Where to Get Turnt on Agave: The Best Tequila Bars in NYC

Hit up these NYC spots to get turnt on National Tequila Day.

 

Tequila is an oft-overlooked spirit, relegated to nearing-4am-last-ditch-effort to get wasted on shots before last call. The subtleties of different types of tequila, not usually tasted when it hits the back of your throat, should be celebrated on National Tequila Day. We rounded up the best tequila bars in NYC for you to experience the wonders of tequila (don’t worry, you’ll still get wasted). If that’s not enough, check out how George Clooney likes his tequila here.

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Los Feliz — For Getting Smashed with Class

With one of the most extensive tequila lists in the city, this is the place to go for agave connoisseurs. Pair with a ceviche flight and you have one of the classiest ways to get smashed on tequila.

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Photo: Los Feliz

Barrio Chino — For Inebriation on Infused Tequilas

A hip nexus of Latin and Chinese cultures, Barrio Chino is where the cool kids go for tequila. Do a shot of one of their infused tequilas (like jalapeno) or go balls to the wall with a margarita-full.

 

Tico’s Tequila Bar (underneath Tijuana Picnic)—For Getting Wasted Underground

Impresario Jon Neidich newly minted this Mexican disco bar beneath Tijuana Picnic. Grab dinner above and go below for an extensive list of tequila in a tucked-away trendy space.

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Photo: Tijuana Picnic

 

Mayahuel — For An Authentic Mezcal

With a huge selection of tequila and mezcal cocktails as well as cervezas, Mayahuel is dedicated to ensuring an authentic taste of tequila and its sisters.

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Photo: Mayahuel 

Agave — For Getting Turnt on Tequila The Tried-and-True Way

New York’s classic tequila bar and restaurant may be the only place you need to go today.

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Photo: Agave

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For more places to eat and drink right now in NYC, check out the BlackBook City Guides.

Learning To Be A Tequila Aficionado

Tequila looms large, and often not in a good way. Everyone who has reached maturity as a drinker has some truly wretched story about what they did (or don’t remember doing) under its boisterous influence. This has perhaps more to do with the way we novices, especially on the east coast, consume the spirit—it’s the shot someone hands us when we’re already too far gone, or the stealth ingredient in a margarita that was stronger than we thought. How to appreciate its finer points?

At a graduation party last night I had the good fortune to meet an esteemed Californian expert on the stuff, who tends to drink little else. From him I began to learn the basics that no in college ever tells you—that true tequila is derived from the agave plants of the varying Tequila regions in Mexico, much like true champagne comes from France’s Champagne province. As with Scotch, the geography has much to do with taste—the Jalisco highlands, for example, produce a more mineral-y, naturally sugared drink.    
 
But the main rule? Never drink Jose Cuervo. As the aficionado was visiting from LA, where attention to tequila quality is presumably quite a bit sharper, he was playing it safe with the New York bars. We enjoyed a few rounds of Patrón Silver, pointedly ignoring the salt shaker that our lovely Teutonic waitress, Lucy, brought out. Soon enough I was surprised to find myself actually savoring the shots instead of trying to throw them back as though challenged. And I picked up on one other technique from my sense that I’ll have to employ next time—always having a Corona on the side.  

Honk if You’re Hornitos: Lime Shots to Start the Weekend

Producers of super-ultra-premium (or whatever the euphemism for "expensive" is these days) tequilas are big on rejecting the party atmosphere that surrounds their spirit in the U.S. and insisting that their precious liquid always be sipped neat, from a stemmed glass, with nary a salt shaker or lime slice in sight. If Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 9 in E flat Major is playing in the background, all the better. This is all fine and good. Tequila was always better than its bacchanalian reputation, and the most elite bottles deserve to stand alone in classy environs. But it’s wrong to reject tequila’s rowdier connotations entirely. In the right circumstances, tequila shots are a blast, and many of the more affordable tequilas out there lose nothing when sandwiched between a lick of salt and suck of lime. After all, there’s nothing wrong with parties. I quite like them, actually. Which is why it was so much fun yesterday afternoon when a couple of reps from Hornitos Tequila brought by a few super-chilled bottles of their latest expression, Hornitos Lime Shot, and a bunch of shot glasses to the BlackBook and VIBE offices. We drank the tequila, stole the shot glasses, and started our weekend one day early, if only in spirit.

