Celebrate National Mezcal Day

Austin’s top 5 mezcal bars: Where to sip on tequila’s hotter older sister

Sip on tequila’s hotter older sister at Austin's top 5 mezcal bars

400 Rabbits mezcal cocktail
The Pasado De Moda at 400 Rabbits features mezcal, tequila, honey, mole bitters, and an orange peel. 400 Rabbits/Facebook
Mezcaleria Tobala
Mezcalería Tobalá is Whisler's mezcal bar and private events space, typically open to the public on weekend nights. Mezcalería Tobalá/Facebook
Bar Ilegal entrance at Clive Bar
The tiny Bar Ilegal, tucked away behind Clive, exclusively serves mezcal. Photo courtesy of Clive Bar
400 Rabbits mezcal cocktail
Mezcaleria Tobala
Bar Ilegal entrance at Clive Bar

As a tequila lover, when you first try mezcal it’s like you’ve hit the motherload. You wonder, where has she been hiding all of my life? Why didn’t anyone tell me she tasted so damn good? Mezcal is one sexy MILF (Mezcal I’d Like to Finish) and its rich, smoky flavor is best enjoyed straight up.

While its popularity is increasing not only in Austin but also throughout the United States, more and more restaurants and bars are incorporating mezcal into their menus. But this alcoholic beverage is not for everyone. Tequila is considered the gateway drug to mezcal, so before you dive in, make sure you do in fact enjoy the taste of tequila.

In honor of National Mezcal Day (Wednesday, October 21), we’ve selected the following five bars and cocktail lounges based on their experimentation with mezcal twists on classic cocktails, as well as the attention they give to educating patrons about the flavorful complexities of this agave drink.

King Bee
Did you know that all tequilas are mezcals, but not all mezcals are tequilas? The very friendly and knowledgeable owners at King Bee were the first to give us this Mezcal 101 tutorial. While tequila can only be made, by law, with blue agave, mezcal can be made with 30 varieties of agave. And much like a wine’s terroir, a mezcal’s flavor profile is dependent on the region in which it’s produced.

With over 30 mezcals offered at King Bee, it’s hard to go wrong as you research which one is right for you. For an inexpensive option, try the Alipus San Luis del Rio or the Mezcal Union, which “makes for great cocktails and isn’t overbearing.” If you want to splurge, try the Real Minero Largo or the La Venenosa Sierra del Tigre de Jalisco, a “super funk blue cheese, pretty ridiculous” mezcal as described by a King Bee representative. 

For something even more exotic, come in to try one of King Bee’s mezcal and rose pairings. Yes, you heard us right. A glass of rose, accompanied by a mezcal served neat. Just trust us on this one, okay?

Bar Ilegal
Another option to get your Mexican liquor fix can be found in the tucked away Bar Ilegal on Clive’s back patio. The Rainey Street haunt is unassuming in its modest wood building, yet once you step inside it's like a magical mezcal fairtyale. With a red candlelit interior, this hideaway exclusively serves mezcal, so don’t even think about asking for anything else. During our visit, a patron demanded a vodka soda and was annoyed she needed to walk approximately 50 feet to the main Clive bar.

When visiting Bar Ilegal, enjoy a Mexican Mule cocktail, a take on a Moscow Mule, featuring Del Maguey Vida mezcal, jalapeño, pineapple, and ginger beer. For a couple of recommended neat drinks, Clive manager Richard MacKay suggests the high-end Heavy Métl brands’ Rey Campero Jabali ($20) and his favorite mezcal of them all, the Del Maguey Chichicapa ($13). 

With a wide variety of mezcal offerings, Takoba has an affinity for this spirit. Takoba loves it so much that the restaurant even hosts an annual mezcal festival. With fresh food offerings like the goat cheese and spinach salad and slow-braised pork shoulder tacos, spice up your night with a Mezcarrita, a smoky and spicy spin on the classic margarita with Lajita mezcal, aperol, Hellfire Habanero shrub, and fresh lime and grapefruit juices.

For those of you who’d like to enroll in mezcal school, take a seat at the bar and let a Takoba ‘tender walk you through one of the six mezcal flights on the menu. Ranging from $10 to $25, the tastings allow you to experience how the type of agave, elevation, and region can hugely diversify a mezcal’s taste.

Mezcalería Tobalá
Typically only open Fridays and Saturdays from 8 pm to 2 am, Mezcalería Tobalá is Whisler’s private events space, located upstairs from the main bar. As you sip selected mezcals, you might as well be at a ranch house in the foothills of Oaxaca, Mexico. Try the Rey Campero Espadin as a half pour in a traditional clay copita or a full pour in a vaso veladora. It doesn’t get much more authentic than an experience at Mezcalería Tobalá.

400 Rabbits
Mezcal and a movie anyone? Alamo Drafthouse on Slaughter Lane’s 400 Rabbits is the perfect stop pre- or post-film. The restaurant and bar specializes in mezcal, which can be enjoyed in the dark and swanky interior, or outside on the laid-back patio. In fact, 400 Rabbits gets its name from Aztec mythology and the story of goddess Mayahuel who, in the very abridged version, protects the maguey (the agave mezcal is made from) and gives birth to Centzon Totochtin (translated to 400 Rabbits), divine rabbits who travel through the land and give the gift of drunkenness to the people. Lord, help us all. 

We recommend trying the La Manzana De Fumar, an interesting cocktail that incorporates mezcal, apple liqueur, and tamarind-arbol chile syrup or the Posado De Moda with mezcal, tequila, honey, mole bitters, and an orange peel (both go for $10). 400 Rabbits also offers mezcal flights ranging from around $12 to $30. On your next visit to the Drafthouse, don’t miss out on this epic mezcal experience. Oh, and the food is pretty good too.