Westgate’s Culinary Superstars: Master Mixologist Eddie Perales

Record-holding flair bartender wrote the book on creating fantastic cocktails….

Some people look back on their lives and careers to find themselves saying “Oh, I should have written a book”. Eddie Perales, General Manager of Beverages at Westgate Las Vegas, won’t wait for that moment to come. He’s been creating a photo-journal of professional adventures from the beginning. And he is proud to share it.

Eddie Perales Westgate

Eddie has every reason to be proud. A man of ambition, he has been on his own since fifteen years old. While others at that age might have stumbled into various types of trouble, Perales actively went looking for it….by becoming a member of a hot dog firefighter crew.

It’s interesting that exposure to extreme heat in his early job would give way to a career built largely around ice. While living in the San Francisco Bay area, Perales took a part-time position behind the bar. His mentors inspired him to develop an interest in that field, which grew as he learned the intricacies and art of making the perfect cocktail.

When he moved to the central portion of California, Eddie decided to open up his own business…Bakersfield Bartending Academy. Fueled by the love he developed for beverage creation, Perales instructed his students to train in their field as opposed to practicing for it. He also got plenty of opportunities to use his signature line “Shake it HARD and shake it with a SMILE!”.

Eddie Perales Westgate

Eddie’s passion for mixology instruction came from a personal philosophy. “There is a world of life to give back by educating” he said to me with a big grin. “I believe you can teach while remaining grateful and humble”. That approach proved very successful, as Bakersfield Bartending Academy was awarded “Most Outstanding Small Business in California” for 1998.

At the same time, this dynamic man of boundless energy was simultaneously running a catering business. Those two careers, sharing the same space in Eddie’s mind, seemed to bounce off one another. He found himself experimenting with fruits, herbs, cooking pans, ice and flames to create unique beverages…from his own kitchen.

Eddie Perales Westgate

Delving into that world of molecular mixology meant using science to alter the intensity and balance of flavors, suspending liquids of various viscosity and playing with the chemical interaction of ingredients. “It’s trial and error….doing things you’ve never done before. How do you know what will happen unless you try it?”.

Eddie’s dazzle behind the bar took on an entirely new dimension when he entered the world of flair bartending. That entertaining style of making cocktails (for those of you who’ve never seen the film COCKTAIL) involves juggling and theatrical use of liquor bottles, shakers and bar tools.

One of the pioneers in “flairtending”, Eddie racked up numerous awards and accolades via competitions throughout the world. He also held a record in Guinness Book of World Records for “Most Cocktails Mixed In One Hour”, an honor he maintained until 8 years ago.

Eventually Eddie’s various talents caught the attention of the regime at Rio Las Vegas. The team there recruited him to come to Las Vegas and become their Beverage Trainer and a newly-created title of “Flair Manager”.

Eddie Perales Westgate

During his time at the Rio, “flairtending” became extremely popular there. You could find it on the casino floor, iBar Ultra Lounge, the nightclubs and even poolside. Rio often held Flair Bartending Championships on the property, too.

You can still see Eddie’s influence at both Voodoo Nightclub and the floor-level Masquerade Village casino bar. While telling me about his stint at the Rio, Eddie opened his book to a design concept he created for the hotel that is still in use:

I was fascinated about the efficiency of drive-through fast food restaurants. You place your order in one place, pay for it at the next, and your order is waiting for you at the end. It’s so efficient and made total sense…so why not integrate that idea for cocktail servers and bartenders to get your drinks to you faster?

Along with changing the overall way that drinks were prepared and delivered, Perales held numerous classes for the staff, sharing his knowledge and inspiring his students to think outside of the box. Simultaneously, he was looking for bigger, bolder boxes for his own future concepts.

Eddie Perales Westgate

One of those boxes turned out to be an icebox…sort of. Eddie’s catering enterprise frequently made use of his own ice sculptures. Eye-catching crystalline displays became a natural evolution of his desire for theatrical and awe-inspiring presentations for his cocktails, too.

Making a name for one’s self in a city focused around beverage presentation would be a challenge for any expert in beverage creation. But very few mixologists have gone so far as to participate in a global-scale beverage competition in New Zealand involving bungee-jumping, speed boats and helicopters. Yes, really.

As his profile rose, so did the offers and responsibilities. Eddie found himself as a “Tequila Ambassador” for Tres Generaciones, “Assistant Beverage Director” for all of Caesars properties and eventually as “Director of Foundation Room Las Vegas” for Mandalay Bay’s House of Blues.

