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Liquor.com

Inside the Best Little Jungle Bar in Mexico

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Arca's Back Bar in Tulum, Mexico

Backbar means ‘barback,’” says Pedro Sánchez, referencing the person who supports the bartending team by ensuring they have everything they need for service to run smoothly. The term also speaks to his latest place of employment, Back Bar, the sultry cocktail den located behind Tulum, Mexico’s four-year-old jungle restaurant, Arca.

After a speedy three-month build, Back Bar debuted in July, an extension of chef Jose Luis Hinostroza’s rustic food, built from indigenous ingredients but designed with progressive technology. Sous vide machines might be common gadgetry in Michelin-starred restaurants around the world, but in eco-conscious Tulum, where electricity is precious (the entire area is powered by generators) and ice is worshipped like gold, most eateries embrace more primitive forms of cooking, like wood-fueled hearths. However, considering Hinostroza’s background, the tech makes sense.

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Pedro Sánchez

The chef landed permanently in Tulum after a tenure at what many consider to be the world’s best restaurant, Noma, in Copenhagen. And following the iconic eatery’s six-week jungle pop-up last year, he simply never left.

Mimicking Arca’s inspired plates that blend sophistication with an intense sense of place—think grilled avocado with crispy chaya, avocado leaf oil, roasted pumpkin seeds and avocado wood dashi—Sánchez is applying the same finesse to meticulously prepared libations in the middle of the hot, humid jungle.

“Have you ever worked in the middle of a mangrove surrounded by nature, without walls or a roof?” asks Sánchez, who previously spent a year at top Mexico City bar Fifty Mils in the cushy Four Seasons. “Tulum is a jungle. The weather is unpredictable, and it’s not easy to import international liquor.”

Aviation, made with Armónico gin, Luxardo maraschino liqueur, lime juice and crème de violette

But one of the biggest hurdles is the relentless heat, says Sánchez. That compounded with humidity and the lack of electricity makes cooling foods and drinks extremely challenging, forcing those behind the bar to get creative with ways to reduce refrigerator space.

“We use over 500 pounds of ice every day,” says Sánchez, who admits the bar still sometimes runs out. “This is where the creativity of the bartender comes in. You have to improvise, and that means knowing how to use the ice in a suitable way so as not to dilute the drinks in the shaker, stirrer or long drinks with cubes.”

Beyond ice issues, there’s always the potential of dehydration. “Arca and Back Bar are completely surrounded by trees, which makes it very humid,” says Sánchez. “Bartenders sometimes suffer from dehydration.” July and August are the most precarious months.

Equipped with 50 seats, Back Bar, whose menu changes every few months, has emerged as Tulum’s top destination for classic-inspired cocktails that embrace the bar’s Mexican locale. Its take on a classic Piña Colada includes a fat wash of coconut oil and gin, along with roasted pineapple, lime juice and aquafaba. The Hemingüey calls for pox (a Mexican spirit distilled from corn) along with cantaloupe shrub, lime juice and a splash of prosecco.

Mulata, made with BarSol pisco, local guava pulp, lime juice and aqua fava

Because of Tulum’s difficult conditions, “we have learned to conserve ingredients through preservation techniques” says Sánchez, explaining why many libations call for fat washes, shrubs and aquafaba––chickpea brine that, when shaken in a cocktail, creates a frothy texture like egg white.

So far, Back Bar has overcome the challenges of Mother Nature and quickly become an essential stop for the keen imbiber. “I like to mix international liquors with local ingredients from the region,” says Sánchez, who believes this recipe yields a unique experience one can only find in the jungle.

Locations: Mexico Tulum
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