April 2013 Bartender of the Month: Mariena Mercer
Name: Mariena Mercer
Establishment: Formally General Manager of the Chandelier Bar and Property Mixologist The Cosmopolitan Las Vegas
Recent Gigs: Specializing in molecular mixology and tequilas, Las Vegas-native Mariena Mercer is known for her molecular prowess and chemical manipulation of matter. For over five years, Mercer has crafted her own whimsical style for layering cocktails with gastronomic and scientific techniques.
She began her career in her hometown as a hostess at Emeril Lagasse’s Delmonico Steakhouse at The Venetian Hotel Casino. On her 21st birthday, Mercer left Delmonico to work at Treasure Island and became the resort’s first Tequila Goddess. As a tequila ambassador, she traveled to Jalisco, Mexico, studying firsthand regional agave distilleries with jimador farmers.
After leaving Treasure Island, Mercer was on the opening team at Mi Casa Grill Cantina at The Silverton and created their tequila-focused beverage program. She began experimenting with molecular mixology in 2007 while working with Eben Klemm—one of the vanguards of the movement. Enamored with molecular mixology, Mercer created a molecular kitchen at home for her research and experimentation.
When the Cosmopolitan Hotel Las Vegas opened in the fall of 2010 there were high expectations and Mercer shot right to the top becoming the property mixologist and general manager of the multi-level Chandelier.
In addition to her time behind the bar, Mercer enriched her beverage education through terroir, touch, and taste, while traveling the world studying at distilleries in New York, Los Angeles, Miami, Scotland, and Mexico.
What’s in the mixing glass or shaker:
I am really inspired by Thai cuisine and culture, which has been making its way in to my shaker these days. Thai cuisine is all about balance: notes sweet, salty, bitter, spicy, umami, and sour playing in perfect harmony. Kaffir Lime leaves and lemongrass are interesting ways to impart acid and citrus. I love how Thai chilis can impart heat and spice. I find them much more interesting than jalapenos or habaneros which have really been the darlings of the cocktail world as far as spice is concerned. Ginger, garam masala, coconut milk, curry powder, and Pandan leaves all can impart great depth of flavor and work with a variety of spirits. Bombay Sapphire East works so well with these flavors and has the backbone to standup to the strong flavors, without overwhelming.
What are some hot summer trends:
I recently went to the Bacardi distillery and fell back in love with the classic Bacardi Daiquri - such a simple, yet perfectly refreshing cocktail. If I want to spruce it up for the summer, I just substitute my housemade Strawberry- Rhubarb- Rose syrup for the simple syrup. Also St. Germain is such a great modifier in summertime cocktails. I love using teas in summertime cocktails; it’s a great way to add dilution and complex flavors simultaneously. Teavana has a great line of Mate, Rooibos, and Herbal teas. Zingiber Ginger Coconut Rooibos tea is my secret weapon in cocktails.
What are you sipping and why:
Amari, especially the Montenegro and Meletti. My nightcap is Bacardi 8, Amaro Meletti, D'usse Cognac, and a cinnamon fig carrot shrub.
What are you dancing to while mixing:
The dancing is usually poor, but I make up for with the music and cocktails. My favorite genre is garage rock, and the most mixable tune right now would be Jack White, "I'm Shaking." My dream soundtrack would include Eagles of Death Metal, The Ramones, Wanda Jackson, The Black Lips, The Detroit Cobras, Wild Billy Childish, and Buddy Holly.
What are some quirks or quotes that you are known for:
I definitely am known for quirks, I have a raucous uncontrollable laugh that I rarely filter. Part of being a bartender is the experience so I think it's very necessary to be entertaining and interesting while making great cocktails. I cannot stand a bartender with hubris, we need to be educators but we should do it in an uplifting manner, not condescending.
A bartender is a perfect dichotomy of knowledge, spirit, passion, humility, listener, and showman. Each trait is careful not to overwhelm but rather inform. I am also known for my creative use of ingredients, whether it is molecular garnishes, edible cocktails, creative uses of ice formats. Last year, I opened an entirely boozy ice cream shop, with Liquid Nitrogen Sorbet Ice cream cocktails, popsicles, shakes, smoothies, and sundaes. Even all the toppings and syrups contained some type of spirit. I enjoy playing with whimsical and kitschy elements, and never take myself too seriously.
Life is about continually growing, changing, evolving, and becoming better. I'm excited for my new chapter in my bartending career of becoming a Bacardi Portfolio Manager and working with an inspiring team and range of products.