That photo-journal of Eddie’s was getting pretty filled by this time. Journalists were clamoring for profiles of his adventures…and secrets to his unique concoctions. Vegas Player Magazine, Scott Roeben (of VitalVegas.com), Las Vegas Weekly, Las Vegas Sun, Review-Journal, Hotel F & B and a host of others helped to add pages to the Eddie Perales scrapbook.

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When David Siegel‘s corporation took ownership of the Westgate Las Vegas, they began gathering the best and brightest Vegas talent for their food and beverage operations. From Sid’s Cafe‘s Chef Bruno Morabito (of Giada’s fame) to Edge Steakhouse Executive Chef Steve Young (you’ll meet him in an upcoming piece), the team grew more impressive with each addition.

Eddie was the perfect person to spearhead Westgate‘s new beverage offerings. His unique style, daring “why not?” creativity and contemporary flair perfectly aligned with the resort’s plan to bring the former Las Vegas Hilton into 21st-century relevance.  The wide array of restaurants launched in the ensuing months gave him plenty of room to spread his wings and add color and flair to the off-Strip destination’s beverage menu.

Eddie Perales Westgate

My first formal taste of Eddie’s work came from a visit to Fresco Italiano, the excellent Italian restaurant whose review happened to be my first column when launching Vegas Unfiltered last June. There my guest and I enjoyed the most colorful and delicious red and white sangria. As is Eddie’s style, they were brimming with fresh fruits and lots of pizzazz:

Eddie Perales Westgate

I then sampled some of his creations for Bar Sake, a new hidden gem within the Benihana Village (you can read my full review here). There my group enjoyed unique drinks like the Jaded Midori (Midori Melon LiqueurTyku Cucumber Sake and lemon juice) and the Ginger Kamikaze with Tykusoju, Tyku Cucumber Sake, Domaine de Canton, lime and simple syrup.

Eddie Perales Westgate

We also indulged in a Paris To Tokyo (ST-GERMAIN elderflower liqueur, Tyku Cucumber Sake and Mionetto Prosecco) and a Strawberry Coconut Mojito created with Tyku cucumber and coconut sakes, Southern Supreme Mojito Lime and Sweet & Sour.

Eddie Perales Westgate

Last April I attended a post-show party at Westgate to honor the amazing Prince (at the time, the Purple Reign tribute show that was packing them in at the resort’s International Theater). Servers were passing around trays filled with the “Purple Cocktail” which was created to honor the Minneapolis funkmeister. They were kind enough to share the recipe:

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The Purple Cocktail:

Blueberry puree – 1 oz.
Mint – 4-6 leaves
Lime fresh – 1/2 fresh squeeze
Sweet and sour -1 oz.
OJ – 1 oz.
Vodka citrus 1 1/2 oz.
Float – Champagne
Garnish – mint and blueberry

Build in a glass shaker. Add in all ingredients, then ice and shake. Strain over fresh ice, top with champagne and garnish…

As part of the top-to-bottom renovation of the property, the casino’s front-and-center bar received a dramatic and bold overhaul. Now dubbed the International Bar, this sleek 24/7 hangout features comfy seating, live musical acts and continuously-changing lighting effects.

Eddie Perales Westgate

Naturally, Eddie had to come up with a beverage menu to compliment the new bar/lounge area. He did so both literally and figuratively…by designing a list of signature cocktails etched onto an electronically-enhanced acrylic menu that changes colors…just like the bar decor itself.

Eddie Perales Westgate

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Someday when he has added his contributions at Westgate Las Vegas to the pages of his memory book, Eddie may consider publishing his own original volume. In it, he’d like to explore the diversity of the cocktail world and chronicle its evolution. He’s even chosen a title for it – “Passion From Spice”.

Eddie Perales Westgate

If Eddie Perales’s epicurean treatise on cocktails manages to be thorough as I expect, then he’d better commit at least a few chapters to focus on himself. And there would still be plenty of room for a sequel.

Photos: Sammasseur, Eddie Perales via LinkedIn, Scott Roeben via YouTube, Westgate Las Vegas

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2017 In Review – Ranking The Resorts


There’s something for everyone when choosing a hotel. But not all of them deserve your business…

Best Luxury ResortPalazzo

Best Worst Vegas 2017

The Venetian‘s more contemporary sister property has what it takes to satisfy your luxury needs without overt attempts at “hipness” (Cosmopolitan) or coasting on a previously-established reputation (Bellagio).

