Celebrate Cinco de Mayo the right way at brand new tequila bar Cortez and trendy mezcal mainstay Espita Mezcaleria, both located in Shaw, or at recently opened Mayahuel Cocina Mexicana in Woodley Park. Find out what the bartenders at these hip spots have to say about their mezcal- and tequila-based creations.
On Tap: What would you say is your most popular tequila cocktail?
Sam Helfstein: The passion fruit margarita. It’s made with El Jimador Blanco tequila, lime juice, a little bit of agave, triple sec and passion fruit puree. You get the choice of a salt or sugar rim.
OT: What first attracted you to Cortez?
SH: It seemed festive, bright and fun, and I wanted to try something different. I’m used to working in whiskey bars, so this is a definite change.
OT: Do you think DC is lacking in tequila bars? Is Cortez filling that space?
SH: I think that the style of Cortez brings something different to the table because there’s fast, casual dining on the lower level and there’s not really food upstairs – it’s more for just drinking frozen margaritas and fun stuff like that. You don’t find a lot of that in the city.
OT: What do you love most about the atmosphere here?
SH: Everything. Everyone has a really positive, happy vibe. When you walk in, you see how vibrant and bright the murals are. It’s really fun. People get excited and they’re always taking pictures.
El Jimador Blanco tequila
Cortez: 1905 9th St. NW, DC; www.cortezbardc.com
Bartender, Espita Mezcaleria
On Tap: Has working at Espita made you more passionate about mezcal?
Jordan Utz: Absolutely. Coming here, I got to develop a passion. I learned all of the nuances about the individual varieties. Every bottle up there has its own characteristics and I think because my background was initially more wine-focused, I can apply a lot of that to mezcal because it’s very terroir-based. Each village and each specific agave is going to have its own expression, and produce unique and specific flavors.
OT: What is Espita’s take on being authentic rather than traditional?
JU: Every ingredient, sauce and spice is made from scratch using largely authentic ingredients. As for the mezcals, we only sell responsibly sourced, traditionally made mezcals here. It’s becoming trendy, but mezcal is just not that kind of spirit. The agave takes a long time to grow. A single agave plant takes at a minimum about eight years to mature, so you can’t rush it. Mezcal shows when it’s cheaply made.
OT: Why do you think mezcal is so popular right now?
JU: Because it’s uncharted territory for a lot of people, there’s an element of curiosity. With mezcal, the reward is really high. If you can really take the time to get to know it, there’s so much depth and nuance about it.
Tehuana Girl (Created by Robin Miller)
Espita Mezcaleria: 1250 9th St. NW, DC; www.espitadc.com
Walter Fuentes & Mynor Martin
Bartenders, Mayahuel Cocina Mexicana
On Tap: What inspired Mayahuel’s opening?
Walter Fuentes: We want to bring something new. Mezcal is something that’s going to get more and more popular like tequila did. We’re seeing a lot of people like the smokiness of the mezcal and the different layers of flavors that mezcal brings. We like mezcal because it brings you different parts of Mexico.
OT: What’s your most popular mezcal cocktail?
Mynor Martin: The Chingon is mezcal, scotch, Cocchi vermouth and Angostura bitters. It’s like a Manhattan, but Mexicana-style. The other one is the Smoked Mayahuel. It’s like an Old Fashioned with tequila, mezcal, cinnamon, simple syrup and bitters with mesquite cherry wood on fire.
OT: What makes Mayahuel’s cocktails stand out?
MM: We use only fresh fruit. We don’t use any sour mix or fake stuff. We care about perfect drinks.
WF: We try to keep good quality house tequila and mezcal. We don’t want to use bad quality [liquor]. We want you to come back the next day and drink again, not be hung over!
Walter and Mynor’s Pick
Mesquite cherry wood on fire
El Silencio mezcal
Mayahuel Cocina Mexicana: 2609 24th St. NW, DC; www.mayahueldc.com