Hornitos Lime Shot is an affordable ($18-$20) tequila that saves you the trouble of shaking salt on your hand and slicing limes, since it’s made with natural lime flavor and a hint of salt. While you might miss the the lick-slam-suck ritual, you’ll find that the flavor sensation is all there. But just because Hornitos Lime Shot doesn’t cost more than your premium cable package, doesn’t mean it isn’t smooth. Hornitos has its tequila bona fides. It’s hecho’d en Mexico from 100% blue agave, double distilled, and unaged, so the essence of its terroir still comes through. It’s actually quite easy to drink, with none of the astringency and vegetal bitterness found in cheaper bottles.

And so we worked our way around the office, pouring and toasting, round after round, until it was prudent to wrap things up. The words "tasty," "smooth," and "give me two, I’ve had a day," were uttered. It seems the staff here has gotten over any bad tequila experiences from college and regrouped to give it another go, avoiding the sloppiness and finding an even better party this time around. You might try the same in your own office. Pour a round of chilled shots and set them in front of your co-workers, without asking if they want one. If our experience is any guide, you’ll find an acceptance rate of above 90%, a stellar performance for any business.

You can try Hornitos and many other tequilas at bars like Mayahuel in New York. For more great spots to do shots, peruse the BlackBook City Guides

[Related: Screw It, Let’s Say Summer’s Here and Drink Tequila; Keep up on the latest openings and events in New York, LA, and Miami by signing up for the free BlackBook Happenings email newsletters; More by Victor Ozols; Follow me on Twitter]

Screw it, Let’s Say Summer’s Here and Drink Some Amazing Herradura Tequila

My wife believes she can control the weather with the wardrobe choices she makes. If she puts on a flouncy dress and strappy shoes in the morning, the weather better cooperate if it knows what’s good for it. The results of this strategy are mixed, of course, but it feels like the underlying idea is sound, so I’d like to extend it to the calendar. Today is March 21st, the first full day of spring, and if you divide the year into cold weather months (fall and winter) and warm weather months (spring and summer), then it’s safe to say that Summer 2013 has officially arrived, snowflakes notwithstanding. With that in mind, I’d like to welcome the season of sunshine, warm breezes, and beach bunnies with a toast. For our toast, let’s drink something very special, to start it off right. That special drink is Herradura Selección Suprema, and it just might be the finest tequila I’ve ever tasted.

Here’s the thing about Herradura. It’s the real deal. There are certain tequilas out there that are primarily meant for the gringo market, but Herradura is actually popular in Mexico, where people drink lots of tequila and definitely know quality from swill. You won’t see Herradura in rap videos, and the bottles don’t have little platic hats on them, but you will see it in the finest bars and cocktail lounges in Mexico City, and, from what I’ve heard, even in the world’s richest man Carlos Slim‘s house, if you’re so lucky to be invited in. I’ve tasted almost every expression of Herradura, from its base-level blanco (clear, unaged tequila, good neat or in cocktails) to the reposado (which is "rested" in wooden barrels for a few months), to the Herradura Selección Suprema, which is an añejo tequila, aged in wooden barrels for 49 months. As the name suggests, Selección Suprema is their finest offering, and it justifies its $350 price tag with one sip. Yes, that’s a pricey bottle, but it’s worth it. 

So, how do you drink it? First of all, don’t you dare reach for that shaker of salt. Put the shot glass down while you’re at it, this is a sipping tequila. Pour it in a wide-mouthed, bowl-shaped glass like a Glencairn. Don’t add ice, and don’t do the scotch whisky thing and add water. It’s perfect straight from the bottle. Swirl it around a couple of times to get the aroma going and then stick your nose in it. You can review the official tasting notes if you like, but what I get out of it are aromas of vanilla with a slight, almost imperceptible vegetal edge. Raise your glass to toast the start of the best summer ever, then take a sip and let it rest in your mouth for a few seconds. Flavors burst out, one after the other. Caramel, vanilla, dried fruit. The agave’s in there too, of course, but simmered to its sweetest essence, and mellowed out in barrels that keep away that cloying edge you find in cheaper tequilas. It’s the perfect balance of serious and sweet, and it’ll make you stop and think that life is actually quite a beautiful thing. 

