Ah cocktails, who doesn’t like them? On her first day behind the bar at Velveteen Rabbit, Christina Dylag had a secret: she had never bartended before. Dylag had been in the industry as a hostess and server and had a well-equipped bar at home – but she hadn’t ever prepared drinks for customers as a bartender, when she and her sister, Pamela Dylag, opened Velveteen Rabbit back in 2013.
“I didn’t really want anyone to know either,” Christina admits, from the velvet Victorian chairs that throng the bar’s hazy interior. “I sidestepped that question a lot within the first couple years.” Walk through their Main Street entrance on a given weekend night, and you’d never guess. In the four years since, the Arts District hangout has thrived into the type of spot the sisters pictured.
“When we had the idea for the bar, it was more like this bigger idea, like a community space,” Pamela comments, that was similar to bars they had hung out in, in cities such as Portland, Oregon, and Tokyo. The sisters frequently host events in collaboration with local performers and continue coming up with ever more creative seasonal menus with the support of their staff.
Christina’s experience is a testament to how everyone starts somewhere. Now, the Dylag sisters are giving hopeful home bartenders that start at bimonthly cocktail classes, relaunched at the Velveteen Rabbit in January.
They had offered classes through a third-party organizer about three years back.
Those attracted mostly bachelorette parties and that sort of crowd, who were more fixated on the consumption of the drinks than the actual creation of them. The cocktails, were also custom-made for that audience: a variation on a Cosmopolitan, for example, versus the classics partakers are now making.
The present manifestation lures locals and tourists who are a little more into the each and every detail of a cocktail’s conception. During the class, they ask how to use a selection of aperitifs and the benefits oils of an orange peel have.
At a recent class, 29-year-old participant Jason Bornstein who works for a liquor distributor, expressed that “they branded themselves with intricate cocktails. “There’s so much that goes into (making a bar successful), it’s so cool.”
During the two-hour class, which is held every other Saturday from 2 to 4p.m., participants make three classic cocktails. They begin with a French 75, which is an effervescent lemon drink from the Prohibition era, then advance toward more spirit-forward cocktails: a whiskey sour and then an Old-Fashioned.
“Most cocktails, they come from classic recipes,” Pamela says. “Even when you get into the weird, crazy cocktails that are more experimental, they all have a basis of a classic recipe. You just have to be really familiar with that recipe before you venture out and see what you can do.”
Either Pamela or Christina demonstrates how to make the drink, giving a brief background about its history. Later, the students pop behind the bar to have a go.
“I have all these tools, I have a spectacular bar, I just didn’t know how to make anything,” expresses Sharon Bond, 56, who attended the latest class.
Although Velveteen Rabbit has an extensive menu – current offerings feature drinks with Chareau, an aloe vera liqueur, and papaya-jalapeno shrub – Christina and Pamela picked the three cocktails for the class based on their accessibility and straightforwardness. Attendees can reinvent them at home, even if they might not have any specialized ingredients or tools.
“You don’t have to go spend hundreds of dollars at the stores just to re-create these drinks, we wanted to be accessible in that way,” Christina says. For example, the whiskey sour and the Old-Fashioned can have the same whiskey.
By the time the newbie bartenders have downed the last of their third cocktail of the afternoon, they are imploring the Dylag sisters to mix the menu up, so they have an excuse to take the class again.
“As soon as she changes it up, I’ll be back,” Bond says.
Bar tending at home
Staring down a bar’s carefully curated cocktail menu, the prospect of mixing up anything even the least bit similar at home can seem daunting. Yet Velveteen Rabbit owners Christina and Pamela Dylag, inventors of one of those carefully assembled menus, say planning a home bar and acquainting yourself with the fundamentals of cocktail creation doesn’t have to be tough, or involve a huge cost. That being said, the Dylag sisters have a few helpful tips for novices looking to up their at-home drinking game.
“That’s how we started,” Pamela explains. The sisters began with “The Craft of the Cocktail” by Dale DeGroff and “The PDT Cocktail Book” by Jim Meehan.
Discover Las Vegas’ liquor stores
Try popping into places like Total Wine & More, Lee’s Discount Liquor, and more boutique places such as Khoury’s Fine Wine and Spirits and Top Shelf Wine and Spirits. Staff endorsements are often a great place to start. The accessibility of several spirits has grown enormously since Christina and Pamela unlocked the doors of Velveteen Rabbit. “It’s fun, because you get to explore a lot of different spirits,” Pamela says.
Have a chat with your local bartender
The next time you’re out, “Ask them, ‘I’m not too familiar with bourbons, what’s a good introductory bourbon that I can try?’” Christina advises.
Invest in a few Must-Have tools
But don’t fret about choosing anything elaborate. “Whenever I make drinks at home, I’m pretty makeshift about it,” Pamela cautions. For the majority of the cocktails, a strainer, a Boston shaker and a jigger, to make measuring easier, will suffice.
Take their class, of course!
The three typical cocktails are supposed to be easy to reproduce at home with token components. For those who really want to delve deep, the all-inclusive online course BarSmarts will round out your education.
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