Bartenders Of the Week Pamela and Christina Dylag are the co-owners of Velveteen Rabbit. The sisters opened their cocktail bar in 2013, and it has quickly become a must visit in the Downtown area. The Dylag sisters are adventure seekers who use their individual experiences to create unique and interesting cocktails with fresh and housemade ingredients.
Back Bar USA had the opportunity to get to know the owners better and to find out how the popular bar came to be.
Back Bar USA: Where did you each get your start as a bartender/mixologist?
Christina: Actually, my first day behind a bar was at my own! I had to subscribe to the whole ‘fake it til you make it’ approach. It was at once terrifying and exciting. For the two years leading up to Velveteen’s opening, we collected an assortment of home bar necessities (spirits, cocktail books, bitters and the like), so we tried to hone our skills that way.
Pamela: When Christina and I decided to open a cocktail and craft beer bar concept, that’s the moment I decided I needed experience behind the stick. I was working at a law firm at the time and had no experience in a bar or restaurant. My first job was as a cocktail server at Downtown Cocktail Room. I would go in on my days off, studying cocktail books such as Craft Of the Cocktail and pick the bartenders’ brains; Kevin Gorham was a huge help. I also took the online BarSmarts course to begin my bartending journey.
BBU: How did becoming a bartender become an option or idea?
Christina: I had been in the service industry for nearly a decade before opening the bar, filling different types of roles such as hostess, busser and server, though I had never been granted the opportunity to be a bartender. It always seemed like a fun and creative position, but I felt that I lacked the natural charisma to do it. I held back a lot due to an innate, debilitating shyness. I guess I was ready to completely step out of my comfort zone.
Pamela: When we came up with our concept for Velveteen Rabbit, we knew we wanted to be as involved as possible. So right away I knew I wanted to bartend as an owner/operator. It’s extremely significant because you are face to face with your guests and get immediate feedback. It’s an important role to play with opening and growing your business, from my point of view.
BBU: What is your favorite part of it all?
Christina: For me, I like to deliver an authentic, interesting experience for people, so when I hear positive reviews from guests, it’s entirely rewarding. Also, having a space for creative freedom is the best! Pam and I get to throw outlandish, often weird parties, and we have a grand ol’ time.
Pamela: When guests really connect with you and appreciate the experience. That is ultimately why we wanted to open a bar—to connect with our community. Guests tell me that they feel like Velveteen Rabbit is their home, and that is the reason for it all.
BBU: What is the hardest part of being a bartender/mixologist?
Christina: When people throw a few back and get angry for whatever reason, it can be difficult to remain calm and diplomatic. I try not to take things personally, but it can prove to be a challenge.
Pamela: I would definitely agree with Christina. Sometimes people just get angry and there’s no rationalizing with them. Over the years, I have learned to be calm in the situation and not to take it personally. But when a challenging situation comes to fruition I can feel pretty exhausted afterward.
BBU: What is your signature cocktail?
Christina: I tend to mix with mezcal a lot, but I don’t have one specific cocktail that I make on the regular. I like to experiment quite a bit; I’ve made cocktails with citra hop foam, avocado-wasabi cream, apricot goat cheese cream, housemade tamarind soda, etc. I shoot for ‘weird and delicious.’ The Santa Annaconda highlights my approach to menu cocktails, as far as my mention of the elements ‘weird’ and ‘delicious.’ [Recipe: 1 oz tequila, .25 oz mezcal, bar spoon Genepy, 1 oz avocado-wasabi cream, .5 oz simple syrup, .5 oz lime; shake and strain into a rocks glass with a sesame seed rim.]
Pamela: I appreciate drinking in its entirety, so my signature cocktail is the one which will make the guest most satisfied. That being said, I personally love experimenting with vermouth. I’ve used shiitake mushrooms and asparagus in vermouths before. A personal favorite drink of mine was Dark Meadows, using a roasted beet and sage vermouth I created. It was my first attempt at making vermouth, which was a milestone for me. I remember early on in my bartending career being very intimidated by making complex ingredients, but now I love challenging myself and pushing the boundaries. My ideas do not always work, but it is always fun to try. [Recipe: 1.5 oz gin, 1.5 oz house roasted beet and sage sweet vermouth, .25 oz Zirbenz Pine Liqueur; serve up in a coupe, garnish with a fresh sage leaf.]
BBU: What’s it like owning the Velveteen Rabbit? What are the ups and downs?
Christina: Owning a bar—especially three and a half years in—is fun yet stressful at times. We definitely have systems in place that allow for a more fluid operation, but at the end of the day, everything rests on our shoulders. One of the best aspects of bar ownership is the ability to create your own work environment and staff; all of our employees are incredibly creative, entertaining and hard working.
Pamela: I am the happiest I have been since opening Velveteen Rabbit. The first couple years we were finding our footing, what worked and didn’t work. Now, three-and-a-half years later, we are well established, yet new guests are discovering us every day. I feel very supported by our team and the Las Vegas community. Probably the biggest challenge has been finding a work/life balance. I love to travel and that has taken a backseat until recently.
BBU: What does the future hold for you both? What are your plans moving forward?
Christina: We have a lot of ideas, both within this industry and outside of it. We’re hoping that we’ll be able to negotiate for more hours in the day. We’re still deciding on the direction, but there will definitely be more projects in the future.
Pamela: Yes, moving forward, we’re at this point of figuring out where we want to put our energy. We have so many ideas! Which is very exciting.
The Dylag sisters can be found behind the bar at the Velveteen Rabbit, which is open 5 p.m.-1 a.m. Mon-Wed, 5 p.m.-2 a.m. Thu-Sat and 5 p.m.-midnight Sun.