You wouldn’t order anything but hot dogs at the ball park, cotton candy at a carnival, and popcorn at the movies. And why not? Because they are all precisely the right situational dining choices.
The same goes for singularly-focused bars in singularly-focused locations. Stepping south of the California border into Mexico and beyond, you can find bars that serve only (or mostly) tequila and mezcal, enabling you to get to the heart of what makes agave spirits tick.
Opened by husband and wife Ulises Torrentera and Sandra Ortiz Brena in 2011, In Situ stocks over 180 tequilas and mezcals to suit any and every occasion. When you walk through the door of this well-stocked Mezcaleria in Oaxaca, expect to be greeted by Sandra as she presents you with their thoughtfully-curated list.
If 180 choices make your head spin, ask Sandra to help you navigate the options. She will fill you in on every element of her mezcals from simple details like the agave’s origins (highlands or lowlands) to equally important facts like the species and the roasting process, as well as some family lore about the producers. Want to know just how long that agave grew before a jimador (an agave farmer) used his coa (tool used by agave farmers) to extract it from the field? Or how long it roasted in a horno or was buried and smoked, and whether or not there was a tahona (the stone wheel that crushes the agave) involved? She knows.
Ilegal Mezcal lovers in the know look for the refrigerator when they arrive at Café No Sé, the lively must-visit bar in Antiqua. You too should make a beeline for it — behind that refrigerator door lies an intimate bar lit by candlelight that reflects off the tile floor, as well as local-art filled walls. Your only spirited option here? Ilegal Mezcal.
To find your way to this hidden gem, follow the advice of brand co-owner, Stephen Myers, who explains,
“You enter No Se and pass through the front bar. There is then a longer (main) bar where you can access the mezcal bar entering through the fridge door or through an adjacent room that has a large shrine in it – this room used to be the kitchen.” He continues, “You can also enter the mezcal bar during the afternoon through the swinging doors of Dyslexia (their book store with a back entrance to the bar.)“
It makes perfect sense that the entrance to Ilegal’s mezcal-only bar would be hidden in plain sight; it reflects how Myers’ co-owner, John Rexer, once smuggled in the spirit from next-door neighbor Mexico. Rumor has it that someone’s parents, and a priest’s vestments, were involved.
Giving a nod to Pancho Villa, the newly-opened 1910 Cantina at Azul Fives resort offers a study in agave with its 83 tequilas and mezcals. Thanks to the knowledgeable bartenders, you won’t have to employ any brutish tactics to get a drink — unlike Pancho Villa, who is rumored to have shot a bullet in the ceiling of a bar to get some attention and service. Whether the bartenders guide you through a pre-set flight or help you customize one of your own, you’ll be all sorted out at first sip. Locally-quaffed favorites like Las Garrafas and Vivoras Abocado can be found here alongside more well know selections like Don Julio (which was the bartender’s choice at sister property El Dorado Royale.)
Whether you hit up just one of these single spirit emporiums or make a pilgrimage to all of them, you will find yourself satisfied. Travel that involves good food and good drink is travel worth seeking out. From your first day vacationing south of the border to your last these tequila/mezcal-focused bars are where you’ll want to be.