Leave the tequila to the college students and switch to mezcal, its grown-up sister. Smoother and smokier, it’s like a barrel-aged bourbon. There’s room for both but one is much more likely to impress a date. We’ve rounded up the best mezcal joints around the country. These places have knowledgeable bartenders and a diverse selection of the spirit so you can find your next favorite cocktail — or at least have fun trying.
This Oaxacan-style mezcal bar does not serve cocktails; there are no flashy drinks with punny names. There is only mezcal, served neat. Bartenders adhere to tradition, presenting the liquor either in a half-pour in a clay copita or a full pour in a veladora glass.
For those uninitiated to mezcal, this single-spirit locale is the spot to explore. Bartenders study the history and can explain the differences in characteristics. Slowly sip a glass or two in the candlelit space, perfect for an intimate evening of two or a celebration of up to 20.
– Leilani Lim-Villegas, Austin City Editor
The neighborhood rooftop bar is Austin’s go-to for mezcal and agave spirits to sip or enjoy in a cocktail. Helmed by Edgar and Christina Torres, Techo serves as a hub of education on the Oaxacan spirit for mezcal beginners and novices alike.
– DM Meador, Austin Expert
Check out this popular cocktail lounge on a weeknight when the lines aren’t as long. The bar doesn’t specialize in one spirit and doesn’t have a menu, so you’ll want to take time to chat with the bartender about your bespoke cocktail.
– Rachel Cossar, City Editor
Chef Sean Brock catapulted to national recognition with Husk, where his elevated Southern cuisine won him a James Beard Award. Now Brock is applying Southern flavors at this casual Mexican cantina. We’ll be swinging by for the outstanding mezcal and agave lists as well. Try a Mr. Niebla for a less alcohol-forward drink — the mezcal and Aperol balance the grapefruit soda well.
– Angel Postell, City Editor
As far as mezcal spots in New Orleans, I'd say the top spot would be Casa Borrega. The food menu focuses on dishes from Mexico City’s street vendors, and the cocktail list runs two pages and includes three different margaritas. The 1891 home also hosts Latin cultural events and the walls are covered in Mexican artifacts from masks to license plates to art.
– Michelle Brennan, City Editor
This taco den on the Lower East Side is first and foremost a restaurant, but the towering wall of tequila and mescal bottles behind the bar can’t be ignored. The spacious (for New York) restaurant has booths and a long center table, perfect to gather a group, order a few plates of tacos, and settle down to taste mezcal. There’s a nightclub upstairs because the night doesn’t need to end when the tacos are gone.
This narrow two-story bar in the East Village offers guests a book-length cocktail menu to choose from, but the easiest way to pick a drink is by speaking with the waiter staff. They’ll be able to talk you through your preferences to find your perfect cocktail. Mine was La Vida Rosa, which balanced the spirit with a bright rose. The snack menu is more curated; it offers enough to soak up the drinks but maybe not enough for a meal.
– Alyssa Haak, Restaurant Editor
Seattle's mecca of mezcal boasts one of the most comprehensive lists in the country. Its owner garnered his extensive agave knowledge thanks to frequent trips to Oaxaca over 30 years. Each of the two locations — the lofty Capitol Hill stunner and the intimate Queen Anne gem — offer more than 40 mezcals. Let the knowledgeable bartenders guide you with tasting flights and handcrafted cocktails, like the Sin Nombre, a savory smoked sage and honey sipper.
– Alexis Steinman, City Editor
It’s odd to call Teote the best mezcal bar in Portland. For one, it’s Latin American cuisine rather than being definitively Mexican, and it specializes in Venezuelan arepa, as well as rice bowls with plantains. It’s also more of a cafe than it is a bar, with counter service and a beautiful patio. However, Teote manages to provide the best selection of mezcal in the city, at reasonable prices. Try one mixed with some of the housemade agua fresca for a real treat.
– Alex Frane, Portland City Editor
You know Espita Mezcaleria is beyond cool the minute you walk in the door. The Frida Kahlo-inspired wall murals, savvy bartenders, and authentic Oaxacan cuisine make first-timers giddy, but it’s the rotating selection of mezcals and mezcal-based cocktails that turn regulars into groupies. Josh Phillips, operating partner, is one of a few people in the world certified as a Master Mezcalier and he has put his expansive knowledge and laser-focused palate to good use in this terrific Mexican eatery.
– Summer Whitford, Washington, D.C., City Editor