April 2016 Bartender of the Month: Casey Sparks
Name: Casey Sparks
Establishment: 365 Tokyo
Recent Gigs: Casey was born in Thessaloniki, Greece, to parents from the UK And USA. When he was 5 years old his family emigrated to New Zealand, and Casey lived there for the next 17 years. He got his first taste of the hospitality industry a little after turning 18 when he became a doorman for a local nightclub. Shortly thereafter, Casey stepped behind the bar and discovered his passion.
By age 23 he had been ranked as one of the top 10 bartenders in New Zealand in the Diageo World Class and Beefeater MIXLDN competitions. After achieving those accolades Casey decided it was time for a change. Casey arrived in Las Vegas on August 31, 2015 and he’s been living it and loving it ever since. His current gig, 365 Tokyo, is a 10-seat members-only bar on the corner of Las Vegas Boulevard and Fremont Street, the heart of downtown Las Vegas. The small bar has a fantastic view of DTLV, a mysterious entrance, and a sexy vibe. If you find the idea an exclusive Las Vegas speakeasy membership appealing, please text (702) 302-2021.
Why did you become a bartender?
I'd just dropped out of an Honors degree in Engineering that I hated and I needed a job pretty badly. I fell in love with bartending within the month.
What made you want to work at the bar at which you’re currently bartending?
I arrived in Las Vegas with 100 résumés and two bottles of pretty rare rum. I went online and found out what everyone considered to be the best bars in town, then went around to those bars pouring out shots, handing out résumés, and making friends. When I got the audition at 365 Tokyo I was over the moon. I saw it as more of a laboratory than a bar; it has absolutely every tool and toy and, as the sole employee, I could do pretty much whatever I liked. Complete creative control is every bartender's dream.
What are some fun flavors you’re working with?
When writing recipes, I try to make drinks that can be built behind any bar rather than use esoteric syrups and tinctures. I'm playing around with beer-based cocktails and cognac-based cocktails at the moment because I think that they don't get enough play normally.
What are some of the unique spirits and ingredients you’re playing with?
I'm pouring a lot of absinthe cocktails at the moment, and Booker's Bourbon seems to be finding its way into every third drink I make somehow.
What are you doing different from the norm in your beverages?
I try to make every drink entertaining in one way or another, whether it's with a less commonly used technique, a ridiculous garnish, a dash of flair, or just good conversation while I make it. I want every customer to feel like they get their money's worth.
What do you feel is the next hot trend in mixology?
Education. Every year you'll hear people call out what they think the next big thing is going to be (last year in New Zealand it was fortified wines and the year before it was rye whiskey), but what it really equates to is bartenders going out and learning more about these ingredients.
The Las Vegas chapter of USBG just became the largest chapter in the country, and it's resulting in a lot more bartenders who are better educated about what they do, take more care in what they do, and give their guests a better experience because of it.
What’s in the mixing glass or shaker for your customers?
Whatever they ask me for. Whiskey seems to be the drop of choice for most people.
What are you sipping on and why?
Pabst Blue Ribbon and a shot of Bulleit Bourbon. It's quick, easy, and it gets the job done.
What are you dancing to while tending bar?
365 Tokyo plays jazz on vinyl exclusively, but if you stop by while I'm setting up for the night you'll hear some Tom Waits, Leonard Cohen, Nick Cave, Jeff Buckley, and maybe a little Alkaline Trio.
What are some quirks/quotes you are known for?
Jeez, you'd have to ask my friends that. If I had to guess, I'd say it might be dropping New Zealand slang phrases that don't really have an equivalent in the American vernacular.
Benjamin Franklin is famous for saying "Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy." What's your beer mantra?
Girlfriends are great, but I've never had a beer get up and leave me after 6 months.