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The Palazzo offers easy access from Las Vegas Boulevard, free parking, spacious rooms, flawless service, gorgeous common areas, lush pools and an airy, high-ceiling casino. Visitors can indulge in top-notch lounges (check out my write-up of the new Rosina Cocktail Lounge), restaurants, shops, the famous Canyon Ranch Spa and the Best Overall Show in Vegas (BAZ: A Musical Mash-up). You can learn more by visiting my full write-up here.

Best Worst Vegas 2017

Palazzo is easily my choice for best five-star accommodations in Las Vegas.

Most Improved ResortWestgate Las Vegas

My relationship with Westgate (aka the former Las Vegas Hilton) began three years ago….and was rocky to say the least. An unflattering article I had penned for VegasChatter.com got a very professional response from a member of the team in charge of transforming the aging off-Strip giant into a newly-born destination.

Best Worst Vegas 2017

“Give us another chance. We’ve got great things happening here”. That was the message, in essence, of the Westgate Las Vegas representative. And he wasn’t just tossing some pretty words and glitter in my direction. Promises were kept…and I’ve been back many many times since.

Best Worst Vegas 2017

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The current state of Westgate is one of gloriously-restored elegance. Brass has been polished, gorgeous chandeliers have been restored, the marble flooring is immaculate and guest rooms are all modern and sleek.

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The property has recruited some of the finest chefs in the city to operate an admirable line-up of new restaurants (see my monthly series of profiles to learn more about the people behind the dishes). Then there’s the glorious new Serenity Spa, an extension of Westgate’s acclaimed facility in Park City, Utah (you can see my detailed experiences at Serenity Spa here).

Serenity Spa Westgate

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Every Westgate staffer from valet to reservations to the hostess at Sid’s Cafe will offer their name and ask you for yours. There’s a vibe throughout the casino that’s palpable and contagious. You’ll feel that your patronage and presence are appreciated…and you’ll get a lot of bang for your buck.

Chef Bruno Morabito Westgate

You can expect lots of new entertainment offerings to take up residence at Westgate this year (Barry Manilow is coming back!) and you can continue to enjoy free parking as a hotel/casino guest.

By the way…don’t be put off by the off-Strip location. A convenient monorail station at the FRONT of the hotel (not far in the rear like everywhere else) can get you from your room to center Strip in a matter of minutes.

Re-think your ideas of how a 2018 visit to Las Vegas should be. Give Westgate a try…and prepare to be wowed.

Steepest DeclineRio Las Vegas

Best Worst Vegas 2017

A short decade ago, the Rio was one of my favorite places to stay and play. There was a vibrance throughout the resort that made it worth the visit. These days, it’s just a sad red-and-blue stepchild of the Caesars family, mostly forgotten and seemingly just hanging on.

The restaurants are nothing to brag about, Masquerade Village is still a giant echo chamber, Kiss by Monster Mini Golf turned out to be a dud and the once-legendary Carnival World Buffet now operates on limited hours. At least there’s still the wonderful Chippendales and new WOW – World of Wonder to keep me stopping by for a few hours.

Miniature stages throughout the gaming floor used to light up regularly for songs and dances by “Bever-tainers”. Now those performance spaces sit empty and ignored (a current cocktail server told me that “most of them are broken and just don’t work anymore”). The stage and overhead tracks for once-popular Rio Show In The Sky also remain, dusty and forgotten.

Best Worst Vegas 2017

An unpleasant odor permeates certain areas of this hotel, uncomfortable reminders of the Legionnaire’s Disease incident that affected numerous visitors last year. Guest rooms and common areas are maintained with indifference. The conditions of the fitness facilities and spa areas have badly deteriorated as well.

There are better places to choose than Rio Las Vegas…and the ever-rising mandatory resort fee (currently $34.01 per day, up from $18.99 plus tax in 2016) does nothing to make me want to book there again. After a lackluster stay in mid-December resulted in my complaining via email and phone to the manager, I cancelled my next visit (which was scheduled for the very next week).

Staffers at Rio seem to be going through the motions of their chores across the board, much like the team at Sahara did in the years leading up to its closure. Which brings us to…

In The Throes of DeathSLS (the former Sahara)

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Driving towards the north Strip property once know as Sahara, you’d be hard-pressed to know exactly what the name is. The sign reads SLS at the bottom and a giant twinkling W at the top. Why, exactly? Because this is a property with an identity crisis…and no good reason for existing in its current state.

SLS Las Vegas answers a question that nobody in their right mind would ask: “What would happen if you whitewashed (literally and figuratively) a heavily themed historic property, filled it with Vegas-lite duplicates of Los Angeles dining/nightclub favorites, then tried to lure the L.A. millenials over the state line?”.

