Shifting Sands Cocktail

Las Vegas becomes a city

Your cocktail calendar entry for: March
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We’re mixing the Shifting Sands cocktail on March 16 because it might be the anniversary of Las Vegas becoming an incorporated city.  We say might because we’re not sure.  The Las Vegas Sun reports it as March 16, 1911.  Then again, the City of Las Vegas says it’s June 1, 1911.  We’re placing our bet on the leading newspaper and going with March 16.  After all, it’s too hot there in June to want to do much of anything so March sounds better to us.

You can place your bet on whatever date you like, but the Shifting Sands is a great, refreshing drink either way.

Las Vegas

The Las Vegas area got named around 1829 when the Spanish merchant Antonio Armijo was charged with establishing a trade route to Los Angeles.  He and his men found the valley and named the area Las Vegas, which is Spanish for ‘the meadows.’  It was a bit greener at that time and they decided it was the best place to re-supply before heading into California.

Some Mormons from Utah tried heading there in the mid-19th century but soon abandoned the idea.  It wasn’t until 1895 and the development of a railroad for the first large-scale immigration to begin.  Farmland was cheap, wells provided water, and agriculture was the primary industry.

In the early 20th century Las Vegas became an intersection for railroads to southern California and mining boom towns like Bullfrog.  Commerce boomed, by 1930 the Boulder Dam, now known as the Hoover Dam was appropriated.  Work started in 1931 and the city population boomed from 5,000 to 25,000.  Most of the newcomers came to work on the dam.

That shifted the city’s demographics, with a large work force consisting of men with no attachment to the area.  This created a market for large scale entertainment and you know what happened next.  A combination of local business owners and Mafia figures developed the first casinos and showgirl theaters to entertain the crowds.  It was no secret that crime figures were involved, but business was booming.

It was after World War II that the town really took off and the mob gained a stronger foothold.  Bugsy Siegel and Meyer Lansky used local banks for cover of legitimacy and built The Flamingo in 1946.  Others followed. Despite knowing that some casino owners had dubious backgrounds, by 1954 over 8 million people were visiting each year.

The Shifting Sands Cocktail

We’ve touched on Las Vegas before through the Rat Pack, the prominent entertainers working there as operations expanded beyond gambling.  There’s Frank’s Way and the Rat Pack Manhattan for Frank Sinatra and the Flame of Love for Dean Martin.

Today we’re mixing the Shifting Sands cocktail for a variety of reasons.  First we acknowledge the fact that Las Vegas is surrounded by the stuff.  Second, we provide a useful Mafia tip, and finally we honor the late bartender Sasha Petraske.

The vast stretches of sand are self-evident, but dealing with that sand isn’t.  We received a tip from a bartender friend in Las Vegas, who got it from an unnamed casino owner.  So next time you have a body to dispose of bury it headfirst.  A basic horizontal grave is just coyote bait.  A deep, narrow grave with the feet pointed skyward is the mark of a seasoned professional.

The Shifting Sands cocktail was invented by the late Sasha Petraske, who we also have to thank for the Gold Rush cocktail.  As noted in that article he was the founder of the legendary New York bar Milk & Honey, often credited with being the most influential bar of the late 20th century.

The Shifting Sands recipe is simple.  No exotic ingredients, something to be shaken, poured and topped with club soda.  It’s a refreshing drink, perfect for lounging by the pool in desert climates and a tasty alternative to something like a Tom Collins.

shifting sands cocktail

Shifting Sands Cocktail

A delightful highball created by the late Sasha Petraske at Milk & Honey in New York. The drink combines two ingredients that play well together - gin and grapefruit juice - then adds sharpness with a small bit of lemon juice and complexity with a little maraschino liqueur.
We have tried a few different maraschino liqueurs and strongly recommend Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur. It's widely available and in our view the best choice for use in cocktails.
5 from 1 vote


  • oz Gin
  • oz Fresh grapefruit juice
  • 2 tsp Luxardo Maraschino liqueur
  • ¼ oz Fresh lemon juice
  • Club soda
  • Garnish: Grapefruit wedge or twist


  • Add gin, grapefruit and lemon juice, and maraschino liqueur to your trusty shaker.
  • Add ice and shake until frosty cold.
  • Strain into ice filled highball glass.
  • Top with club soda.
  • Garnish with grapefruit wedge or twist.
  • Drink.
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