Whenever Hannah McBride is asked to hunt down a bottle of wine, she has to decipher a six-digit string of numbers. It’s part of what she does every night during her shifts at Aureole, a restaurant inside Mandalay Bay, just off the Las Vegas Strip. Get the numbers. Find the wine. Dive and somersault her way back down to the bar.
One of two “wine angels” employed by the restaurant, McBride spends the night rising and descending inside a four-story wine tower that can hold up to 10,000 bottles.
If the first digit is a “1,” then that means the bottle is hiding somewhere inside the tower, and not one of the restaurant’s other rooms that house bottles of Pinot and older vintages.
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In that case, McBride straps in, remote in hand. The climate-controlled tower feels a little cool, since it’s kept at cellar temperature, around 55 degrees. McBride focuses on the numbers as she moves around the wine racks made of sandblasted Plexiglas. The second digit tells her what side of the four-sided tower it’s on. Based on the third digit, she’ll adjust her position up or down to the correct level. The last three numbers identify the correct bin, and then voila! Wine is produced.
You, of course, don’t see any of that going through her head. While she’s using the numbers to track down bottles, what you see is Hannah smiling and making eye contact with guests. She extends her limbs and performs graceful spins and splits like some sort of slow-motion, wine-toting aerial acrobat. It reminds you a little of that famous cable-drop scene in “Mission Impossible” involving Tom Cruise.
“The main requirement,” McBride says about her job, “is that you’re not scared of heights.”
Before she delivers the correct bottle to the sommelier, who presents the selection to the table, McBride unhinges the harness, leaves the tower, and rejoins the staff on the ground. Sometimes, she joins the sommelier at the table so she can say hello and chat with guests, who naturally have tons of questions for her once she’s back on terra firma. Guests greet her warmly. They ask for selfies. McBride, who’s been doing this since January 2018, obliges them all.
“I love talking to people. I’ll be up in the tower and notice tables that are just, like, in awe and taking pictures. And so when I get down, I know I’ll need to go over there,” McBride says, noting that guests “come from all over, which is cool. I’m all about hospitality. I love making this a great experience for people.”
A trained gymnast, McBride says that background gives her the flexibility she needs for the aerial arts component of her work at Aureole. Of course, that’s just one part of her job.
Being a wine angel means you are part sommelier, part showman. After all, when you’re fetching wine from a 42-foot-tall tower with a frame made of stainless steel and fitted with laminated glass — well, like it or not, the spotlight is on you. It’s showtime.
McBride estimates it takes her about 10 seconds, once she’s strapped into the harness, to raise herself from ground level to the apex of the tower. Inside, she’s got access to an intercom, plus a holster that she slides the bottles into once she’s found them and is ready to come down.
The wine tower cost $1.2 million to build and was conceived by hospitality designer Adam Tihany, who actually took his inspiration from that “Mission Impossible” scene.
Aureole’s wine list has some 3,000 selections, all of which is overseen by Mandalay Bay’s director of wine, Harley Carbery. He creates a rotating, by-the-glass list of four dozen wines that features two recommended pairings for each of the 24 dishes on the restaurant’s menu, and a wine table situated next to the host stand displays the rundown of each night’s offerings.
“Aureole’s wine tower is one of the most iconic wine towers in the world,” Carbery says. He often sees guests “stop what they’re doing just to take a picture of the wine angels fetching bottles in the tower. It definitely has to be one of the most photographed locations in Vegas.”
“It’s funny,” McBride says. “The stairs into the restaurant kind of circle around the tower, and people sometimes have no idea. So they’re walking and then all of a sudden see me hanging there and just do a double-take. And they’re like, what? It’s not something you see every day.”
Las Vegas launched its “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas” slogan way back in 2003, and industry analysts consider it “one of the more famous taglines in modern tourism.” Wine angels exist in other bars around the world, but there is something unmistakably Las Vegas-esque about their tower, McBride and Carbery say. The things that happen in Vegas are bigger, flashier, and more of a spectacle than almost anywhere else around.
There are a lot of restaurants in Las Vegas, and even more performers. But there’s only one Hannah McBride.