In case you didn’t already know, Las Vegas has a lot more going for it than The Strip and the Fremont Street Experience. Thanks (in part) to a massive investment from Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh, the city’s Downtown has been experiencing a renaissance in recent years, one that’s best exemplified by the fun and funky Downtown Container Park. It’s an open-air shopping center complete with a dozen or so cool shops, seven bars and restaurants, live entertainment, plenty of green space, and a massive fun zone for kids. No visit to Vegas should be complete without a visit to this three-story complex (which, as the name might imply, is constructed almost entirely from shipping containers), and no visit to the complex should be complete without a visit to Oak & Ivy, a tiny bar serving some of the city’s best cocktails.
Oak & Ivy has a small patio, but the main event is an eight-seat bar that’s literally tucked into the side of a shipping container. It’s actually quite stylish and elegant, with a small chandelier, plaid-patterned wallpaper, wood wainscoting, and even air conditioning. After settling into a couple stools, we met master mixologist Terry Clark, who’s the bar’s “creative lead.” He’s poured his heart and soul into this bar, and has crafted a truly unique (and fun) cocktail experience. He’s also gregarious and incredibly knowledgeable, and we really enjoyed chatting with him about all things cocktail-related.
Clark’s menu changes regularly, but it’s largely whiskey-focused; in fact, there are more than 40 American whiskeys on offer. Although he’ll make anything you desire (more on that later), even if you’re not a whiskey drinker you should sample a whiskey cocktail or two. On the menu when we visited were a handful of whiskey drinks that we guarantee you won’t find elsewhere, including the Smoke and Spice and Nothing Nice (above) — Woodford Reserve, brown simple syrup, and Memphis barbecue bitters served in a glass rimmed with barbecue seasoning that was first filled with smoke from a bourbon barrel stave — which was essentially barbecue in a glass. Another was called the Apple Pie Harvest, made with Clyde May’s apple whiskey, lemon, simple syrup, egg white, bitters, and allspice dram. But it didn’t stop there: It was topped with an apple slice topped with butter, brown sugar, and high-proof whiskey, which was then flambéed until caramelized and topped with cinnamon and nutmeg, and the drink was served with a pipette of Becherovka, a Czech herbal liqueur. If the first tasted like a barbecue, this one was apple pie in a glass. We also sampled Clark’s play on bananas Foster, called The Bare Necessities: A purée is made of bananas, brown sugar, vanilla, butter, and candied pecans (which is flambéed), and that’s mixed with Amaretto, Sailor Jerry rum, black walnut bitters, and lemon, and topped with caramelized bananas and candied pecans. It’s absolute insanity, and it’s wildly delicious.
While Clark’s menu is certainly worth exploring, he also prides himself on his ability to create bespoke cocktails to order based on a conversation with the guest. Gin, vodka, rum, or whiskey? Sweet or dry? With just a few details, Clark will craft the perfect cocktail for you, and let me tell you, he really hit the nail on the head for us. A request for a gin cocktail, sour and not too sweet, resulted in I Dream of Ginny (above), a combination of gin, crème de violette, house-made lavender bitters, St. Germain, lemon, and egg white that was a brilliant shade of blue. Of course, it was also delicious.
It goes without saying, but in a bar that pays this much attention to high-quality cocktails, as much care is devoted to the preparation of the non-spirit components as to the provenance of the alcohol. All juices are fresh-squeezed in house, syrups are house-made, garnishes are thoughtful, and every detail seems to have been thought of.
There’s no shortage of high-end cocktail bars in Las Vegas serving $22 cocktails that are as good as any. But to find a cocktail bar of this caliber, with so much passion behind it, serving world-class cocktails that in most cases only cost $14, in the Downtown Container Park… well, that’s just something you have to see to believe. And we definitely suggest you see it!