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NEW YEAR'S EVE IN VEGAS

Ring in the decade in Las Vegas with some bubbly

No matter your poison, there's a bar to hoist a glass when the clock strikes midnight.

December 27, 2009|By Jay Jones | Reporting From Las Vegas

When the clock strikes midnight as Thursday turns into Friday and the throng along Las Vegas Boulevard delivers a raucous a cappella version of "Auld Lang Syne," exuberant voices will mingle with the popping of countless Champagne corks

Courtney Rich doesn't want to be a party pooper or to burst anyone's bubble, but she wants to enlighten the multitudes: The bubbly most people will use to toast 2010 isn't Champagne. It's sparkling wine.

"If I call it Champagne, it's from Champagne," says Rich, a sommelier at Laguna Champagne Bar, a new lounge at the Palazzo.


Laguna Champagne Bar Palazzo Resort Hotel Casino, 3325 Las Vegas Blvd. South; (702) 607-7777, www.palazzo. Open 24 hours.

Twin Creeks Restaurant Silverton Casino Lodge, 3333 Blue Diamond Road; (702) 263-7777, www.silverton. Open for dinner and drinks Tuesdays through Saturdays.


"We have no sparkling wine on this menu, only Champagne, only products from France," she says proudly.

If challenged to a taste test, she says it takes her only a moment to tell the difference between a California sparkling wine and a Champagne from Champagne.

The French product, she explains, has an "old-world scent" and a "really earthy taste," thanks to the chalky soil of northern France.

The lesson she shares is simple: All Champagne is sparkling wine, but not all sparkling wine is Champagne. However, this sommelier doesn't want to be considered a snob.

"Part of Courtney's role is to educate and make it fun," explains Daniel Lydia, beverage operations manager for the Palazzo and the Venetian. "We want to get rid of the illusion that Champagne is for the rich and famous and only for special occasions."

Still, even on a festive night such as New Year's Eve, Rich says guests will have to open their wallets if they want to say "À votre santé!" with the good stuff.

That said, Lydia adds that Laguna's mission is "bringing Champagne to the masses." To do that, he's set the price for a glass of Moët & Chandon Imperial at $16. Various Champagne cocktails are offered for $14.

"[Champagne] adds a splash of luxury to a cocktail," Rich says. "It also gives it a feeling of freshness."

Lydia describes the experience differently.

"Whenever you see somebody drinking a Champagne cocktail, there's always a smile on their face," he says.

Not everyone will be drinking something sparkly to toast the dawn of a decade. In Las Vegas, numerous bars and lounges specialize in a particular spirit -- whether it's rum, vodka or even sake.

Folks fancying something made in the U.S.A. might want to celebrate at the Twin Creeks Restaurant at the Silverton Casino Lodge, where the focus is on bourbon, a uniquely American whiskey. Twenty-five varieties are on the menu.

"It has to be no less than 51% corn. That's the rule," says Joey Hutchinson, Twin Creeks' resident mixologist. "It also has to be stored no less than two years in new, charred American oak barrels.

"Nothing says 'class' like a nice whiskey."

Hutchinson stocks well-known names such as Jim Beam because some customers insist on it. However, he recommends a lesser-known brand -- Pappy Van Winkle -- that's distilled in much smaller quantities.

"I carry the 15, the 20 and the 23," he says of the ages of his various bottles of Pappy. A glass of the youthful 15-year-old sells for $13, while its oldest brother is priced at $58. Surprisingly, he notes, it's the 20-year-old -- at $21 -- that gets the highest marks from bourbon connoisseurs.

Rare, however, doesn't have to mean expensive.

"I've got some rares that I sell for $7 to $9," Hutchinson explains. "I mean, it's bourbon. We're not selling gold."

Tequila is the house specialty at several lounges along the Strip, including the T&T at the Luxor and the Isla in Treasure Island. Rum reigns at Rhumbar in the Mirage and Rumjungle at Mandalay Bay, while sake is supreme at Shibuya in the MGM Grand.

travel@latimes.com

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