Here’s How Las Vegas Makes Chic Caffeine Cocktails (That Don’t Taste Gross)
Salvatore Calabrese is the distinguished longtime head bartender at his sleek namesake bar on London’s Park Lane, where it functions as a part of the Playboy Club. And although he’s a respected elder statesman of cocktail culture—in the bartending community, they call the Italian Calabrese “The Maestro”—he isn’t a staunch traditionalist. Rather, he takes a quirky approach to cocktails, typified by his signature invention, the Breakfast Martini, which is flavored with marmalade as a tribute to his morning toast.
So when he was invited to open a new bar in Las Vegas, Bound by Salvatore, he wasn’t going to settle for stirring a few Manhattans. While most bartending in Vegas consists of doling out jugs of mixers for bottle girls to bring tableside, Calabrese concocted a cozy new 24-hour drinking den devoted to unusual drinks inspired by Sin City itself.
“Las Vegas is a city that’s different from any other city in the world. The one thing someone doesn’t do in Vegas is sleep—they come for two or three days, and they certainly don’t want to stay in bed,” he said by phone from his home in London. “I wanted to find a way for them to stay awake with elegance rather than bombarding themselves with Red Bull and vodka, or coffee.”
Grouped together on his menu under the title of "Vegas Never Sleeps," each of the $16 drinks is a caffeinated riff on a classic drink. Forget the espresso martini, though. “I’m not shoving a coffee in a cocktail, shaking it up, and serving it,” he explains, “These have charisma in their own right.” The list includes the Negroni Svegliato, or Wake Me Up Negroni (an Italian play on the more well-known Negroni sbagliato); the Madame Moka, a champagne-coffee cocktail using cognac, amaretto, and sugar; or the Never Say Goodnight, which combines Red Bull, espresso, absinthe, and a hefty slug of vanilla vodka. (Not for the faint of heart.)
You don’t need to book a trip to Vegas to try them, though. Calabrese explains that each can easily be replicated at home, using a few extra gadgets. In addition to the standard bar kit—a Boston shaker, jigger, spoon—you’ll need a blender and a metal stovetop espresso maker, or moka pot (Bialetti brand, please, he insists, sniffing “Do you use a jar to shake your drink or a proper shaker? It’s the same.”)
Chill a pitcher in the freezer and set aside. Then begin making your cocktail by removing the carbonation for its base liquid, whether champagne or Red Bull. Instead of leaving the bottle with the cap off, to let the bubbles out—which causes oxidation and a change in flavor—pour a few ounces in a blender, then whizz for a minute or so. The foam that forms on the surface is the CO2 escaping. The Red Bull needs to be flat, because this liquid will be boiled. Next, add it in place of water in the base of a moka pot.
Next, tamp down some coffee grounds in that pot: Calabrese dismisses the taste of Illy as “too soft” for this process and instead uses Lavazza. Sprinkle some spices and flavorings into the grounds—in this case, a vanilla pod to deepen the Red Bull’s sweetness. (Use cardamom and cinnamon to offset the dryness of champagne.) Then heat the espresso pot as usual, until the liquid boils and bubbles through the coffee, soaking up all the flavors. Before blending with the other ingredients, put this pot into a fridge to cool down. Mix it up in a Boston shaker, as directed, decant the liquid into the frozen pitcher you set aside (Calabrese uses another chilled moka pot at his lounge, as a playful visual, but at home, a pitcher is a fine substitute). This will keep it chilled on the table where small servings can be doled out, punch-style.
If you doubt the jolting power of his Vegas-inspired recipes, Calabrese guarantees their effectiveness first hand. “When I was playing with the recipes, after three or four of them, I have to be honest with you—that evening, I truly didn’t sleep; I was buzzing. My guys wanted to know what was wrong with me.”
35 milliliters of prepared coffee (see below)
1 teaspoon simple syrup
To prepare the coffee:
Make the moka coffee in the usual way using Martini Gran Lusso vermouth in place of water. Martini is flavorful enough that it doesn’t require any extra spices added to the grounds. Allow to cool, and store in the refrigerator.
To mix the drink:
Pour all the ingredients into a mixing glass with ice. Stir and strain into an old-fashioned glass with a large ice cube. Garnish with a twist of orange.
40ml of prepared coffee (see below)
20ml Amaretto Liqueur
10ml simple syrup
To prepare the coffee:
Flatten the champagne using the blender and allow to rest. Make the moka coffee in the usual way using the champagne in place of water and by adding two small pieces of cinnamon, a dusting of ground nutmeg, and a crushed cardamom pod to the ground coffee. Allow to cool, and store in the refrigerator.
To mix the drink:
Pour all the ingredient into a Shaker filled with ice, shake, and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.