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The answer is “not much”. There’s no reason for the hip L.A. crowd to come to Vegas for inferior copies of what they already have. Nevertheless, the combined arrogance of Sam Nazarian and SBE led to betting heavily…and losing…on a proposition that was never going to work.

Best Worst Vegas 2017

Best Worst Vegas 2017

All seven Fred Segal stores were shuttered, along with LIFE Nightclub and an excellent buffet that lasted all of three months. SLS promised to reopen the buffet in early 2015. I’m still waiting.

If only SBE has taken a cue from Westgate and honored the Sahara‘s legacy with a little updating instead of throwing it out the back door, they’d probably be sharing a different place on this list.

Best Worst Vegas 2017

Someday, logical will prevail and SLS (which sold off a portion of the resort to the W hotel chain…that tower now operates as a separate entity) will be reborn once more as “The New Sahara”. Until that time, you can consider SLS to be as good as….

DeadLucky Dragon

Best Worst Vegas 2017

Here’s another resort with no good reason for existing. Stuck in the middle of nowhere with nothing worthwhile to offer guests, the Lucky Dragon announced the closure of its casino and restaurants just yesterday.

This has got to be some kind of record. After only 13 months and one day of operations, a brand-new casino resort has shut down everything but the tiny little hotel. Employees have been sent packing only four days into the new year…a sad start for them and a bad omen for any hope of Resorts World actually making an impact on the north end of the Strip.

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It was clear after a highly-touted early opening that just a few months into the year, Lucky Dragon was anything but lucky. Restaurants Pearl Ocean and Dragon Alley were reworked along with the high-limit areas of the gaming floor. The excitement of a brand-new hotel casino had completely fizzled, and by the time I visited in late mid October, at least one restaurant was shuttered and the entire complex was virtually empty.

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As the financials are reworked and optimistic press releases tout a full reopening of Lucky Dragon, expect the northern face of the famous Las Vegas Strip to continue fighting some really persistent blemishes. And one big blue tumor.

Best Worst Vegas 2017

Abandoned Fontainebleau Resort                         

 

Photos: Greg C., Sammasseur

 

 

 

 

 

 

“WOW” is Wet Outlandish Whimsy on a Grand Scale


Rio’s water-themed production salutes the heyday of Vegas variety….

If you’ve read my show reviews and columns through the years, you’re probably aware that I’m not a fan of the direction the Vegas entertainment has headed. You know the kind I mean…manufactured talents clogging up enormous venues with their auto-tune warbling. Has-been “divas” sleep-walking and lip-syncing through high-ticket residencies for an enormous paycheck. So-called “celebrity DJs” with their creepy mugshot-style billboards peppering the main roads of the city. It’s all garbage!

Sorry, folks, but Vegas was built on the backs of real talent. If you don’t know or don’t remember what that is, you can check out the amazing musical BAZ at Palazzo, where singers can dance and dancers can sing. And they combine their complex roles with superb acting, offering wide-spectrum talent from every member of the cast.

In recent years, an assortment of variety shows have sprung up that remind us of the glorious era of Vegas. Dancers, singers, circus acts and comics zipping on and off the stage in a constant barrage of whimsy to thrill and dazzle. WOW – World of Wonder is the latest of these, and it’s definitely on my list of must-see-again thrills.

WOW World of Wonder Rio

WOW is a rare commodity on the Sin City entertainment scene. It dares to be simultaneously silly, chaotic, retro and modern while offering high-tech amazement. WOW wears its randomness on its sleeve, starting here and jumping over there. You never know who will be coming onto the stage, creeping up behind you, descending from the ceiling or rising from the depths.

If some of that sounds a bit like Le Reve, you’re right. There are plenty of moments in WOW that resemble Wynn’s signature production, along with Absinthe, Mystere, Vegas! The Show and the sadly-defunct Vegas Nocturne at Cosmopolitan’s Rose.Rabbit.Lie. I offer those comparisons as compliments, as all have been personal favorites.

What differs with WOW is in the presentation, starting with the venue. Rio‘s refurbished Crown Theater will definitely elicit a “wow” from your lips. Not necessarily from the seating arrangements (which are a bit dated and not-quite-lush) but from the main stage and panoramic video panels, which are absolutely gorgeous and impeccably utilized.

WOW World of Wonder Rio

Dazzling moving images of waterfalls and intensely-colored landscapes resemble Wonder Woman’s “Paradise Island” and Ariel’s undersea kingdom. Atmospheric sound design adds to the effect, creating significant anticipation for the show to begin.

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The thin plot line involves a nerdy fisherman, badgered by a harpy’s voice into catching something for dinner. Hunkering down in his yellow slicker, he casts his line into the water.  Of course, his baited hook is just there to grab the audience and take them on a journey to the fantastic.

