A Bartender and her friends make cocktails on the fly in Distrito Federale.
Let’s say you want to build a one-night-only bar out of a large, raw space in a country where you don’t quite speak the language. Let’s say you’d like it to be big, to involve some of your favorite brands, and have a Mariachi band show up at midnight. And feature an ice luge. All while you and two of your closest bartender pals make drinks off of a custom menu for a crowd four deep between the hours of 10pm and 2am. Here’s what we know: we did it, it takes a village, and it was incredible. Enjoy our story.
Our party was born in the midst of — what else? — the general camaraderie of being four to five cocktails deep in good company. It all began with my friend Cecilia, whose birthday was coming up. My pal and fellow bartender Aaron Melendrez were going to be in Mexico City; Cecelia was going to be in Mexico City. Two of us are bartenders and one of us,Cecilia — Ceci to her friends –owns a mezcal brand. Aaron stated the obvious—why not have a party, a great, big bartenders’ mezcal cocktail party? And just like that, a tiny snowball of an idea started rolling down the hill.
Here’s one of the beautiful things about the spirits industry: it runs on your network. And your network is full of creative people who think big and outside the box and have access to a wild treasure trove of cool things, great brands, and talented professionals. All of this acts as some pretty volatile tinder for a spark of an idea.
Aaron and I immediately started thinking about the menu, which would feature Ceci’s mezcal, La Niña del Mezcal. We both knew we wanted to get Campari involved—mezcal and light bitters like Campari and Aperol are a sexy thing in the summer heat of DF (aka Distrito Federale, aka DF — what locals call Mexico City) —so we co-wrote a proposal, sent it to Campari’s San Francisco office, and within a week were collaborating with the wonderfully enthusiastic Mexico City branch.
The birthday girl saw our partnership and raised us an event space, plus offered Tequila Ocho for the menu, as well as a chef, and a reputable Mexico City club DJ. Oh yeah, and a portable bar. (Ceci’s a boss, to state the obvious.) Soon after, another bartender friend, the inimitable Karen Grill, came on board. One Facebook chat later we had a theme: Ceci’s second Quinceañera, because in a beautiful coincidence, it was her 30th birthday and she’d never had one at the usual 15.
Ah, Facebook. “International rogue popup bar” planning means your Facebook messenger and Whatsapp notifications never stop pinging. When your control room team is divided between two countries, four professionals, three brands, and two languages, it’s basically a month long brainstorm across time zones and communication apps. It is pretty cool to wake up to a “we should really have the Mariachi band play at midnight” thread, though. Same goes for the “we have an ice luge for the Skyy Vodka now!” stream. And my personal favorite, Aaron’s “I have packed two complete bar kits full of any tools we could ever need in my suitcase” message.
Two Days Prior
So finally we have three-quarters of the team together in person at this beautiful interior atrium of a classic DF apartment building. Many hugs have been exchanged. Mezcal has been poured out and glasses have been raised. Beers are produced. The chef and I have just solved a dire cinnamon crisis (there had been no cinnamon.) A fresh Word doc is opened and we set up a makeshift R&D bar in the chef’s kitchen.
To his enduring credit, the chef finds it hilarious (not annoying) that our tools are spread out and we are infusing things and shaking up drinks, and are generally on top of him, running around laughing and testing cocktails. We ply him with beer. A menu emerges. Someone introduces the idea of opening a future bar called the Shady Pineapple to great general enthusiasm. Life is one big messy cocktail party delight. We clean up, send the menu off to the printer, and devour the six pizzas that some smart member of the crew has ordered.
Day of the Pop Up
The bar tops are here! The reputable young club DJs are setting up! Someone found a friend who lights buildings professionally so he’s in a corner testing the color gel scheme! The guanabana puree has settled nicely! Aaron’s created two wells out of basically one double-tiered shelf! The ice has arrived! The liquor has arrived! The banners are here! WE HAVE TO GET DRESSED.
And then… the calm before the storm — just a quiet run-through of the menu. Someone lights a cigarette, the party lights are turned on, Sharon Jones is requested, and the first big group rolls through the speakeasy door. Game on.
Imagine a totally thrilling barscape of global industry friends packing the house — Mexico City, LA, New York, plus a whole crowd of Ceci’s family and friends. Aaron, Karen and I are weaving in and out of two wells behind the bar and someone’s “donated” their 16-year old son to act as barback, sweet kid. Crushed ice and cocktail umbrellas are flying around as we club-bartend our way down our six cocktail list.
Campari, La Niña, and some beautiful Tequila Ocho are carrying the night. The chef produces a chainsaw and carves the ice luge to order out of a massive ice block in front an gleeful crowd. Old men are dancing to the raucous Mariachi band that’s shown up at midnight, the Campari guests are slinging back grilled pineapple drinks, and twenty of the building owner’s closest friends come in a few minutes after security says the doors are closed.
Ten of our best Mexico City bartender friends show up an hour after everyone else starts leaving because a good one-night-only pop-up bar never really shuts down. At this point we’ve run out of all of our cocktail ingredients but there’s still a good amount of beer left in the keg and a few fresh bottles of La Niña’s Bacanora to open. Our core group of friends who have stayed to celebrate feels very familial by 6am, and we lustily raise a toast to the soiree that echoed in this grand space, just as the sun’s starting its ascent over Mexico City.
- 1 1/2 oz. La Niña del Mezcal Espadin
- 1/2 oz. Campari
- 1 oz. Grilled Pineapple Juice
- 3/4 oz. Fresh Key Lime Juice
- 1/2 oz. Cane Sugar Simple Syrup
- Dash Miracle Mile Celery Bitters
- Barspoon Conservas Rústicas Jalapeño Pineapple Jelly
Preparation: Shake and double strain over big cubes into rocks glass. Garnish with pineapple frond.
- 1 oz. Oaxacan Chocolate-Infused La Niña del Mezcal Espadin*
- 1 oz. Ancho Reyes chili liqueur
- 1/2 oz. Campari
- 1/2 oz. House-made tamarind and cinnamon wine reduction*
- Dash Angostura bitters
Preparation: Whip with a few ice pellets and serve over crushed ice. Garnish with slapped hierbabuena (mint) leaf.
For the Oaxacan chocolate-infused mezcal: Put 2 ounces of Oaxacan chocolate cocoa powder in a bottle of mezcal and allow to sit overnight. Agitate before using.
For the tamarind-cinnamon wine reduction: This was made on the fly at the pop-up, so the measurements here are approximate. Add a bottle of full-bodied red wine (Merlot or Cab) to a saucepan over low heat. To the wine, add the pulp of eight fresh tamarind pods, two to three sticks of fresh canella, 1/4 cup of cane sugar (or more to taste), and two ounces of Campari. Bring to a simmer and reduce by half. Consistency should be thin, not syrup-y.
Lo que Será, Será
- 1 oz. Tequila Ocho blanco
- 1 oz. La Niña del Mezcal Espadin
- 1/2 oz. Aperol
- 1 dash Miracle Mile yuzu bitters
- 1 dash Miracle Mile celery bitters
- Fresh cucumber slices
Preparation: Build cocktail in rocks glass, and stir with cucumber slices over big cube.