Welcome to The Barkeepers, a feature in which Eater roams the city meeting the fine ladies and gentlemen that stand between you and some of your favorite libations.
Rupert King [Photo: Jenna Dosch]
Rupert King hails from Burlington, Vt., so the frigid 23-degree temperatures inside Minus5 Ice Bar at the Monte Carlo are downright balmy for him. The general manager of the coolest spot on the Strip headed to the heat of the desert the moment he turned legal, becoming a flair bartender at Kahunaville, Fitzgeralds and the Red Room Saloon. Then a friend started working at Minus5, King followed and now he runs the joint. Here King talks about how even the most cynical of cold-weather visitors thaw at the sight of 80 tons of carved ice, how to cut off a drunk in the cool confines of Minus5 and the first thing that shocked him in Las Vegas.
Rupert King [Photo: Jenna Dosch]
What's the busiest time of the week?
The weekends are very busy. We get a nice "pop" at 1 p.m. that lasts until 6 p.m. At that point we reset and get ready for the night. The night kicks off at around 9:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. depending on what concerts, events, etc. are in town.
What's the most popular drink at here?
The most popular drink is the Ice Man. It is our version of a berry colada.
How long did it take you to get used to working in the cold?
I grew up in Vermont, so I love the cold. This bar is refreshing and there is no wind chill. For me it is like working on a nice spring day back home. In fact, the real question is how long did it take getting used to living in Las Vegas? Sadly, I am still trying to get acclimated to the heat here in Vegas.
Who are your favorite customers?
There are two types of customers that are my favorites. They are polar opposites, but I love them both. The first is the person that comes into the bar with a positive attitude and understands what a cool experience Minus5 is. They are just in awe of the art of ice and how we transform it into a bar.
The second type of customer is the person that has to be convinced by their friends to come into the bar. Usually they are from Canada or the Northern U.S. They say that they can "do this in their backyard." After they enter, however, they realize that in fact they cannot transform 80 tons of ice into a working piece of art. The latter group always leaves stating that Minus5 was the highlight of their trip. I like watching people having to eat a little crow.
Are there any ingredients or spirits you're especially excited about right now?
Being from Vermont, I am super excited about Crown Royal's Maple Whisky. It tastes like breakfast with a kick. Maybe I should mix that with a bacon-infused vodka?
Are there any drinks you hate making?
I have yet to meet a drink that I hate, or hate making. I think all cocktails have something endearing to them. A lot of people hate making mojitos because of all of the work that it takes. I take pride in what I do. I think to myself, if I was on vacation, would I want a sub-par drink just because the bartender hates making it? The answer is invariably no. We live in a city that is so heavily dependent on service, that to not provide the service that you would expect on vacation is ludicrous.
Are there any that you really love making?
I love making negronis and margaritas. While they are two different cocktails, they have a basic commonality. They have simple ingredients, but it is how you combine them and add subtle tweaks that can create a real change in flavor profile.
How do you cut someone off?
I take away their gloves. In the ice bar, that is a simple way to keeping people from having more to drink!
How did you get into bartending?
I was working at a restaurant and I was fascinated by the craft of bartending. As I got older, I began to work at a Friday's and saw Flair for the first time since that movie with Tom Cruise (not Days of Thunder). I really wanted to toss bottles around while making drinks. The more flair I learned, the more bartending competitions I participated in. The more I competed, the faster I learned. As I got older, mixology became another exciting way to better myself as a bartender.
What was the first thing that shocked you in Las Vegas?
The "Girls Direct to You" bus.
How often does the cocktail menu change here?
We have a menu that is set for about a year at a time. However, we have created a Celebrity Cocktail Series, which features a new cocktail every month. We contact someone that has a show on the Strip and collaborate with them on a specialty drink. We have included: Holly Madison, Terry Fator, Carrot Top and Frankie Moreno in the series.
How active are you in coming up with those new recipes?
I am very hands on with the recipes. Unlike a traditional bar, we have a number of unique circumstances that make the creation of a specialty drink menu fun and difficult at the same time. Our bar is below freezing at all times. This makes the use of fruit almost impossible as it would be frozen. The glasses are made of ice so muddling is out of the question. They would shatter. We even have issues with olive juice as the salt content will start to corrode the glass. Not to mention that the bartenders are wearing winter gear so their dexterity is compromised. We strive to present a menu that can accommodate myriad of tastes while keeping creation of those cocktails as simple as possible.
When you're not here, where are your favorite places to go get a drink?
My wife and I just welcomed a daughter into our lives, so currently if we can find the time our backyard for a glass of wine seems like the best place on Earth. Occasionally we do get the opportunity to venture out into the city. When we do we really try to make a night of it. When we are off the Strip, Aces Bar & Grill and Tommy Rockers are our local spots. I love the bartenders and we always have a great time.
If we have family in town, or are on the Strip, we start at Rockin' Taco for their jalapeño shots and $2 tacos. From there we head to Todd English P.U.B. and get a free beer after completing the seven-second beer challenge. The best promo in town. If you can drink a pint in seven seconds, it's free (You better tip the bartender though)! From there we head to The Quad. The mixology there has come a long way since the days when it was the Imperial Palace. Usually we end the night at the Pub at the Monte Carlo. There we can choose from over 300 different beers and they have a killer locals deal.
If someone's coming in for the first time, what should they order?
If it is your first time in an ice bar, there is only one thing that I suggest… a shot of vodka. Enjoy the cold, crisp sting of that shot and look at where you are. A bar made of ice, in the desert and most likely it is 110 degree less than 100 feet from where you sit.
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