Raise a glass! Sparrow and Wolf’s Vegas cocktail challenge is a hit
The restaurant is closed at the moment, like so many others waiting out the worst of the COVID-19, but Sparrow + Wolf is still very much in the mind of many people around the globe. After the COVID-19 shutdown in Nevada, the restaurant, a popular destination for both locals and visitors alike, wanted to make a difference. Owner Brian Howard and his team cooked up an idea to feed his city’s first responders, and the #sparrowandwolfchallenge was born. Bartenders were invited to create a drink, video the process and post it to Instagram, with the #sparrowandwolfchallenge hashtag.
“I learned when I opened my restaurant, I wasn’t in the restaurant business, I was in the people business … We had a goal of 2,000 meals … we decided … we're going to feed 2,000 people. Regardless if we get five people or 2,000 people signing up, we’re going to do this,” Howard said.
And the city’s bartenders responded, as did many others in the restaurant community, not only in Las Vegas, but beyond. Sparrow + Wolf’s bar manager Alyssa Ocampo said, “We created the #sparrowandwolfchallenge because we wanted to give the bartending community a purpose during these uncertain times. We have all this amazing talent in Las Vegas and now that talent is being confined to people’s homes. (It’s) helping the community stay hopeful as well as relevant. Personally, I miss the hell out of my guests, and want them to know that I'm still thinking of them, and I think that’s what it is doing for bartenders as well.”
She posted the official challenge on Instagram in March, calling on Las Vegas bartenders to create a cocktail with what they had—that video alone garnered almost 2,000 views. Ocampo’s first drink (pictured at right) was a riff on one of Sparrow + Wolf’s seasonal drinks, the Senpai Sour. “It was delicious! Something fun that everyone could make at home while pretending they were sitting at Sparrow with me,” said Ocampo.
Some created a full video, and some posted pretty pics of the cocktails they created—a blood orange bourbon smash, a Cadillac margarita, a tequila old-fashioned, a “Bittermilk” old fashioned, a Sazerac—often accompanied by the wry humor bartenders are known for. Even Carrot Top went in for the challenge a couple of weeks after it started, with a little comedic riff on the process.
“I think the #sparrowandwolfchallenge has given us bartenders the opportunity to get a little more creative when we are making cocktails from home; it has been keeping me busy for sure,” said Golden Tiki bartender Roxanne Gomez, who has posted several cocktails to the challenge. A recent cocktail, the Pink Fetish, pictured at top, is her favorite (see recipe below).
Keeping the creative juices flowing is something a lot of the participants love. "The #sparrowandwolfchallenge has provided people in hospitality communities and beyond a platform to be creative while simultaneously helping first responders. This has been a win-win for everyone involved," said Sarah Gage, a bartender at Corduroy on Fremont Street. She created several cocktails for the challenge, including a Tequila Old-Fashioned. "I absolutely adore tequila and was able to showcase it in this simple classic cocktail. The video where I made a Vieux Carre received the most response. Since I was creating cocktails with ingredients I had at home, I had to get creative with a substitution, but I made it work and it was delicious."
Many posts show not only how to make the drink, but also a little history behind it, and info about the ingredients used. “It’s a benefit for the joy that the videos bring and the positive interaction that happens,” Howard said. “The education that we're able to share and the connection that we’re able to create with people from around the world—our challenges reached Japan, Australia, New York, Texas. I mean, we’re seeing people from all over the world get involved in this challenge, which is so amazing. I didn't think it would spread like it did.”
“My favorite drink I did for the challenge was my What’s in Your Fridge cocktail. We were about two weeks into quarantine and I had some leftover fruit in my fridge and thought, ‘Other people must have some fruit that got shoved to the back after all this grocery shopping’ and decided to do a funny, lighthearted video depicting that. It got great response, probably because I was just being silly in it. I think not only is that what people need right now; some laughter, but that’s also what I needed as well,” said Ocampo.
Indeed, beyond providing meals for first responders in the early days of the shutdown, Sparrow + Wolf had another goal, said Howard. “It’s just amazing to see people doing something positive and … kind of get away from what's happening and just do something. There’s chefs on there, there's bartenders. There’s people that don’t even know how to make a drink. It’s an opportunity for people to open up and have some fun and do something about it ….”
And that positive effect continued way past the point where 2,000 meals were delivered. The responses to the challenge numbered in the hundreds, and thousands of people viewed the videos. Some bartenders have created multiple videos, and drinks, and continue to do so. “Bartenders are so used to interacting with multiple people every day, and it has definitely been a struggle having that taken away. My hope is that people continue to share their ideas so that we can all stay connected both virtually and mentally,” said Ocampo.
“This was a point to kind of like, you know, share some light and just bring something to the community that was positive,” said Howard, “and I think we’ve done a good job.”
Roxanne Gomez’ Pink Fetish
"I’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback for the cocktails I’ve been making," Gomez says. "This one has been my favorite drink so far."
2 ounces Gunpowder Irish gin
0.5 ounce of lime juice so about half a lime
0.5 ounce of aqua faba (vegan alternative to egg white)
1 bar spoon (1 tsp) of hibiscus syrup
3 dashes of Angostura bitters
1 ounce of passion fruit juice
Shake with ice, double strain and dry shake for that perfect foaminess.
Click here for your free subscription to Las Vegas Magazine’s digital edition. Keep up with everything happening in Las Vegas, including reopening information. You’ll also receive the “Lost Issue” of Las Vegas Magazine, published right before the shutdown.