I should have called this post Where to Drink in Oaxaca If It’s Not From a Plastic Bottle of Mezcal You Got From the Palenque Today. But on the real, there are so many dope places to grab a beverage in Oaxaca it’s hard to choose. Lucky for us the evenings— just like the mezcal pouring—start early and end late so you can hit up a few in one night. Here are a few places to explore for every kind of drinking mood. Note: this is not a complete list and I hope to keep expanding it.
Mood: I’d like to be drinking in a library.
Sit down across from the bookcases of mezcal, under the retro reading lights and enjoy a well curated list of mezcal made by artisanal small producers. Much more than a bar, the team here will guide you through a three course tasting of their collection, each bottle labeled by exactly who made the mezcal, how, and where. Don’t miss the vintage cigarette vending machine in the back. By appointment only. (52) 01 951 514 0082 or email.
Mood: Good lawd, help me escape all this mezcal pretension!
177 of the 364 linguistic variations recognized by the Mexican National Institute for Indigenous Languages are spoken in Oaxaca, but that doesn’t include mezcal lingo. Confused by the regions, agave varietals, notes, and other Napa Valley-like chatter you hear at bars? Come here and take a breath, because Ulises and Sandra got you. There’s no pretension at this cozy bar and these two delightful experts will help you pick a mezcal (go for their label) and talk to you about it as much or as little as you’d like. Plus, you can grab one of Ulises’ excellent books on mezcal for some at home reading.
Mood: It’s so hot I want to put my face in cocktail.
Just trying to kick it, with or without mezcal? Owned by the El Jolgorio/Nuestra Soledad Mezcal family, this small, relaxed bar originally began as a tasting room and has evolved into one of Oaxaca’s most popular spots for a well-crafted cocktail. That’s in part due to former SF bartender Bobby Baker’s bar program, which doesn’t commit what locals might refer to as sacrilege and offer mezcal cocktails unless you ask him to (but I think you should ask).
Piedra Lumbre – CLOSED
Mood: Feelin artsy.
Exquisite black and white photos of mezcaleros and palenque scenes by co-owner Fer Arce were on display when I was here, not to mention the black and white wall sketches, mosaics and other touches by local artists. Black and white tiled floors welcome you into the gallery and string lights hang over the small patio. It’s enchanting. Look out for mixology nights and special events on their Facebook. They used to keep the party going into the very early morning, but I heard they got regulated on.
Mood: I’m trying to work work work work work… my palate.
Tucked a block up from the 20 de Noviembre market, this is a perfect place to relax after a day of shopping. Archivo is sleek space thanks to owner Chucho’s background in design and he’s equally as thoughtful when it comes to curating mezcal, many of his unusual bottles coming from the Mixteca region. The grandson of a mezcalero, he and the fambam will walk you through their custom tasting method to help you get all the senses and flavors out of your glass. It was a little intense when I was there in the early morning after a solid night of drinking (Am I puckering my lips enough?? Pineapple, am I smelling pineapple?? Omg am I doing the three tastes thing wrong?? Can someone put a taco in my face??) So go when you’ve got some focus. Thanks to Oaxacking for insisting I come here.
La Ingrata – CLOSED (but look for their beer)
Mood: Where’s the good beer at?
This extensive beer menu highlighting the growing craft brew scene in Mexico comes accompanied by some quality snacks at approachable prices (including a several-course lunch special). They also have a mezcal, cider, pulque and live music.
Mood: I’m so full of love (alcohol) that I want to run into everyone I know in Oaxaca.
While this is the place most folks (including tourists) end up at towards the end of the night, it’s actually a cool bar worth checking out during the day and they even serve an affordable daily lunch menu. Each room is a treasure chest of funky art, the rooftop patio is fun on a hot night, and a glowing shrine towers over the mezcaleria in the middle of the first floor.
Salon de La Fama & La Giralda
Mood: Whatever happened to the good ol’ days of just going to a regular bar?
Read my post linked above for info about these mellow cantinas.