Located adjacent to BLT Burger and just a short stroll up the walk from the Mirage’s Las Vegas Boulevard entrance is the Mirage’s newest watering hole, a monument to rum of all kinds. Under the watchful eye and steady pour of lead bartender Kristen Schaefer, Rhumbar serves up a tasteful selection of rum-based cocktails complex enough to satisfy the confirmed rum—or rhum—snob and approachable enough for the guy behind me who dared to order … a white wine.
Too eager to wait for last night’s grand opening party, I stopped in last week with my bartending class instructor/friend/colleague/drinking buddy Myke to work my way through BarMagic of Las Vegas’ carefully constructed cocktail menu. The drinks are, after all, the focal point of Rhumbar’s gleaming white, new blank canvas.
Reinterpreting classics to incorporate Rhumbar’s 45 featured rums, five cachaças and one pisco, beverage consultants Tobin Ellis (also Schaefer’s fiancé!) and John Hogan selected three old-but-good standards. The Classic Mojito—on which the bar’s design is loosely based—employs an aged rum rather than a white rum and Schaefer, proclaiming herself to be a mint fanatic, says she only will make hers with Israeli mint, “because it’s big and bushy and beautiful!" Hmmm. “Rather like my hair!” I offered, poking at the indeed plentiful, impossibly green sprigs in my glass. I sip. The final product is worth waiting for co-owner Michael Frey’s Montecristo rum to age 12 years, taking on a golden hue and a robust flavor that gives the somewhat staid requisite poolside sipper some unexpected oomph. I sip again. “Oomph!”
Now, this writer likes her drinks on the dryer side (meaning less sweet) so watching a healthy dose of rock candy syrup go into my Hemingway Daiquiri gave me pause (Ernest Hemingway was diabetic and would have taken his daiquiri sugar-free) but then the fruit being particularly acidic at the time, well, sorry Ernest, a little sweetness did the trick. Sweeter still was the 1944 Mai Tai, which received particular attention from Ellis. As the original 17 year-old J. Wray & Nephew rum is no longer available, to get as close to the original as possible without daring to call it such, Ellis’ Mai Tai calls for Appleton V/X, also produced by J. Wray & Nephew distillery.
Beyond the classics, three Polynesian and three South American cocktails grace the menu’s pages, paying homage to the many sailors and islanders who over the years played a role in popularizing rum drinks, in some cases using rum as currency or as a vehicle for lime juice to stave off scurvy. We have those plucky folks and those that came after them to thank for Tatonga, for the advent of the gluttonous tiki cult classic, the Scorpion Bowl and for Brazil’s national cocktail, the Caipirinha, served at Rhumbar with fresh strawberries and a sweet lime espuma, a nod to Ellis’ passion for molecular mixology.
But the star of the bar (by far)—and therefore rightfully placed front and center—are BarMagic’s original creations. The Spanish Trampoline, a meeting of muddled tangerines, mint, cane sugar and cachaça was the winning cocktail in the 2005 Food Network Challenge. Another winner, this one found among the South American-inspired beverages, is Schaefer’s Samba Swizzle, which only just last week took the competition mixologist to St. Maarten as the only female finalist in the Domaine de Canton $10,000 Bartender of the Year competition. I congratulated her, sipping on the fruits of her labor, nibbling daintily at the candied ginger garnish.
Finally, at John Hogan’s recommendation, I sampled the Latin Manhattan. All at once sweet and spicy, Cruzan Single Barrel Rum is stirred with Velvet Falernum from Barbados, lime, Angostura bitters and a splash of Jamaican ginger beer. For those as unfamiliar with Falernum as I was until I sipped at it from a shot glass to isolate the flavor, Falernum is a sugarcane-based liqueur laced with lime and a veritable spice rack of other flavors to yield a clear, viscous syrup the taste of which can only be described as the purple Necco Wafer candy—clove all day and saccharin sweet. A sipping drink to be sure.
In two visits I still have not made it through the entire cocktail list, but my respect for Hogan, Ellis, and Schaefer (who also works for BarMagic) continues to grow; I am curious to see what they’ll put in front of me next. I drink because I want to learn and I learn every time I drink, which makes me all the more glad to find another little place in Vegas—along with Downtown Cocktail Room, Noir Bar, Sidebar, BarMagic’s Social Mixology at the Artisan and a handful of others—where I can learn to my liver’s content.