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Meet the Women Shaking Up Vegas at the New $3.6 Billion Fontainebleau Las Vegas: Juyoung Kang, Director of Beverage Development

Juyoung Kang is a drinks dynamo, reshaping the Las Vegas cocktail scene from the heart of the Strip's newest gem, the Fontainebleau Las Vegas which opened at the end of 2023. As the mastermind behind the beverage program at this $3.6 billion, 3,644-room resort with 36 different first-to-market food and beverage outlets, her responsibilities range from chemist and forager to mentor and manager. In fact, if her story from an ambitious 18-year-old in Philadelphia to a celebrated beverage director in Vegas, were a cocktail, it would be equal parts passion, creativity, and determination with a heavy dash of science. We sat down with Kang to chat about her ascent in the world of mixology…


juyoung kang fontainebleau las vegas

Take us back, you went to college at Temple University in Philadelphia for filmmaking and marketing, how did you get into bartending?  


It was serendipity, really. My sister and I saw an ad for a part time job at a restaurant. When I interviewed, I didn’t have restaurant experience. So I told the manager that if he didn’t hire me, no one was going to give me the chance. He fell for that! Not long after, one of the bartenders didn’t show up for a shift on a day where 300 people were coming for a wedding. My manager was like, “we need you behind the bar, you’re smart, you can figure it out.” From that moment I was hooked, but they didn’t offer much training, so I started learning on my own. I would just go to the liquor store to find out what brands were vodka, gin, rum, and write them all down. I am endlessly curious and I like to study, so all this research was fun for me. 


Bleau Bar, centrepiece of the Fontainebleau Las Vegas
dramatic view of the Bleau Bar, centrepiece of the $3.6 Billion Fontainebleau Las Vegas

What happened to filmmaking?


Yeah, I thought I was going to be a filmmaker or go into digital marketing, but my job bartending was more interesting than my classes! Originally, I thought I'd train to be a sommelier. I went to wine tastings, and the people were really snobby and quite unhelpful in showing me the way to learn.  Then I went to a Johnnie Walker tasting and they were so welcoming…I was like “these are my people!”


Following my passion, I left Philadelphia and moved to Los Angeles to work in hotel bars. I soon realized the bartending style in California was much more complex, not throwing together Jack and Coke and G&Ts.  It was more about the ingredients using herbs and fresh fruit, also there was more focus on the look of the drink and the garnishes. I really upped my garnish game. Then I moved to Las Vegas to open up The Cosmopolitan, and the mixology was even more intense. I love the science and creativity about crafting cocktails. 


Azul bar Fontainebleau Las Vegas
Ju at Azul

Amazing! Tell us more about your love for the creativity and science behind bartending and how you create new drinks and menus.


Creating a new drink is like solving an intricate puzzle. It starts with understanding the basics of flavor balance and the science of how different ingredients interact. I was lucky to learn from a few mentors, who emphasized the importance of a formulaic approach to drink creation. 


For me, every new cocktail is a journey—from conceptualization to the final sip, every element needs to harmonize. At Fontainebleau Las Vegas, I’ve created about 300 original cocktails, drawing inspiration from across the globe. It's a meticulous process, experimenting with unique combinations, adjusting proportions until the balance is just right. And it’s not just about the drink itself, but how it fits within the broader context of a menu, ensuring each bar or drinks menu has its own identity. This process, from ideation to execution, is my favorite part—it’s where creativity meets discipline, and where I get to bring my vision to life. I get really nerdy about it. 


At Azul, for example, the menu is inspired by the authentic mezcalerias of Mexico. It’s not just knowing the different types of mezcals and tequila, for authentic flavors I literally source every possible ingredient from Mexico. I find the produce from Mexico to be lighter and brighter in flavor. For example, cucumbers. Mexican cucumbers are less bitter than English cucumbers. Terroir makes such a difference when you build a cocktail. I pick the key ingredients and then I build off of that. For the Azul menu we researched lost flavors from the Mayans. From there we innovate with new creations and new versions of classic cocktails that tell a story. 


Don's Prime Fontainebleau Las Vegas
the bar at Don's Prime

For the restaurants, the cocktails are more about pairing. At Don’s Prime, our steak concept, we have quite a few savory cocktails. One drink, Tango Mate, has a chimichurri herb infused tequila paired with Mate, the South American herb drink, which is quite bitter and usually served warm like tea. So, I turned the process upside down by chilling everything. For the tequila herb infusion, I actually use an iSi charger which utilizes cold Nitrous oxide (N02) which creates a stronger, cleaner flavor of chimichurri. I’m obsessed with this cocktail and these flavors! 


cocktails at Azul, Fontainebleau Las Vegas
cocktails at Azul, Fontainebleau Las Vegas

Wow, that is so cool. Literally. My husband is from Argentina, and I have never seen Mate in a cocktail before, never mind your clever idea to use a N02 infusion!  Switching gears, beyond crafting drinks, bartending often requires playing the role of a confidant for patrons. How do you handle this aspect of the job?


Absolutely, the bar is more than just a place to grab a drink. Listening is key. I approach all interactions with empathy and respect, understanding that sometimes people just want to be heard. Being a good bartender is about providing not only a great cocktail but also a comforting presence. Of course, there are also times when people are rude or disrespectful, and you have to learn how to handle that as well.  Bartending is the best job for learning people skills and how to read body language.


Liz Kramsky Fontainebleau
Tough assignment: sampling Ju's cocktails at Azul with Liz Kramsky, PR Manager (L to R: Liz, Ju, Emily)

As an Asian woman in a predominantly male industry, what has your experience been like, and how are you working to pave the way for future generations?


The industry is evolving, but when I started, there weren't many women bartenders, let alone Asian women. Unconsciously, it seems customers just gravitate toward male bartenders. As a woman, I feel like I have had to constantly prove myself, sometimes more than my male colleagues. But, these challenges have only made me more determined to succeed and to help change the landscape for those coming after me. We need to get more women applying to be bartenders.  With the Fontainebleau Las Vegas opening team, we’ve worked hard to foster a culture of inclusivity and respect, to mentor and encourage the next generation of bartenders. There are a lot of opportunities here, it’s an exciting time. 




Quickfire with Ju


What time do you wake up / what is your daily routine to start your day? 

I have three dogs and they usually dictate what time I wake up in the morning. Sometimes it’s way too early, but they are the best alarm clock, usually around 4:30 or 5am. The first thing I do in the morning is take them out and feed them, and once they are happy, I start my day.                

 

What do you do for self - care? 

I love trying different Korean skin-care products. I’m always searching for new and interesting things. I also try to eat very clean and healthy for the most part.

 

Do you have to work lots of late nights, if so how do you cope? 

After many years of bartending late nights are no big deal for me. In my position now I work mostly days, but if there is an event or group in house that needs attention I will stay late. I also like to stay late enough to visit the bars once they are in full swing so I can see how each one is operating.

 

What is your favourite drink? 

I’m actually a simple girl, I love a scotch on the rocks.

 

What is your favourite drink to make? 

I don’t have one specific drink that I like to make more than others. I enjoy surprising guests with new flavors and experiences that they may not have had before.

 

What drink trends do you see coming up next? 

I think rum is poised to have a big moment.

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