I search for Agavero on the recommendation of a knowledgeable source. Looking forward to a bartender fluent in English and some acclaimed eats, I arrive to find the door shut. Majority of the bar quests in Mexico City also ended in shut doors, so this disappointment is not a massive surprise.
Instead, I think…more mezcal. Mezcologia is near and I post at the bar for one or two more, maybe some street food, and intentions to call it an early night. The space is small, quaint – a neighborhood mezcalaria. It is approachable. I had found it in a guide book rather than a recommendation, therefore leaving assumptions open.
The translated blurb from the bar’s facebook page sums it perfectly, “In this place the pleasure is born when all the elements are connected, that is to say, the mezcal, the coexistence with your friends and the good bohemias fill you with pleasure in that space.”
An American man in a brimmed hat is closing out and the bartender quickly offers me English. I am grateful. His Spanish is stronger, but he knows enough English to curate a hospitable experience. His eyes spark beneath a curly head of hair. His energy is youthful, alive. I ask for something I can’t get in the States, ruling out Nuestra Soledad and Del Maguey. I also rule out Espadin, and ask for something funky.
“Tobala! Tobola!” the other man at the bar chants. They are clearly friends.
Mezcologia has their own line of mezcal sourced from small Oaxacan farms. We start there. The agave is medium-smokey, as delightful as any I have tasted, slightly grassy and vegetal. I sip with enjoyment and relaxation. This bar is one that could feel like home.
I begin to chat with the man next to me in English. He had chanted “Tobola” and knows enough English, Spanish, and French. He is on his way out to get food. “I may be back,” he says to both the bartender and myself. He tells the bartender something in Spanish, which translates to him buying me a drink.
“That’s very kind,” I say, though not yet finished with my Tobola. This ensures I will be here when he returns.
Another man enters with a huge water bottle filled with a dark liquid. He motions for a vessel and pours the bartender a taste. They confer in Spanish.
“What is that?” I ask, taking a chance on English. Ben is fluent, traveling from Rotterdam for extended stays in each location. Currently that is Oaxaca, occasionally working at Mezcologia.
“BBQ Green pepper syrup,” he hands me a taste as well, “with cloves.” It tastes like bell peppers, just sweet enough but still vegetal and savory. “I thought I would make a cocktail with it.” His accent is light, non-descript. He pulls items out of a plastic bag and unwraps party favor gift boxes, shredded confetti paper, and colorful straws. Taking a rocks glass, he pads the bottom of the box with the confetti paper and sets the glass inside. An orange slice will act as a lid, hiding the contents of the vessel.
He adds mezcal, ancho reyes, giffard elderflower, and lime to the homemade green pepper syrup. The whole thing looks like a trip to a party warehouse. The ingenuity is festive. Such elaborate garnishes are not so common in the New York cocktail world, I explain. We all take sips of the refreshing complex flavors and it is passed through a window to the kitchen, eventually to return empty. The beauty of this packaging is the inability to know if it is full or empty, much like a julep in a tin cup.
My second mezcal is a fan favorite, Origen Rais Cenizo, distilled in Durango. The packaging stands out on the back bar and when I ask for something even weirder than the Tobala, it is chosen. I immediately know I need to find a way to import this mezcal, but for now, enjoying it is all that matters.
“I’m here for one night,” I say, “Where else should I go?” My energy has been revived by the mezcal. Agave distillates have been called night coffee for a reason.
“One night!” The shock and horror is palpable. “You need far more time.”
I shrug, knowing they are right, but I will leave in the morning regardless.
“You are coming with us,” they say.
I am up for the adventure. The high proof spirit in our blood propels movement. We move to another mezcalaria, very near, with a bartender from Philly, also traveling. I am impressed with this group of men in Oaxaca and their choice to stay long enough to really indulge in and investigate the culture. One night is certainly not enough.
This mezcalaria is small, quaint, intimate. We share the moment as if time is infinite. Mezcal and memory do not seem to always exist in tandem, and the details are lost to the night air of this enchanted state in Mexico.
I wake to a text from the source of my Oaxaca recommendations. “It’s so peaceful there, no?”
Yes. Yes, it is peaceful, in a vibrant, colorful, agave-fueled way.