When Wynn Las Vegas’s resident mixologist, Mariena Mercer Boarini, was creating the cocktail list for the property’s Michelin-starred restaurant Wing Lei, the first Chinese restaurant in North America to achieve the distinction, she delved into Chinese mythology, poetry, philosophy, art, and literature in order to tell a story in a glass. It’s a familiar process for Mercer Boarini, who develops cocktails for more than 30 bars and restaurants within the Wynn casino on the Las Vegas Strip.
For those who are keen on Chinese astrology, for example, the mixologist made the Year of the Rabbit cocktail to celebrate the Lunar New Year. The delicate cocktail blends Bombay East Gin, spiced pear, pomegranate, and “White Cloud” — a foam of coconut, ginger, lemongrass, and egg white, an homage to the White Cloud Monastery in Bejing — and is topped with an edible “lucky rabbit” art piece.
“Every flavor, ingredient, name, and garnish is an inspired approach to pay respect and admiration to Chinese culture,” Mercer Boarini says. In developing cocktails to pair with Wing Lei’s Chinese cuisine, she leaned on delicate flavors like those of lychee, persimmon, plum, and jasmine pearl tea as well as more bold flavors, like those of black sesame, peanut, and Szechuan peppercorns.
In the nearly two years since she has been in her current role, Mercer Boarini has created cocktails for the property’s more than 30 venues, each with its own identity and personality. “Every menu is a love letter to that venue, but it also tells this great story,” she says. “It’s the same story that the design is telling, that the chef is telling. I like to create immersive experiences through cocktails.”
The process of creating a cocktail starts when Mercer Boarini meets with the chef to discuss the restaurant or bar’s cuisine; then she talks to Wynn’s design and development team to learn about the vision for the room. It’s a collaboration that eventually finds its way to a coupe — or a goblet, or a flute, or perhaps a pineapple-shaped glass housing a kicked-up margarita with habanero-infused agave.
The magic spark may start in Mercer Boarini’s mind, but the process happens underground in the Wynn’s mixology kitchen, far below the eyes of reveling customers. The room is where all the prep work for the property’s beverages takes place. Neatly labeled liquor bottles, infusions, syrups, and a plethora of garnishing ingredients line the shelves. In a corner, Mercer Boarini concocts her creations at a mock bar, the results of which eventually become the 60,000 gallons of beverage that reach the resort’s lounges and restaurants each year.
Some of Mercer Boarini’s latest creations can be found at Aft Cocktail Deck, the outdoor cocktail deck that recently debuted on the resort’s Lake of Dreams. Here, one can enjoy cocktails named after and inspired by destinations such as Ibiza, Cozumel, Rio de Janeiro, and Monaco. The Cannes cocktail — a Champagne sour with Grey Goose strawberry and lemongrass vodka, French rhubarb, fresh lemon, strawberry, and fresh berries is summery and fun, garnished with Mercer Boarini’s “Cham-feign,” a carbonated foam of rosé, strawberry rhubarb rose syrup, and egg white.
The Monaco spritz employs Belvedere lemon basil vodka, St. Germain elderflower liqueur, lemon juice, ginger, and butterfly pea blossom. The glass has a dusting of Electricdust, Mercer Boarini’s creation made from natural buzz button flowers that numb the mouth and make everything taste more intensely. Mercer Boarini finishes many of her cocktails with an edible perfume. She reasons that we have thousands of taste buds but millions of olfactory receptors and a spritz of edible aromatics can enhance a cocktail’s flavor. “Cocktails can and should be a form of art. It’s a really fun journey of flavor,” Mercer Boarini says.