In the age of social media, playful presentation at the bar has become crucial. Distinctive glassware attracts attention and can boost sales on visual appeal alone. Bars across the country are upping their budgets for glassware, increasingly using unique and hand-made cocktail vessels to the delight and fascination of customers.
Las Vegas-based MGM Resorts operates 14 casino-resorts in Sin City—several of them housing top-notch cocktail destinations. Corporate mixologist and executive director of beverage Craig Schoettler oversees all of the drinks programs. Some of his venues boast as many as 15 different types of glassware, including hand-blown glasses custom-ordered from Spain. “The right glass adds to the appearance, aroma, flavor perception, and feel of a cocktail,” Schoettler says. “They’re expensive, but the overall experience is improved with these glasses. Guest involvement is more genuine and the memories we create are more impactful, so it’s worth the cost. When a unique serving vessel is carried through the lounge, it turns heads.”
Juniper Cocktail Lounge at the Park MGM resort serves its No Judging cocktail ($17) in a glass shaped abstractly like a cat, with its tail acting as the straw. The drink mixes Green Chartreuse with fresh pineapple and lime juices, garnished with a flaming mint leaf. The venue’s Little Birdie ($17), offered in a bird-shaped glass, mixes Sipsmith London Dry gin, Dolin Dry vermouth, lemon juice, and house-made strawberry syrup, garnished with Thai basil. At the nearby Mandalay Bay resort, Hazel Coffee & Cocktails offers The Modern Old Fashioned ($16) in a pipe-shaped glass; the cocktail comprises Suntory Toki whisky, Laird’s Straight Bottled in Bond apple brandy, Angostura Aromatic bitters, and ginger syrup, and smoke is added to the glass before it’s served.
High-end Chicago cocktail lounge Apogee also uses eye-catching glassware, offering roughly ten different types of drink vessels. The bar’s Macrodose ($38), served in a mushroom glass designed for two, is made with watermelon- and cucumber-infused Hendrick’s gin, Pimm’s No. 1 liqueur, lemon juice, fresh herbs, and dehydrated fruit powder. The Mr. Nice Guy ($42), meanwhile, serves three and is presented in a bong. The cocktail is made with Absolut Elyx vodka, Bols Blue Curaçao, Aperol aperitif, house-made ginger syrup, and lime and pineapple juices. “We’re a destination bar and we want to provide guests with memorable experiences,” explains bar manager Rémy Walle. “Unique glasses make drinks more appealing. Our menu has photos of the drinks and some people order cocktails simply because they look awesome. The glassware really contributes to the wow factor.”
At Nikkei-style concept Kaiyō in San Francisco, glasses normally used for other types of beverages are serving as cocktail vessels. One of the venue’s bestsellers, the Panyo Panyo ($13), mixes Capurro Moscatel Pisco, Martini Riserva Speciale Ambrato vermouth, Regans’ No. 6 Orange bitters, chamomile tea, rice milk, and lemon juice, and is served in a blue tea cup. “Glassware is part of the experience,” says Kaiyō general manager Debora Fernandez. “It’s tactile, and the way a glass feels in your hand adds a sense of value.”
At Japanese steakhouse and sushi venue Roka Akor, which has six locations nationwide, beverage director Rob Holder stocks roughly ten cocktail glasses at each bar, choosing specific ones for each drink and taking ingredients and garnishes into account. “Some flavors can become stifled in the wrong glass,” Holder says. The Kuro Neko ($16) is served in a cat-shaped mug and mixes Kikori rice whisky, balsamic vinegar, black tea, guava purée, orange juice, and agave syrup. The Engawa ($13), meanwhile, is presented in a clay gaiwan cup—a lidded bowl used for tea leaf infusions in China and Japan—and mixes bergamot peel-infused Grays Peak vodka, Plymouth gin, Averna amaro, Lapsang Souchong tea syrup, and lemon juice. “When you have fun glasses, the drinks take on a social element,” Holder adds.