Monday, February 20, 2012

The Chandelier: All Flash, No Substance


All That Glitters...

You would think that Las Vegas, the city that bills itself as the center of the glitz and glamour of the universe, the city that has elevated the façade of unending revelry and faux-sophistication to unheard of levels, the city that has worked hard to change its image from sleazy gamblers and shoddy, cynical hustlers to one of worldwide sophistication…you would think such a place would offer the epitome of professionalism in all its showcase establishments.  

City Centre
When it comes to bartending, mixology and the cocktail scene you’d think Las Vegas would be at the absolute pinnacle, the top of the game.

And you would be wrong.

Mind you, we’re not talking about the grubby little street level joints hawking beerpong and buffets and frazzled tawdry silicone women with tired eyes.  We’re talking the high-end high-roller places, the top of the tower establishments that reek of money with multiple zeros attached.   There the façade, the false veneer, is even more apparent.  Look closely and the stage show is just as phony, albeit at a higher cost.

Are there good bartenders in Vegas?  Yes, of course there are. Some damned good ones. People like Tony Abou-Ganim, one of the best known and most professional in the world, makes this place his home, working tirelessly to create the highest standards in his profession.  And there are others.

But not enough.


The Chandelier in Crystals

Take a look at an all-too-typical experience in one of the (literally) most glittering of bars in the city, The Chandelier in The Cosmopolitan Hotel, located in The Crystals Shopping area, a place studded with the shops of the beau monde.  Prada, Jimmy Choo, Gucci, Yves St. Laurent, Fendi…they’re all here. And The Chandelier nestles snugly in the center, an astonishing cocktail lounge with its three levels of bars all cocooned by long glittering strings of heavy crystal ropes cascading down from the ceiling of the building to the floor, encasing the lounges inside with the brilliant play of light.


The trouble is, once you get past the glittering crystal, the illusion falls apart. On Valentine’s Day, no less, and at the start of happy hour, only one bar of the three was operating.  And one overtaxed and peevish bartender staffed it, with one waitress and a bar back.  The barback was taking orders, but had to relay them to the bad-tempered bartender, who spent most of his time racing around the triangular center bar spreading his lack of joy.

When I ordered a Dirty Vodka Martini for my wife, he merely nodded.  But when I ordered a Hemingway Daiquiri, he looked at me with obvious disdain and said, “Sir, we don’t do any frozen blender drinks in this bar.” Taken aback, I hesitated, then decided not to pursue the matter and ordered a Woodford Manhattan, up.

He moved down the bar, began mixing the martini and yelled loudly back, “Lady, you want olives or onions in your martini?  And just ‘dirty’, right?  Nothin’ else?”  

The Muddy Manhattan
Having more or less successfully navigated the martini, he then looked around, walked all the way around the three sides of the bar (and past an obvious bottle of Cinzano Rosso at eye level on the back bar), he then yelled in a loud and annoyed voice, “Hey, where’s the vermouth?  Anybody seen the vermouth, the red stuff?”

When the vermouth was located and my Manhattan arrived it was quite obvious he had successfully located the vermouth, for the drink was a muddy brownish-red color, mostly vermouth, totally swamping the bold taste of the bourbon and about as out of balance as a Manhattan can be.

A couple sat near us and the man ordered a glass of sparkling wine while the young lady asked for one of the drink specials listed on the cocktail, a signature of the house.  The sparkler was served up immediately…and the couple then waited…and waited…and waited. Finally, after at least five minutes had passed, with the woman staring at the bartender and the man looking uncomfortably at his untouched bubbly, the bartender showed up and began mixing the lady’s drink, grumbling that he didn’t care for this cocktail as it was too complicated and took too many ingredients to make.

Since this was one of the specials of the house, and the single bar was only about one quarter full, the comment was, to say the least, strange and out of place.

It got worse.

One customer asked for a glass of Joel Gott Merlot.  The bartender looked around and yelled back---apparently yelling was his primary mode of conversation---“Sorry, we’re outta that. What else you want?”  Since I could see a three-quarter-full bottle of that very same wine immediately behind him on the back bar, it seemed like an odd thing to say.  Then, to another customer who asked about a cocktail on the bar, he said, “Well, that’s a margarita, but I can make it with vodka if you want.”

Another couple at the bar simply sat for several minutes, then got up and walked away unserved.  The couple next to us drank up quickly---so much for a nice leisurely conversation over a cocktail in the lounge---threw some money on the table, and left hurriedly with frowns on faces.  As we left the bartender continued stomping around the bar aimlessly, not making very good drinks, not very happy with his world, and making sure everybody knew about it.

Such a waste: investing what must have been tremendous money and effort creating a sumptuous cocktail lounge and then not only understaffing it but putting a surly and incompetent bartender in charge of it.
The experience at the Chandelier so poisoned the feel of the evening, we immediately went in search of a better place.  Thankfully, we found one---the bar at Jaleo nearby, which was everything The Chandelier was not.  And later there was the Vesper Bar, another outstanding watering hole with enthusiastic bartenders.

The Chandelier?  May be glittery, but it’s a lousy bar. We’ll never go back. And the best thing they could do at this point is stop relying on the crystalline glitter and start training their people to be polished and professional and attentive to their clientele.  While they still have one.  If you go to Vegas, take a glance, but stroll on by.  It’s a waste of a good bar.

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