Mezcal Bars in Oaxaca: Where to Imbibe in the State Capital

Screen Shot 2015-10-28 at 6.45.51 AMBy Alvin Starkman, M.A. J.D.

Mezcalerías, or mezcal bars specializing in artisanal mezcal, began opening in Oaxaca at a furious pace last year. The meteoric rise in the popularity of the iconic Mexican spirit continues to spell more mezcal tourism to the state, in particular to the capital to which many visitors make pilgrimage; to sample, learn, visit the distillery of their favorite brand, and buy.

I am continually asked “where should I go to drink mezcal.” So this is a compendium of mezcalerías in Oaxaca City, which includes a couple of local haunts which also serve beer and food.

A major change took hold within the retail industry in 2015. Mezcalerías and many restaurants started offering a healthy complement of mezcals, distinguishing mezcals made in palenques (artisanal distilleries) certified by the regulatory board CRM (Consejo Regulador del Mezcal), from those not certified. In order to not run afoul of CRM dictates, noncertified mezcals (technically in fact not “mezcals”) are often noted as “destilados de agave,” “destilados de agave silvestre artesanal,” “agave silvestre,” and so on. They are nevertheless mezcals in the generic sense, usually excellent.

La Porfiria: Porfirio Díaz #907 cel: 951 221 2539 (2 – 11 pm).

La Porfiria has a modern ambiance with a reasonable selection of house and certified mezcals. You can likely find an agave distillate made with your favorite species of maguey. Prices are in line, especially considering that drinks are served on a smart wooden platter with orange wedges, worm salt, and grasshoppers. Consider an appetizer plate if you’re in for extensive drinking.

El Destilado: 5 de Mayo #409 cel: 951 242 8104 (restaurant by day, mezcalería from 9 pm).

This new, self-fashioned “speakeasy” mezcalería remains open until the wee hours, popular with chefs after their establishments have closed. It has a wonderful selection of unique mezcals and other succulent distillates from throughout the country (one or twoounce servings available), plus craft beer. Great feel! El Destilado is raising the bar for others.

El Espino Gastro Cantina: 20 de Noviembre #103 cel: 951 197 2696 (from 11 am).

El Espino is large, dimly lit, with relatively loud music and a DJ during peak times, all brilliantly contrived keep you there and drinking. With close to 120 certified mezcals and a good selection of craft beers, it is worthy of attention if the ambiance is something you crave from time to time. Personally, not my cup of tea, but if you’re in your 20s; and there’s food.

La Madre Mezcalería: Morelos #405 cel: 951 501 2027;
certainly weekends from about 8:30 pm; if open you’ll see a wrought iron gate with a few votive candles for illumination.

This small funky mezcalería is dedicated to the promotion of the unique mezcals produced by a select number of palenqueros in Oaxaca’s Miahuatlán district. It features 15 mezcals from four palenques. Soft guitar music is sometimes featured.

La Medida Mezcales y Vinos: Macedonio Alcalá #403 (upper level)
cel: 951 501 1251 Mon – Thurs 6 pm to midnight; Fri – Sat until 2 am. This wine, cocktail and mezcal lounge has about 60 certified mescals ranging from 60 pesos to a whopping 280 pesos. Perfect for those wanting relaxed comfortable surroundings and those who are perhaps visiting the city with a partner or friends not particularly interested in drinking mezcal.

La Mezcalerita: Macedonio Alcalá #706-C
cel: 951 106 4432; 1:00 – 10:00 pm. The selection of commercial label mezcal, agave distillates, and craft beers is impressive. Ambiance is pleasant with barn board style furnishings, and interesting music both Mexican and 70s rock. Here too you can select either one or two-ounce shots, so if in for significant sampling, it won’t set you back a bundle and will enable you to return to your hotel relatively intact.

In Situ: Morelos #511 cel: 951 514 1811.
In Situ is often considered the most respected mezcalería in Oaxaca. The bar boasts over 180 different mezcals and often hosts evenings featuring a representative of a particular brand, with healthy samples served at rock bottom prices, including a botana. Don’t let the main floor bar deceive, there is an upstairs with tables and chairs for more relaxed drinking and socializing.

La Mezcaloteca: Reforma #506 cel: 951 514 0082;
4:30 – 10:00 pm, six days; reservations. Mezcaloteca’s tasting room provides basic education through encouraging patrons to sample flights of three mezcals produced in different regions, using diverse distillation and fermentation methods, made with different agaves. The teaching is admirable though no substitute for leaving the city to visit artisanal palenques not constructed for the tourist trade.

