Scenes from the Desert – Part II
Take a look at the above photo. If this room looks like your worst nightmare—like a room you'd never be caught dead in—then we're probably never going to be friends. However, if this room looks like the coolest, vintage, kitschy lounge you've ever seen, then you'd probably enjoy running around Vegas with me. I've been wanting to go to the Peppermill since I saw Sharon Stone kiss Robert DeNiro there in Casino. Since it's open twenty-four hours and has a decidedly lengthy menu, we decided to go there for breakfast before hitting the northern outlets. The bar (above) was dead at 8 AM, but the diner itself was packed. The bar menu is an absolute spectacle—packed with various neon colored tiki drinks in tall glasses with long straws. I could spend all night here and never get bored. This is the Vegas I love.
When you dine at a gangster lounge, you should eat like a gangster. Protein to help fortify the stomach against the coming onslaught of non-stop walking and non-stop drinking. Legit steak and eggs at the Peppermill. I would have done a Bloody Mary to boot, but I'm not that much of a lush. Even 8 AM is too early for me.
When it was time to finally quench my insatiable thirst, I was still in the mood for tiki drinks after lusting over that long list at the Peppermill. Normally I would have to wait in line for over and hour just to get a seat at San Francisco's premier rum spot Smuggler's Cove (because Martin has done an amazing job there), but here I can walk into Rhumbar at the Mirage and sit down whenever I damn please. I did just that today at 1 PM and there wasn't a person in sight. I even get a real waterfall to look at while I drink.
The important thing to remember about Vegas is that its smarter than you think it is. Remember the scene from Swingers where Jon Favreau thinks the waitress didn't understand his "pancakes in the age of enlightment" joke (the menu said "breakfast served any time")? Turns out she understood the joke, she just didn't feel like playing along with an asshole who was trying way too hard. Vegas, in general, can often behave the same way. It's not going to pander to pedants. It doesn't have anything to prove. For example, you might look at the happy hour menu at Rhumbar, see the $5 Bud Lights and strawberry vodka coolers, and think, "This place doesn't have good drinks." But when you go inside and sit down, you can get a Trader Vic Mai Tai made with Appleton, Cointreau, orgeat, and lime, along with numerous other tiki classics to enjoy while you take in the beautiful scenery. Don't ever underestimate Vegas.
I've found that the Bay Area has become so focused on its food and drink rules that it's completely forgotten about its culture. Part of the reason Smuggler's Cove is so popular is because it's equally atmospheric. Why more bars in San Francisco don't understand that is beyond me, but going to back to what I said earlier: there's an element of fear at play. After ten years of working in the booze business, I've seen more than my share of it. There's this undercurrent of anxiety about not being taken seriously that permeates everything. Everyone wants to be an expert and heaven forbid you don't recognize that expertise. Some will do whatever it takes to prove to you how serious they are about their job. Chefs get tattoos of knives to show you serious they are about cooking. Bartenders get literal cocktail recipes tattooed on their wrist. Heaven forbid you can't literally see at all times how serious they are about their craft, just in case you don't already know who they are. In Vegas, I haven't found that chip to be much of a problem. The bars are never stale, stuffy, or serious. They're expansive and dreamy. We stumbled into a newer Latin-inspired spot called Chica in the Palazzo and sat down for drinks in an absolutely beautiful space.
Let me preface this paragraph by saying that I'm not as up to speed on my tiki culture as some very serious folks are today, so my apologies in advance if this isn't anything new. However, I have to say that I was blown away by this cocktail at Chica. It's a rum Old Fashioned (or "new" fashioned, as they call it) made with aged Rhum Clement agricole, but instead of using simple syrup they sweeten it with a Mexican Coke reduction! The result is basically a fancy rum and Coke, but one with serious complexity and flavor. I was seriously wowed. It's easily the most creative and enjoyable cocktail I've had this year and it's one I'll be coming back for again very soon (plus Chica gives you tortilla chips and plantain chips with their guacamole, which really dials up that dish).
More from Vegas shortly.