Tales of the Cocktail – 2016 Spirited Awards.
“The reaction from the city has been mind boggling. For me, watching my team react was one of the most fulfilling things. They all looked around and said, ‘we are a part of something. We earned this!’”
It was scary day for Nectaly Mendoza… He hadn’t seen anyone at the bar for hours, bills were due and prospects were not good. He even had to sell his car to make payroll. On this June day in 2011, the city was still recovering from the depths of the recession and Nectaly’s concept, Herb’s & Rye, was struggling to take hold.
Fast forward to 2016, New Orleans at the now world-famous cocktail festival, Tales of the Cocktail®. At the table are Nectaly’s crew, some of Las Vegas’s most talented players: Adam O’Donnell, Mathias Simonis, Michelle Meyer, Joe Pereira and Matt Graham. All just happy and humbled to be there among so many that they respect. Nectaly also felt grateful and honored to be nominated for two awards, but didn’t have any expectations. Before he knew it, the crowd “went nuts!” He turned around, and they had won!
“I never expected to get it this time. I knew that we had a shot because of the love that I was getting. We were in a category with so many people I look up to and love. Eric Castro is one of the best in the industry, Aaron Polsky is one of my favorite people and Flat Iron, well, it’s an institution.” Nectaly was obviously happy.
Yes, the world had turned and now Vegas was in the spotlight. Herbs & Rye through perseverance, hard work, and desire, had now taken home the title of Best High Volume Cocktail Bar in the US. The outpouring of congratulations has been astounding.
Nectaly exclaimed, “The reaction from the city has been mind boggling. For me, watching my team react was one of the most fulfilling things. They all looked around and said we are a part of something. We earned this! One of the most exciting parts of this is that Vegas’s name was up there with London, San Francisco, New York. It’s a tip of the hat to the entire town.”
Francesco Lafranconi, who has been a longtime supporter of Herbs & Rye and a force for Las Vegas beverage, was also ecstatic, “This award was a culmination of Nectaly’s hopes, dreams and failures. It happened in an ambitious way but with humble beginnings as Nectaly created this environment of genuine hospitality. This award, for the first time, puts our city on the world map for high volume and well-executed cocktails. He worked very hard. It’s a great, inspiring story. I hope that more operators will take this example, of doing this all with very limited resources.”
Francesco, who was also nominated for an award at TOTC (Best Bar Mentor), has been a teacher and inspiration to our entire beverage community. He heads the mixology department at Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirits and like his employer, has been a great advocate for Las Vegas. The building that Herb & Rye occupies has a long connection with Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirits’s Larry Ruvo, where the Ruvo family’s Venetian Restaurant served the valley for years.
Herbs & Rye, Francesco and Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirits are all now integral parts of the community. Francesco has taught many of our valley’s beverage leaders at Southern’s Academy of Spirits and Fine Service. He has also seen the many changes to Vegas and been a big supporter of Herbs & Rye. “Herbs and Rye is a place that you feel pampered and are treated with courtesy. It’s genuine and entertaining. People want to be there and be their best. You feel at home. All of the ingredients of the back bar are solid, as well as the food and service, and everyone feels comfortable. It’s basically what a bar should be.”
The Tales of the Cocktail® festival started in 2002 as a get-together for cocktail lovers and has grown into the premier cocktail festival of the world. The Spirited Awards® were added in 2007 in order to further the cause, and recognize the best our industry. They have evolved to include both venues and bar talent from America and the world alike.
The Best High Volume Cocktail Bar award recognizes the bar, with a capacity of 100 or more, that most consistently makes premium quality cocktails. A lot of aspects are also considered, like bartending techniques, menus and service. The crux of the award celebrates the delivery of cocktail culture to the masses efficiently and with style. That is what Herbs and Rye does best.
What makes this accolade truly meaningful is that the winners are chosen by the leaders of the industry; it is not just an artificially conjured “best of” list. The judging starts with Simon Ford, Angus Winchester and includes dozens of cocktail gods from Tony Abou-Ganim to Dushan Zharic. The international and USA judging committees are comprised of 50 judges in each categories that know about bar culture and the industry as a whole.
A testament to hospitality. To Nectaly, hospitality is the basis for everything. It means giving your all, blood sweat and tears for the guests. Bringing it every night. Our Las Vegas Chapter of the United States Bartenders’ Guild motto is “hospitality first” and that is a code that Nectaly lives by, as he explained, “It is easy to give someone good service, to get to know someone, and caring is the trick. And it doesn’t matter who they are, you have to treat them like family. We may not have the best ice program, or the best cocktails but what we do have is hospitality, and that is us!”
Nectaly has been able to create an ethos and Herbs & Rye has had a synergistic relationship with our beverage community. He has been able to build bonds across the country (and the world). Nectaly acknowledged that this is part of his success, “This industry is built on brotherhood.” One very key element is his ability to spread his ability, and to bring out the best in others.
After speaking to some of the crew members, their excitement was contagious. Following are some quotes from the Herbs and Rye team.
“This award means so much to Herbs and Rye and Las Vegas. This city wants so badly to prove that hard work and a passion for serving great cocktails has always been a hallmark of our hospitality community. On stage I knew this was a big deal but I didn’t realize the true impact until I got home. The pride we felt that ‘We Won’ not just Herbs, but Las Vegas and all of our friends in the Southwest region was overwhelming. ‘We’ did it folks!”
“It is a breathtaking experience to have this acknowledgment from our national bar and spirits community. This award is just as much for Las Vegas as for the bar team at Herbs & Rye. I’m happy to have the deserved recognition for our bar and city, but it only means we continue to do exactly what we have already been doing, but better. Nectaly Mendoza built something amazing and has taken us along for the ride.”
Adam O’Donnell-Bar Manager
“The award to me personally is a reminder that you don’t need to be in the spotlight in order to be part of something great, for Herbs and Rye it just goes to show with determination, passion, relentless fortitude anything is possible. This city and its hospitality industry has been overlooked for so long; this award really is for Vegas more than anything. This is the world yelling from the rooftop of our ‘industry clubhouse’ that they see us! We want to keep surprising them and show them that we are more than a two-day wild vacation spot, but rather a true city full of professionals with great talents yet to be discovered.”
And Nectaly talking about his crew, “This award is because of what these guys do. I’m the one that gets to travel around but these guys are the ones that are grinding it out every night.
We did it for our city because we have all been through a lot together. We fell 100 times but the difference is that we got up 101 times. And not by ourselves; we picked each other up.”
Some will say that Vegas is now coming of age and this is proof. We have long been made to feel like the overpaid stepchildren of the industry and have been a lambasted afterthought. The question has been, “We can do quantity, but can we do quality?” Now the answer is, both.
Now our champions have returned home; Nectaly & Crew have broken down barriers and carried us on their backs to the promised land. We can bask in the glory for now but with the spotlight currently on us, what are we going to do with it? What are we going to do to better our city, and our industry? For Nectaly, for Vegas, and for ourselves, may we keep moving forward and make Papa Mendoza proud! Thank you Nectaly Mendoza for achieving, persevering and enlivening our city! Salute!