Cuish: Díaz Ordaz #712 cel : 951516 – 8791
Together with the previous two mezcalerías, Cuish represents one of the earlier mezcal bars to come onto the scene from the outset of the modern mezcal boom. Located at the south end of the centro histórico, in a somewhat seedy yet safe part of downtown. It is extremely laid back, with comfy couches on the second floor and a remarkable air of informality.

La Casa del Mezcal: Flores Magón #209.
Dating to 1935, La Casa del Mezcal is one of the first traditional Mexican cantinas. Known for its location across from the Benito Juárez market, and old west atmosphere; swinging oak doors and long exquisite bar, jukebox music, smoke, beer and of course mezcal. With a relatively modest selection of house mezcals, visit more for soaking up the ambiance than for learning about the spirit’s nuances.

Mezcalillera: Murguía 403-A cel: 951 514 1757.
From old to new, the sleek Mezcalillera dubs itself “La Miscelánea del Mezcal,” promoting high-end certified products for sampling and sale as well as related paraphernalia you can pick up to take home. It carries 63 brands with 190 varieties though the shop doesn’t appear to have that much stock. Mezcalillera seems more geared to sampling and buying than sitting and sipping for an evening.

Mis Mezcales: Reforma #528-B cel: 951 514 2523;
10 am – 9pm; seven days. Mis Mezcales has the broadest range of mezcal-related gift items including T-shirts, glassware, pottery and books. Its selection of mezcals is not as large as Mezcalillera nor as grandiose as In Situ, but it has a modern, comfortable sipping ambiance. Mis Mezcales appears to be more for a brief visit to sample and pick something up to take home.

Los Amantes: Allende #107
Tues-Sun, 4:00 – 10 pm. Los Amantes provides a delightful yet tiny drinking environment decorated with vintage bottles and related mezcal items. The only downside is that it carries only products made in its distillery. However, it has indeed become a hangout for locals, perhaps in part because it does offer some of its premium small batch production when available, and has a strong welcoming air.

El Cortijo: 5 de Mayo 305-A
cel: 951 514 3939; Mon-Sat, 6:00 – 10:30 pm. Like Los Amantes, El Cortijo sells its own spirits. But again there are times when it produces specialty mezcals and new batches. It provides education, but not to the extent of the mezcalerías that carry mezcal from different palenqueros, regions and production methods (i.e. clay v. copper). El Cortijo lacks the panache of Los Amantes but is worth a visit and a couple of shots.

Piedra Lumbre: Tinoco y Palacios #602 cel: 951 135 1230 & 951 156 0321;
evenings from 6 pm, Wednesday through Saturday (knock). The exterior is painted gray with small signage and otherwise no indication of what’s inside. It has an ideal drinking environment, with its adjoining gallery, tables, and chairs and welcoming ambiance and management. The selection is decent and growing.

Mezcalogia: Garcia Vigil #511 cel: 951514-0115,
by appointment or by chance, with stated hours Wed-Sat 4 – 10 pm. Mezcalogia has a pleasing Los Amantes ambiance. While it currently offers about 30 mezcals, what it does have represents a good, diverse selection including a couple of products from out-of-state; no commercial labels. Numerous restaurants and cantinas not mentioned carry a wide range of agave distillates; commercial labels and house mezcals, the latter usually noted by type of agave and town of distillation, either on a drink menu or chalkboard. And there are other outlets that sell exclusively mezcal, which are not included because their environments are not conducive to sipping in a pleasant environment; and while covering the basics, product variety is skimpy.

Regardless of where you imbibe, it is important to sample a diversity of agave distillates and form your own opinion with a view to honing the palate. Many of the mezcals you’ll appreciate in Oaxacan bars, mezcalerías, and even restaurants, are not exported from Mexico, and most, especially the ensembles, you cannot even find outside of Oaxaca; so while on your visit, enjoy.

Alvin Starkman operates Mezcal Educational Excursions of Oaxaca. He is the author of “Mezcal in the Global Spirits Market: Unrivalled Complexity, Innumerable Nuances” and creator of the first comprehensive bilingual color mezcal tasting wheel. Alvin has been a mezcal aficionado for 25 years and has a personal collection of 240 different agave distillates.

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