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What follows is a hodgepodge of circus acts, peculiar talents, humorous bits and large-scale production numbers. Some are familiar, like the skating act from Absinthe and V – The Ultimate Variety Show. Others offer talents you’ve surely never seen before.

WOW World of Wonder Rio

That in itself would work just fine…if the individual acts didn’t play to drastically different age groups. For instance, a sexy sequence with three lovelies swimming inside a clear glass bowl (similar to Zumanity but without the toplessness) is geared toward adults. But it’s preceded by a lengthy Pirates of the Caribbean spoof that’s best appreciated by children.

WOW World of Wonder Rio

WOW World of Wonder Rio

WOW follows the classic set-up of having smaller acts draw your attention while the big set pieces are setting up behind a curtain on the main stage. One moment an Italian chef is spinning plates on the streets of old Venice.

WOW World of Wonder Rio

WOW World of Wonder Rio

The next, a hot-bodied group of dancers is strutting their sexy stuff to popular and classic music. Just wait until you see the salute to Singing In The Rain, wherein the raindrops actually form the shape of umbrellas. Clever!

WOW World of Wonder Rio

WOW World of Wonder Rio

All of it is superbly done and most is highly enjoyable…and really, really random. But that’s what’s great about variety shows, especially in our era of short attention spans. As they say about San Francisco weather, if you don’t like what’s happening, just wait a moment.

WOW World of Wonder Rio

Perhaps that’s why Riviera’s SPLASH and Bally’s JUBILEE!, a pair of Vegas classics, lasted for decades.  The format also allows for frequent refreshing, so each visit is sure to yield a unique experience.

WOW World of Wonder Rio

WOW World of Wonder Rio

The epic production numbers were my favorite aspect of WOW, especially a jaw-dropping ballroom scene aboard the Titanic. Your entire field of vision is filled with the ship’s interior, rising waves seen through the windows and a cast of dancers that is suddenly engulfed in the deluge. This obvious nod to the legendary sequence in JUBILEE! takes the experience much, much farther. Hold onto your life preserver!

WOW World of Wonder Rio

WOW World of Wonder Rio

WOW World of Wonder Rio

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My least favorite act involves Guinness World Record holder Dickson Oppong of West Africa. This large fellow has the unique ability to guzzle huge amounts of water, then spray it as continuous stream from his mouth. Although fascinating, it’s also a bit disturbing. Germ-aphobes may wish to avoid sitting in the splash zone.

WOW World of Wonder Rio

WOW World of Wonder Rio

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More entertaining is a bit involving statues who become fountains too…in a funny, clever way. The gag builds layers of whimsy until it segues into another a trio of swimmers. I’d have like to have seen the statues go on a bit longer first.

WOW World of Wonder Rio

Sadly, the comic-relief character that opens the show has solo moments that go on way too long. He also gets worked into too many of the other acts. Mostly wordless, his child-like bits involving a clap-along and a series of boo-boos make for excellent bathroom breaks. But he’s still more entertaining than the creepy, annoying clowns of O.

WOW World of Wonder Rio

Some acts would be more at home in a traveling circus but don’t necessarily translate well to an evening Vegas production. Perhaps the fact that WOW comes from overseas (Israel, in fact) helps to explain why it feels so offbeat. The weirdness isn’t the same as Cirque du Soleil‘s French humor…nor is it as annoying. But a little fine-tuning for Vegas audiences might do WOW a whole lot of good.

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I also had issues with some clumsy sound cues and abrupt changes in volume that distracted from the performances of a uniformly excellent cast. As the show is relatively new (it opened just last month), things like this should eventually be worked out.

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But that’s a small complaint when compared to the scale of talent and visuals represented here. The 30-member international cast is beautiful and overflowing with skill. And they have one goal in mind – to leave you saying “WOW”.

WOW World of Wonder Rio

The success of any variety production depends largely on whether you’re drawn into the premise. WOW succeeds in capturing your imagination. It grabs you from the opening moments, twirls you around, lifts you up and doesn’t let go until the final bows.

WOW World of Wonder Rio

It’s classic Vegas variety entertainment on a grand scale.

WOW – World of Wonder performs Tuesday through Sunday at 7pm with an additional 9pm show Friday-Sunday. Tickets start at $49 (plus taxes/fees) and can be ordered here. Travelzoo currently has discount tickets from $39 with no additional taxes/fees. Click here to access this offer, good through 1/7/18.

Photos: Diane Lynn, Sammasseur