Spring is in full bloom, and agave spirits are just the thing to celebrate it. As tequila and mezcal become ever more prevalent on backbars, drink makers across the country turn to them for inspiration. From vegetal to spicy to citrus-packed classics, these are the 11 tequila and mezcal cocktail to drink in bars now.
Can't make it to any of the bars serving these great tequila and mezcal drinks? Try making the Definite Maybe from this list at home.
Inside Portland’s chic Woodlark hotel lies Abigail Hall, marked by soothing oranges, reds and greens. Beverage director Daniel Osborne has fun with agave, pulling inspiration from the orange creamsicle for his Definite Maybe cocktail. Banhez mezcal and Dolin génépy get a citrus kick from fresh orange and lemon juices, unfolding with minty intrigue from a mint simple syrup that enhances the smoke of the mezcal.
Cedric Vongerichten’s Wayan is a French-Indonesian restaurant serving the likes of lemongrass coconut chicken curry and lobster noodles in a glowing, intimate space with a greenery-lined bar. Beverage director Eileen Chiang experiments with Indonesian ingredients and three to four straightforward ingredients in her cocktails The Antiguo Negro features Casamigos reposado tequila enhanced by a dose of mezcal, finishing with toasty notes of black sesame and a blend of Peychaud’s, Angostura and citrus bitters.
Tony Gemignani is one of the world’s great pizza masters, winning more than 13 World Pizza Championships, including the toughest in Naples. At his North Beach destination, Tony’s Pizza Napoletana, he excels at every style of pizza from Jersey Trenton tomato pie to Detroit pizza, Chicago thin crust (at his neighboring restaurant Capo’s) to Neapolitan, using different doughs, sauces and ovens for each. Bar manager Elmer Mejicanos keeps drinks fun and pizza-friendly. The Matadora is a mix of Cenote tequila, ginger liqueur, black-pepper-infused red beet juice, lime and mint, dusted with a little shimmery gold so it sparkles in the light.
Palenque Mezcaleria founder Brian Rossi knows his agave. You can flip through photo albums of his extensive travels through Oaxaca visiting mezcalerias or Jalisco’s raicilla and tequila producers. Not only is this Denver’s first mezcal bar, it’s still the city’s only temple to all things agave, offering a deep collection of spirits and straightforward but pleasing cocktails. The Pear Shaped Panther stays robustly boozy combining Nuestra Soledad mezcal, mirto (Sardinian myrtle berry liqueur) and the bitter-anise of Amaro Soldatini, rounded out with St. George spiced pear liqueur and Bittercube Corazón bitters.
Lane Harlan runs three of Baltimore’s best bars: her original amari cocktail den, WC Harlan, the newer natural wine and sake bar/shop Fadensonnen and agave spirits destination Clavel. Highlighting Jalisco’s oft-overlooked agave spirit, raicilla, the Acahualli cocktail complements the subtle acidity of La Venenosa Sierra raicilla with a lively kick of fresh carrot and passion fruit juices. Aji amarillo pepper brings the heat alongside lime juice, Yellow Chartreuse and a tortilla ash made from tortillas left over from the previous night. The “ash” is made from torching, dehydrating and pulverizing tortillas in a blender with sea salt and spices.
An unexpected haven for Oaxacan dishes—and the best agave spirits selection in these parts—hides off a historic courtyard in the charming seaside village of Carmel. Cultura’s owners travel often to Oaxaca, bringing back mezcal finds, served traditionally with orange slices, sal de gusano (worm salt) and chapulines (dried grasshoppers). In a town where it’s tough to find an expertly made cocktail of any kind, Cultura showcases agave spirits in sippers like the Hole Mole, combining mezcal with a savory-spiced house mole, tart with apple, lime and Peychaud’s bitters.
The Magazine Street restaurant glows with warm service and rounds of salatim (aka salads) like heartwarming lutenitsa (tomato, red pepper and roasted eggplant spread) or Bulgarian feta with preserved leeks and coriander. The Middle Eastern influence extends to the cocktails, as with the Burnt Offerings, a rosy mezcal cocktail aromatic with hibiscus, spiced pear and jallab, a fruit syrup enhanced by dates, grape molasses and rose water.
Expect cheeky good times and a vibrant community at San Francisco transplant Olivia Griffin’s Limbo, Louisville’s first Tiki bar and playful space for surf movies, karaoke, live music and drag shows. Mingle in the outdoor patio or multiroom space with Tiki cocktails often featuring bourbon, local Kentucky whiskey and rum. Off the rum and whiskey path, the Yes, Daddy is a tall refresher of Mala Idea mezcal and triple sec with an earthy-tart-spicy jolt of beet juice, lime and jalapeño.
Since 2015, Rapscallion has been a festive Lower Greenville hot spot for shrimp and grits, as well as rotisserie chicken, paired with bar manager Ivan Garcia and the team’s approachable drinks. The Hot Daisy showcases a base of Rapscallion’s house single barrel of Patrón reposado tequila and Gracias a Dios joven mezcal, made vivid with passion fruit, lime and habañero and given a Tiki touch from orgeat and falernum. This mix of smoke, spice, tart and sweet benefits from a spicy burst from habañero bitters.
As one of San Francisco’s consistently excellent restaurants since 2012, Michelin-starred Rich Table continues to wow with Evan and Sarah Rich’s fun and inspired food, like a dreamy chicken liver mille-feuille—a flaky pastry savory with paté, pistachio and kombu. Larry Piaskowy lets the food shine, enhancing dishes with cocktails that are both culinary and easy-drinking but never dumbed down. The Wright Stuff is just that, pairing mezcal with mirto verde, a myrtle berry/leaf liqueur from Sardinia, beautifully brightened and springlike with house kiwi syrup and lime.
One of NYC’s most exciting bars Mace just graduated this March to version 2.0, moving to a larger location with food and cocktails by co-owner Nicolas “Nico” de Soto. In a two-room space lined with spice jars, plants and framed butterflies, the opening cocktail menu features 12 of Mace’s greatest hits since opening. A clarified milk punch, the Turmeric, showcases mezcal and chicharrón alongside the vegetal green of jalapeño-infused blanco tequila, green apple juice and lime, silky with corn milk and coconut water, with whispers of vanilla, cinnamon and fennel.