on the menu as “Autumn in a glass”. The main spirit for this drink is Apple Jack, melded with flavors of fig, orange and cinnamon spice. Everything tastes fresh and natural. The glass is rimmed with cinnamon sugar. This drink fits the season perfectly, and its texture is somewhat thick and pulpy, which encourages sipping instead of gulping. It’s a decent value at the regular price of nine dollars, and a bargain at the seven dollar happy hour price.

When you go to the Downtown Cocktail Room, you are not limited, however, by the menu. This is one of the few craft cocktail lounges in Las Vegas where you can tell the bartender what sort of drink you are in the mood for and they will craft something to your tastes. I did just that on one of my early visits. I liked the resulting drink so much I had to get the recipe and buy the ingredients so I could make it at home. It’s a variation on the Alaska Cocktail, and it really was exactly what I was looking for.

Las Vegas learned long ago that it’s the little things that make a customer feel special, like a VIP, that keep them coming back. At Downtown Cocktail Room, one way they do this is their little black book. It’s a brilliant idea, really. There is a special black book that they keep behind the bar, full of recipes for off the menu drinks that their regular customers enjoy. If you’re there enough, and they take a liking to you, they might offer to put your favorite drink in there. You definitely feel like a VIP ordering your own drink from the book, and having the recipe in writing ensures that the drink is made consistently, regardless of who your bartender is.

Downtown Cocktail Room is a delightful respite from the craziness of Fremont Street. Find your way in, relax in a comfy chair (or bar stool) and chill with a tasty beverage. It’s a great way to start your evening!

Downtown Cocktail Room Between the SheetsTips:

  • To get inside you need to push on the most immovable looking thing in the entrance. You’ll see what I mean.
  • Downtown Cocktail Room also offers up a few classic cocktails on it’s menu, which can also be had at a discount during happy hour. The drink to the right, “Between the Sheets” from the Autumn menu, is one of my favorites.
  • Check out the lower right corner of their cocktail menu for “Nosh”, a few small, tasty morsels that go perfect with your drink (2 for $5). The Honey Sesame Cashews are quite good.

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Free Rum, Tomorrow! Frankie’s Tiki Room

Frankies_Tiki_Room-hotrodThroughout the years, Las Vegas has been home to many a tiki destination: There was Don the Beachcomber at the Sahara, the Aku Aku at the Stardust, I used to enjoy 2 for 1 Mai Tais at Trader Vic’s outside the Planet Hollywood. Nowadays, authentic tiki is as scarce in Las Vegas as it is in most other cities – with one exception.

Frankie’s Tiki Room opened at 1712 West Charleston, near UNLV’s Shadow Lane Campus in 2008, and has been a destination tiki lounge ever since. While for some locals it’s just another neighborhood bar with video poker machines and unusual decor, those in the know come from miles around to drink their fill of tiki ambience and potent tiki drinks.

The whole concept of tiki is to create a place to get away. When you enter a tiki bar you leave behind the everyday world and enter a place where you can truly relax. Both the drinks and decor are exotic and fanciful, hand crafted art. Blowfish Lamp at Frankie's Tiki RoomThe stresses of everyday life that follow you into most bars: news, politics, even sports – are intentionally left at the door. Drinks are strong, typically rum based (a nod to the mid-20th century origins of tiki, and to its popularity in tropical climes), and are crafted from fresh exotic juices, spices and liquors. Menus are cryptic and intriguing – the exact recipes often closely guarded secrets. On all counts, Frankie’s delivers.

Frankie's Tiki RoomThe first thing you notice when you enter Frankie’s is that you cannot see. The lighting inside is so dim that I needed a special lens for my camera to photograph the lights themselves. Once your eyes adjust, you begin to see the decor. A floor to ceiling tiki with dice for eyes guards the front door. The room is lit by colorful hanging blowfish lanterns. There are carvings on the walls, and on the backs of chairs.

Free Rum, Tomorrow! sign at Frankies Tiki Room

Bamboo is everywhere and human sized hand carved tikis lurk in every corner. A collection of vintage tiki mugs decorates one wall. Behind the bar it’s wall to wall booze – and not just the standards, but hundreds of rums and liquors, many that you probably haven’t heard of. There are more tiki mugs (for sale) and t-shirts as well. A carved wooden sign taunts “Free Rum Tomorrow!”

Two televisions are perched behind the bar, but you will never see a conventional broadcast. The sound is muted and the video is made up of random clips from an eclectic mix of The Bar at Frankie's Tiki Roomb-grade horror and Gilligan’s Island meets vintage burlesque. A jukebox plays surf and exotica. There’s a carnival style coin-op vice-tester machine. The drink menu is divided between traditional and modern original tiki drinks, rated from two to five skulls for potency. The five skull traditional Zombie contains many rums including Lemon Hart 151 and has a two drink limit “for tradition’s sake.”

Drinks are $9, and worth every penny for both potency and flavor. For $23 you can get your drink in a souvenir tiki mug, which you can keep. I’ve somehow wound up with quite a collection of these unique mugs over the years. Bar staff is friendly and efficient, and the clientele is a mix of tikiphiles, rockabilly, and locals who don’t seem to mind sharing their quirky neighborhood bar.

Tips:

  • Free rum, today! The paytables on the bar-top video poker machines aren’t that great, but if you pop in a 20 and play full coin your drinks are on the house.
  • Get a seat at the bar, if you can. The fancy carved seats at the tables are cool looking, but rather uncomfortable.
  • If you try the “Vice Tester” everyone will know it. The lights of the machine are far brighter than anything else in the bar.
  • If you go in late March/early April, this place is completely taken over by the Viva Las Vegas crowd, and will be packed to capacity throughout this annual rockabilly fest.
  • Finally, designate a driver or take a cab. One five skull drink and you could be teetering on the edge of the legal limit, depending on your tolerance.

Website: www.frankiestikiroom.com
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