Why One of the Best Mixologists in Vegas Is Serving Jell-O Shots and Sci-Fi Cocktails
“Our Moscow Mule is blue and has a floating spaceman in it,” Mariena Mercer Boarini says.
So when Cosmopolitan chief mixologist Mariena Mercer Boarini started working on the cocktail menu for the Opium Theatre, she re-watched old movies like Barbarella and Lost in Space. And she thought about how to make “really serious cocktails that don’t look serious.” The result is a collection of concoctions that include Jell-O shots, push pops, and brightly colored cocktails in transparent bags.
The drinks in a bag are collectively known as Spocktails. The Gorgon’s Revenge is a margarita with bitter orange liqueur, yuzu “blood moon” sour, and pineapple chipotle syrup that’s garnished with a blood orange chip. The Pan-Galactic Gargle Blaster is a reddish riff on a Boulevardier. The Sputnik Cage is a light blue and potent interpretation of a Moscow Mule with coconut vodka. Kiss My Asteroid, with peach nectar vodka, champagne and a garnish of Pop Rocks, is like a French 75 for astronauts that are on a crazy bender.
“The inspiration was cocktails in orbit,” Mercer Boarini says. “If I was on a spaceship now, how would I be drinking my cocktail? They’re serious cocktails, but they look a little crazy. Our Moscow Mule is blue and has a floating spaceman in it.”
Mercer Boarini, who’s also responsible for the drinks at great Cosmopolitan bars like The Chandelier, Bond and Vesper, wants visiting the Opium Theatre to be an immersive experience.
“The menus are handed out at the ticket office,” she says. “My big thing was being true to the experience. That’s why every cocktail is out there and a little different. Too many Vegas shows are incredible shows, but when you go and get your cocktail, it’s a 32-ounce Jack and Coke. It’s not true to the experience.”
Mercer Boarini has what she calls a “robot” making Jell-O shots.
“It even does its own inventory,” says Mercer Boarini, who seems to be less worried about a Black Mirror future than I am.
Her Jell-O shot machine is similar to a coffee maker that uses pods. It takes three minutes to make a shot after Mercer Boarini pours in the booze and follows the prompts. Jell-O shot options at the Opium Theatre include an orange-colored one with guava rum. There’s a cherry Jell-O shot with bourbon that resembles an Old Fashioned. The Opium Theatre’s push pops also weave in different kinds of booze. The Southern Belle push pop includes bourbon. The Mango Passion push pop has rum.
Opium guests who are sitting in a booth get additional cocktail selections, which involve View-Masters and glow-in-the-dark menus inside old Trapper Keepers that Mercer Boarini found on eBay. You can lean back in your booth while sipping a Nectar of the Volcano Planet, a bright green drink with cachaca, banana rum, and coconut pandan liqueur. It’s served inside a little red robot and topped with “toasted space fluff and passionfruit spaceballs” for those who want a hit of intergalactic boba. But the most show-stopping, otherworldly drink at the Opium Theatre is probably Astrofizzics. That’s a punch bowl headlined by Absolut Elyx, topped with cucumber soda and served inside a helmet bearing a resemblance to what Daft Punk wear.
“It’s a very different show,” Mercer Boarini says of Opium. “This sets the stage for something different.”