The Best Mezcal Bars in the United StatesBy Brad Japhe
Well past the point of mere trend, mezcal is a permanent fixture upon the liquor landscape. If you’re looking for evidence, observe the back bar of your local watering hole. In short order, you’ll find that more real estate is being allotted to an artful assortment of Mexican bottles. All the while, the juice they contain works its way into an increasingly complex array of cocktails. This is the new normal. Modern drinkers demand intricate flavors, and mezcal satisfies in spades.
With more of the spirit making its way north than ever before, the biggest cities in the US have responded with dedicated bars to honor the spirit. Mezcal bars—mezcalerías—are now commonplace from northern New England to Southern California. And everywhere in between. With a wealth of choices crowding the category, proper guidance helps maximize your mezcal experience. The following establishments are leading the way.
Best Mezcal Bars in Los Angeles
Los Angeles consumes more mezcal than any city outside of Mexico. Demand for distilled agave has been holding strong for well over a decade. Unsurprisingly, a survey of the local scene reveals dozens of mezcal-focused menus. Las Perlas bills itself as the nation’s very first mezcal bar. And on the verge of its seventh anniversary, the hip downtown hangout is as vibrant as ever. Sip on an ‘Oisco Maaiachi’ (a swizzle of Del Maguey Vida with green Chartreuse, and house made orgeat) while tripping out at the psychedelic murals lining the walls. Or sort thru their lengthy menu, divided by region, as you enjoy live nightly music.
Mezcal selections at Las Perlas / Photo Credit: Las Perlas
You’ll find a similar, if slightly more accessible experience, at La Cuevita, just up the road in Highland Park. Enjoy a smoky mezcal margarita for $5 during an extended happy hour, or experiment with something markedly more exotic like the ‘Valley of the Dark Lords’. This mezcal cocktail is made with La Joya Oaxaqueña, Ancho Reyes, Cherry Heering, and turmeric, under chia seeds garnish. Although there’s dozens of mezcals to wade thru, the cocktails are expertly arranged, and most are priced at $10.
Best Mezcal Bars in the Bay Area
Up north, the Bay Area elevated their agave game with the opening of Mezcalito. The bar and restaurant’s interior of wood and brick is truly striking, yet it’s the dense wall of mezcal stacked up behind the stick that will truly capture your imagination. Piece together your own flight, or maybe even reserve your own mezcal locker. But either way, don’t skip the ‘Barrel-Aged Mezcal Negroni’, made with Siete Misterios — a measured balance of bitter and refreshing.
The bar at Mezcalito / Photo Credit: Mezcalito
Over the Golden Gate Bridge in Sausalito, Copita enhances the mood with a number of outstanding mezcal mashups. The ‘Ziggy Stardust’ smothers the smoke of Xicaru mezcal under a bitter blanket of Aperol, grapefruit and yellow Chartreuse. But talented bar manager Jesse Bennett encourages you to expand your agave horizons. He’s a big fan of Bacanora, serving several on his list. “I find it to be the middle ground between tequila and mezcal,” he explains. “It’s the dry, arid climate, the hot days and cold nights of Sonora that give Baconora it’s alluring flavor: dry, complex, and peppery, with an earthy finish.”
Best Mezcal Bars in Austin & D.C.
Follow the mezcal eastward across the US for a stop at Mezcalería Tobalá in East Austin. At Tobalá you can elect to have smaller pours served in a traditional clay copita, insuring a wider range of tastings. Las Flores emphasizes presentation, serving cocktails in sawed-off beer bottles or wrapped in leaves and studded with coriander.
Mezcalería Tobalá / Photo Credit: Mezcalería Tobalá
In the nation’s capital, Espita Mezcalería is vying for the title of the country’s lengthiest mezcal menu. The bar boasts over 100 labels, distilled from more than 25 varieties of agave. General Manager Josh Phillips curates the selection, as one of the world’s only certified Master Mezcaliers. His designated flights compartmentalize tastings into manageable categories, such as terroir distinctions, or reimagined as specific styles of whiskey.
Best Mezcal Bars in NYC
New York reigns supreme as the mezcal mecca of the Northeast, and quite possibly the entire US. A visit to Casa Mezcal in lower Manhattan is a must for any mezcal fan. It offers three floors of bar space, envisioned as a direct portal to Oaxaca. Ghost Donkey takes a more whimsical approach over in the East Village. Gorge on chorizo and tripe nachos while sharing the bar’s large format speciality; the ‘Burro Fantasma’ — Peloton de la Muerte mezcal blended with chili, lime, grapefruit and aperol, served in a donkey-and-wagon-shaped ceramic bowl. Beneath Rosa Mexicano in TriBeCa, Masa y Agave showcases more than 400 agave spirits in a modified speakeasy setting.
The bar at Ghost Donkey / Photo Credit: Ghost Donkey
A testament to the seismic growth of the category, the list above constitutes a fraction of worthwhile destinations. Yet these elite establishments remain the yardsticks by which all other mezcal bars ought to be measured. Start with the best and you’ll be well-equipped to judge the rest.
Had your eye on a special bottle of mezcal? Now you can go try it at one of the best mezcal bars in the United States!