In past weeks, we’ve covered the most important whiskey bars, gin joints, and rum watering holes. Today, we’re looking at the most important tequila-centric bars in the US. These are the best bars to grab a tequila or mezcal cocktail or imbibe either of the spirits neat. As we’ve mentioned in previous articles, the rise of craft cocktailing has made way for niche bars that specialize in a specific spirit or cocktail type (see: tiki). Tequila is one of the most fun, often showing up in restaurants and bars that also serve a pretty delicious meal.
Lots of bars serve tequila, but to be one of the best, most important tequila bars in America requires that a bar has something extra than just a lot of tequila and some ready to go salt and limes. These are the establishments that thoughtfully curate the most extensive, interesting lists, have bartenders and chefs who truly know their tequila (so you can educate yourself on the good stuff), and cocktails that go beyond the standard Margarita or Tequila Sunrise (not that we don’t love a good version of either). Since the whole thing can get a little confusing (there are a lot of contenders out there), we looked to an expert to wade through thousands of bars to pick the very best, most iconic places in the U.S.
Aaron Polsky, bartender at Harvard & Stone in Los Angeles knows a thing or two about agave. That’s why he was tasked with giving us a list of the best bars, pubs, watering holes, and speakeasies that are bringing tequila and mezcal to a different level. These bars aren’t treating these Mexican spirits as shooters, but as the centerpiece to a great cocktail. Check them all out below.
Tommy’s (San Francisco)
This is the OG spot. Tell Julio what you don’t know about tequila and he’ll give you a comprehensive tasting of it.
Old Lightning, Los Angeles – Pablo has the collection of a madman. Everything from the whiskey to the tequila runs far back into history, with some bottles hailing from the beginning of the 20th century. They also choose which spirit category to feature in their display case every few months, and it’s a sight to behold.
Pastry War (Houston)
This bar makes your agave experience what you want it to be, from tasting and enjoying an education in the spirit to enjoying it as a margarita–where they use a mix of key limes and Persian limes and really exercise care in production. Bobby Heugel, the owner, is also very vocal with issues that affect the agave spirits industry and lobbies for responsibility and sustainability.
Empellon Al Pastor (New York)
Alex Stupak’s taco restaurant is one of my favorite Mexican restaurants in New York—he’s a tremendously talented chef who goes to great lengths to achieve perfection in his dishes—in this case, it’s tortillas where he nixtamalizes his own corn, and delicious meats and braises. They sell their mezcal and tequila (the selection is pleasantly broad and in some cases obscure for a restaurant) in 1oz pours, so you can have a shot of Tobala for 9 bucks with your $3-4 tacos.
Chestnut Club (Los Angeles)
Another of Pablo Moix and Steve Livigny’s spots—this cocktail bar on the Westside is cozy and broad, but has an amazing mezcal and tequila selection. If you’re with drinkers who prefer cocktails or other spirits, they have plenty to choose from.
Patio on Goldfinch (San Diego)
There are countless bars in San Diego with great agave spirits selections, but this one happens to be really pretty and airy and a great way to spend an afternoon.
Guelaguetza (Los Angeles)
This Oaxacan staple has a broad, well-executed menu that’s rooted in authenticity, and several pages of mezcal and tequila to sip on with your mole colorado. It’s definitely one of the best selections at a restaurant in Los Angeles.
ABV (San Francisco)
Ryan Fitzgerald was a longtime ambassador with Del Maguey, and it’s evident in the agave selection at his San Francisco bar. In addition to featuring their full line, he and his team have chosen a few great tequilas and mezcals and make some of the best cocktails in town.
Sweet Liberty (Miami)
Sweet Liberty is a party bar, but a party bar with an amazing back bar. The staff is committed to hosting a great time every night (there’s even a table behind the bar), and the tequila and mezcal selection is pretty incredible. Definitely a first and last stop in Miami.