And so, if the weather decides to be cheeky, forcing you to imbibe indoors, either pick up a bottle at an upscale retailer like Astor Wines, or drop by a trendy, tequila-focused bar like Mayahuel for a glass. Herradura Selección Suprema is the ultimate expression of the agave plant, and with one sip you’ll be soaking in the warm rays of summer, if only in your mind. 

[Related: BlackBook New York Guide; Listing for Mayahuel; Hamptons Summer 2013 Pre-Preview; More by Victor Ozols; Follow Victor on Twitter]

George Clooney’s New Tequila Is Actually Quite Delicious

Celebrities. They’re so good at, well, being celebrities, with the acting and the smiling and the making people like them, but when they step out of that realm, the results can be mixed. Celebrity-owned restaurants have flopped, celebrity-designed clothing lines have been mocked, celebrity-driven charities have been exposed as farces. And yet they keep at it, because you’ve got to do something with your spare time. And so actor and humanitarian George Clooney has come out with a tequila which people will no doubt buy just because of his involvement, regardless of its quality. It’s called Casamigos, and I tasted it last night while watching celebrities celebrating themselves at the Oscars. But here’s the thing about George Clooney’s Casamigos Tequila: It’s excellent.

I’m not surprised, because he partnered with the right people to make it. Casamigos is a group effort, with Clooney hooking up with his longtime pal Rande Gerber, who owns the Gerber Group of bars (Whiskey Blue, Stone Rose, Lilium, etc.) as well as Mike Meldman, founder and CEO of Discovery Land Company. Gerber’s a serious authority on nightlife because his company has been successful at creating sleek and stylish bars, often found in W Hotels, that remain popular for the long term, while other nightlife operators are happy to make a quick hit before packing up and moving on. He’s also Clooney’s neighbor: they own vacation homes adjacent to one another in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.

The story goes that the two longtime pals loved tequila so much that they decided to make it for themselves, with their initial batches intended to share among family and friends. But the feedback was so positive that they expanded it into a proper enterprise, and now bars and restaurants across the country are beginning to stock Casamigos. Casamigos, which is made from 100% Blue Weber agave, comes in two expressions: blanco, which is the clear stuff, and reposado, which is "rested" in oak barrels for seven months before bottling.

I poured myself a small glass of the reposado as Seth MacFarlane started his monologue and gave it a swirl. It’s a gorgeous, light amber color, and it smells divine, with aromas of sandalwood and vanilla. On the palate it’s pure pleasure: smooth, smokey, and mildly sweet, featuring the vegetal note of the agave without the bitter ick factor found in cheap tequilas. I tasted faint whispers of artichoke and honey, as if the savory and the sweet were doing a sexy dance together. I gave my wife a taste. Her observation was that it tasted like George Clooney, by which I hope she meant it tasted smooth, sophisticated, complex, and fun. 

It’s not Gerber’s first foray into the spirit world. He partnered with Roberto Serralles to launch Caliche rum last year, which is also quite tasty. With Casamigos, he’s building a spirit empire to supply his nightlife empire. Sounds like synergy to me.

Casamigos Blanco has a suggested retail price of $48 a bottle, while Casamigos Reposado goes for an even $50. I’ve tasted tequilas that cost three times that, but they’re nowhere near three times as delicious. Nice job, guys. Maybe we can hang out and drink tequila some time. Those vacation houses in Mexico must have some guest rooms, right?

[Photo: Andrew Macpherson]

[Related: 310-Year-Old Mount Gay Comes Out With a Spiffy New RumGulp Down a Glass of the New Dom Pérignon Rosé Vintage 2002Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna Make Cool Mini-Movie for Chivas Scotch]

It’s National Margarita Day! Make A Guacarita

It’s finally National Margarita Day! Yes, we jumped the gun yesterday because we were that excited. And you know what’s great with a margarita—except for everything? Chips and guacamole. They go hand in hand like apples and bananas, like peanut butter and jelly! So when the recipe for a "Guacarita" came across my inbox, I paused. I had myself too many margaritas the night before at Dallas BBQ—yes, they were Texas-sized—so my brain was in pain. I didn’t know whether to barf or run home and make one of these tequila avocado drinks, because a little hair of the dog never hurts.

