Mandarin Bar’s Michael La Penna takes bartending to new heights in Mandarin Oriental, Las Vegas

I have the best office in Las Vegas. It’s located on the 23rd floor of the hotel, with live jazz music played nightly and fabulous guests from around the world.

As I walk into the stunning Mandarin Bar every day to start my shift, I always take a minute to admire the breathtaking views of the Las Vegas Strip; it often inspires me when I look at this great cityscape and realise that all the people walking in and around CityCenter are here for their own taste of the city. I also think about the beautiful list of cocktails that I get to create – nothing makes me happier than when a guest orders one of them and tells me it is the greatest drink they have had in Las Vegas.

To make a great cocktail, I can only be as good as the ingredients I am working with. I use the finest and freshest fruit, herbs and juices to create well-balanced, unique drinks. Preparing a cocktail starts at the  beginning of a shift, with mise en place: squeezing the juice daily and infusing simple syrups and garnishes.

I often find inspiration through classic cocktails. Our ‘Smoke and Mirrors’ is a twist on the classic Manhattan and one of my absolute favourites. I start by spraying a mixing glass with Lagavulin 16 Year Old Scotch. I then add 2oz of Basil Hayden’s Kentucky Bourbon, 1oz of Carpano Antica Formula Sweet Vermouth, and ½oz of mandarin orange black tea simple syrup. I stir it all together and serve it up with a twist. It’s delicious every time.

Another favourite of mine, and Mandarin Bar’s most popular cocktail, is the signature ‘Golden Leaf’ Martini. To make it, I muddle mandarin oranges with simple syrup and fresh lime juice, then add Aperol, pineapple juice and Hendrick’s Gin, shaken and served up with edible gold garnish. I always believe that premium liquor should be used in cocktails and they should be finished with a creative garnish.

When I make a unique cocktail for a special guest or private party, our Executive Pastry Chef, Gianni Santin, is often my best friend. He always has a new and exciting fruit purée, chocolate garnish – or just words of wisdom – to help inspire me. The result is that I create drinks that guests come back for and I love that.

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