Sure, May means Cinco de Mayo, but we can all agree any time is the right time for an excellent tequila cocktail. And nothing signals the glories of May like an agave spirit refresher. Whether in Oxford, Miss., or San Francisco, Las Vegas or Scottsdale, these 11 bars and restaurants are serving agave spirit cocktails that sing sweetly of spring and quickly approaching summer.
Can't make it to any of the bars serving these great tequila drinks? Try making the Black Betty from this list at home.
A great Tenderloin bar since opening in 2012, the intimate “snugs” (booths) at Tradition (aka Trad Bar) are once again available by reservation with plenty of walk-in seating around the large central bar. The snugs are themed with different drink heritages: English Scottish, Irish Pub, The Big Easy, Dive Bar, Molecular, Speakeasy, Grand Hotel and Tiki. Drinks follow suit with a couple in each category, including a Margarita variation so good it could be a poster child for Cinco de Mayo—but we’d drink it any time. The Bidi Bidi Bom Bom features Espolón blanco tequila touched with cognac and Ancho Reyes chile liqueur, brightened by lime and orange bitters and made joyously savory with a dehydrated lime and blistered poblano pepper salt rim.
Oxford’s town square is one idyllic, historic, Southern small town, down to the fantastic Square Books bookstore and Neapolitan pizza haven (a rarity in the region) Saint Leo. Saint Leo’s cocktails are a draw alongside its food, showcasing amari and apéritif cocktails, but also doing right by tequila. In the Golden Rule, blanco tequila plays nicely with Yellow Chartreuse, dry curaçao and lemon in a drink that alternates between tart, herbaceous and bright, offering a clean, vivacious counterpart to meatball sandwiches or pork belly, kale and ricotta pizzas.
In an airy Shaw space where industrial modern is enlivened with colorful murals, Espita Mezcaleria tributes Oaxaca in its tlayudas and moles and its 80-plus mezcal selection. Changing cocktails and agave spirits flights are offered from bar manager Megan Barnes and crew, educating on all things mezcal alongside killer dishes like a massive short rib and green chorizo hamburguesa layered with Oaxacan queso and lime mayo. The Mezonte cocktail, created by head bartender Robin Miller, is one irresistible flip combining espadín mezcal with Cynar made velvety with egg and subtly spicy with mole bitters.
Inside a charming craftsman bungalow that was once a guest house located on the Paramount lot, The Larchmont is home to one of L.A.’s most beloved burgers (a tall order in a city lined with stellar burgers). It’s also a place to sip this refreshing cocktail featuring 123 Organic Tequila Blanco (Uno) from bartender Chris Kramer. The tequila’s fresh agave shines with muddled cucumber, a touch of arugula leaves, agave syrup, lime juice and white pepper (which shows off the black pepper and lemon notes in the tequila), topped with a splash of soda.
Open at the end of 2016, the book-lined Dorsey at The Venetian is a massive library bar (with a fireplace), elegant with oak and marble but a stone’s throw from the hotel’s casino. The cocktail menu was created by longtime barman Sam Ross (of New York City's Attaboy and Milk & Honey) and features an agave spirit duo in the Caballo Blanco. The drink combines tequila and mezcal for a touch of smokiness, brightened by pineapple juice, lime and spicy ginger, all balanced by bitters. Served in a Collins glass marked by a long tube of ice, the drink is garnished with a signature garnish, candied ginger, in keeping with Ross’ most famous drink, the Penicillin.
One of NYC’s bar treasures since opening in 2015, The Up & Up is a Greenwich Village respite for quality cocktails in an intimate space lined with William Morris wallpaper, banquettes and alcoves. Owner Matt Piacentini and head bartender Chaim Dauermann craft memorable drinks like the Zuzu’s Petals (the name a playful nod to It’s A Wonderful Life). The drink features Tromba tequila blanco infused with ginger and habaneros but not going the typical savory route many pepper-infused cocktails do. Instead, this is about a clean yet robust spice, floral-soft with rose water and balanced by lime juice and demerara sugar.
Power House is like an Old West adobe outpost situated in the center of Oklahoma City’s Farmers Public Market district, surrounded by Mexican vendors and local artisanal foods with an inviting patio and outdoor fireplace. Besides serving a damn fantastic spicy chile pork verde, owner Clay Berkes ensures a warm Oklahoma welcome with quality bites and drinks served in a hip but dive-y setting. Little Fat Cowboy is its nod to the Bloody Mary, or Bloody Maria, given the agave base. In this case, it’s Alipus mezcal imparted with bubbly fizz from Modelo Especial beer and a house Bloody Mary mix that is vibrant with tomatoes, chiles and pepper with a mini hot dog and okra garnish.
Scottsdale favorite (and James Beard Award nominee) for modern Mediterranean food from chef Gio Osso, Virtu is also a local destination for cocktails. Fernando Bambaren’s Spice Market cocktail features Azuñia organic reposado tequila but leans toward the Mediterranean with its spice focus. The citrus-forward (lemony) drink unfolds with whispers of oxidation from fino sherry and bitter balance from Abbott’s bitters. A house Moroccan simple syrup showcases ginger and coriander notes, while the finish brings a subtle anise glow from an absinthe rinse.
With Mo Hodges and Brian Felley of nearby Benjamin Cooper behind the new Douglas Room, just opened early March near San Francisco’s Union Square in the Tilden Hotel, a warm welcome and excellent cocktails are a guarantee. From chefs Glen Schwartz and Tim Malloy, there are also killer Philly cheesesteaks and hoagies alongside inspired roasted carrots and lamb tartare pie, served in a laid-back space that’s already a late-night industry hangout. The Tele Novela just feels like spring: a tall refresher of Partida tequila, celery, strawberry, lemon Chareau California aloe liqueur with a touch of aquavit for added savory herbal notes.
At one of downtown Vancouver’s celebrated farm-to-table restaurants, Royal Dinette, bar manager Kaitlyn Stewart plays with kitchen ingredients and techniques in her cocktails. The Black Betty intrigues with its dark depths and dehydrated beetroot-sugar garnish dusted across a layer of egg white. The drink combines El Jimador blanco tequila, Odd Society crème de cassis liqueur, lime juice and a house-made black sesame orgeat. The drink gains an inky blackness from a touch of activated charcoal under a frothy egg white top.
A classic lime sorbet summertime treat popular in the state and city of Queretaro, Mexico, is the inspiration for head bartender Eric Trousdale‘s Queretaro cocktail at Chicago’s Arbella, a sleek cocktail lounge in warm browns and cool blues, lined with cozy booths. Instead of lime sorbet, the Queretaro is essentially a liquid nitrogen Frozen Margarita (tequila, lime juice and simple syrup) topped with a red wine float. The float adds a dramatic red visual to the frozen green and a layer of tannic berry dryness that seeps into the drink with each sip.
Mixing your cocktail