But I did none of those things. Instead, I enlisted my friend Amy to have me over and make one for me. As she poured all the ingredients into the blender, a lil Cabo Wabo Blanco, a little cilantro, and heaping spoonfuls of avocado, I was in awe as all the ingredients mixed together. Was I actually going to like this thing? After the blender did its biz, I was presented with a salted glass full of sea foam green concoction poured in. And it was smooth and creamy as it slid down my throat. It really cuts time in half when you are drinking and having an appetizer in one gigantic gulp. I drank two.

This thoroughly enjoyable drink and or snack is perfect for a ladies night in. Tonight, if all else is in your life is slowly crumbling around you, grab a blender, put on a costume or party hat and in honor of margaritas everywhere, make a guacarita—you can even dip a chip in it!
 

"The Guacarita"

2 oz. Cabo Wabo Blanco Tequila
½ Skinned Avocado
¼ oz. Agave Nectar
½ oz. Fresh Lime Juice
4 Cilantro leaves

Place all ingredients and ice into a blender. Blend on high for 10 seconds and pour into a margarita glass. Garnish with a short cilantro sprig.

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New York Opening: Tequileria Maya

Was it really a decade and a half ago? Indeed, Richard Sandoval’s pioneering nouveau Mexican restaurant Maya has been at it for fifteen years on New York’s Upper East Side. Now it gets an anniversary present: Tequileria Maya, a new tequila bar and lounge next door with a whopping one-hundred-plus agave bases spirits and thirty-plus house-infused tequilas.

Subverting the ever more annoying reality of bottle service, Maya allows guests to buy a bottle and will politely store what remains of that bottle for the guest’s next visit. Guacamole-tequila pairings ease that tequila burrrrn.

Bang, Bang: I Shot Tequila

Tomorrow is Cinco de Mayo, which can be summed up in a few words: Mexico, tacos, and tequila. Now, if you do this right you can still celebrate Mexican heritage—no, not Mexican independence, that day is on September 16—without the Jose Cuervo hangover we know so well. Instead, strap on you finest sombrero and sip good tequila in style, starting with a trip to La Biblioteca, where they are serving the limited edition Hijos de Villa Blanc, a nine-month aged reposado that comes in cleverly designed gun-shaped bottle. Shooters anyone?

You can only get this special from 5 to 10pm on May 5 (as well as $15 for bottomless guacamole and $5 basic margaritas), but there are 400 other reasons to fall in love with tequila here. That’s right, this sleek bar actually is a library—of tequila. Plus, with long leather couches, low lit community tables, and bottles of booze tagged and behind cages, the space feels like a research room too. Even when it’s not Cinco de Mayo they also do weekly $15 tastings from various distilleries, including the upcoming Corralejo, Don Julio, and Chinaca meet-and-greets.

Swank aside, Cinco de Mayo doesn’t have to be a big night on the town. If you aren’t into tromping to the city to battle it out with the other Mexican pride revelers, I recommend having your own do-it-yourself tasting. One of my favorite distilleries is Herradura, which has been producing top notch, 100-percent agave tequila since 1870. This tequila is made in the lowland of Jalisco, one of the few places in Mexico where the tipple can legally be made, a rule similar to the one that makes Cognac or Champagne a regional name. The company produces three main tequilas: Blanco, reposado, and anejo.

To do the tasting, round up some shooters (should be available in most decent liquor stores) and pour a dram of each. All the tequilas get aged in American oak barrels and the blanco is the youngest, spending only 45 days in the barrel. Like wine, you first want to sniff the tequila, lightly though since it’s pure alcohol, and take note of the hue. The blanco is almost clear and you should get a faint nose of vanilla and orange. Herradura’s reposado gets aged for 11 months and comes out much darker with a slight peppery flavor and chocolate taste at the end. The anejo is the richest and darkest of the trio as it’s in the barrel for 49 months and leans towards a more sweet, smoky essence.

No matter what you taste while imbibing, the real goal is to like what you drink. So, there you have it, two unique ways to celebrate Mexican heritage that doesn’t involve anything named Casa Bonita (it exists, I have been there) or involve buckets of frozen margaritas. Of course, if that’s what you want that’s fine too, just don’t cry about waking up coated in tortilla chip crumbs and nacho cheese with the worst headache of your life come Sunday morning.

La Biblioteca
622 3rd Avenue  New York, NY 10017
(212) 808-8110