New York City bartenders have been leading the country when it comes to going beyond both tequila and mezcal. Most notable is the rise of sotol, a spirit distilled from the Dasylirion wheeleri succulent (which isn’t technically an agave, but is a close relative). Other agave spirits taking root in New York bars include bacanora and raicilla.
Below are suggestions for some of the most interesting margarita alternatives worth seeking out in New York.
Note: This blog post originally appeared on the defunct UpOut.com on April 28, 2017, so some of these cocktails may have changed.
Quick aside because I know someone will bring it up: spirits distilled from agave are all mezcals but where and how they’re made determine which and if they’re a subcategory of mezcal or not. It’s complicated. This Mezcal PHD post is incredibly helpful.
1. Mayahuel :: Perez-Entation
304 E 6th St, New York, NY 10003
Ingredients: Sotol, Martinique Rum, Green Chartreuse, Dry Vermouth, Jalapeno Tequila, Celery Bitters
This list isn’t intended to be in any sort of hierarchal order, but there’s a reason Mayahuel was the first bar that came to mind when we started making it. Mayahuel’s focus is agave spirits and they aren’t afraid to experiment. We could recommend any number of the tequila and mezcal cocktails on the menu, but we’re skipping to the sotol based drinks (reminder: sotol, technically, is not made with agave). Our recommendation: Perez-Entation. See the photo below from Mayahuel bartender Will Aaron.
2. La Biblioteca :: Cucumber Serrano Martini
622 3rd Ave, New York, NY 10017
Ingredients: El Silencio Mezcal, Cucumber, Serrano, Citrus
La Biblioteca might have the largest collections of tequilas and mezcals in the tri-state area. They boast 400 bottles from “famed haciendas, small-batch distillers, and artisanal producers.” You’ll do yourself a service to order a flight, but today we’re interested in cocktails. La Biblioteca plays it safer than most when mixing up cocktails but we can recommend the Cucumber Serrano Martini. This is one cocktail where El Silencio really shines with the serrano pulling forward flavor that’s typically lost in the spirit.
#Views Photo Credit @pepeleyenda A post shared by La Biblioteca NYC (@labibliotecanyc) on
3. Ofrenda :: La Matona
113 7th Ave S, New York, NY 10014
Ingredients: Estancia Raicilla, pamplemouse rose, pineapple, cardamom bitters, worm salt
Ofrenda is one of the few restaurants using the Mexican spirit raicilla in a cocktail. For decades, raicilla had been the underground moonshine of Jalisco and only in the last few years has it started to make it’s way to the legitimate market. Raicilla has a strong floral essence which makes it the perfect spirit for the La Matona cocktail.
4. Añejo :: Mendoza
668 10th Ave, New York, NY 10036
Ingredients: Herradura Silver, passion fruit, grenadine, cava
Up to this point, we’ve steered you away from tequila mostly due to the fact that we’re trying to explore the world outside of margaritas. However, that does tequila a disservice because there’s a very good reason it’s the national spirit of Mexico. Añejo’s Mendoza cocktail is a perfect example of a non-margarita cocktail where the tequila is still the star.
I’ve always thought so. #tequila #cheers #happyhour #margaritas #nyc #hellskitchen #thursday #perfection A post shared by Courtney (@corobinyc) on
5. Los Feliz :: Smoke One
109 Ludlow St #1, New York, NY 10002 (map)
Ingredients: jalapeño & habanero infused el jimador blanco, pineapple, fresh lime juice, topped with Montelobos Mezcal
Mezcal drinkers are typically drawn to the smoke. That smoke flavor, unlike the smoke of Scotch, literally comes from the process of cooking the pinas of the agave in an earthen pit. Los Feliz’s Smoke One maximizes the smoke by including El Jimador Blanco mezcal as the base spirit but finishing it off with a float of Montelobos Mezcal Joven.
6. Pulqueria :: Tijuana Flashback
11 Doyers Street, New York, NY 10013
Ingredients: Pulque, Vida Mezcal, Tomatillo, Cilantro, Habanero Bitters, Lime
Pulque differs from mezcal because it’s fermented sap of the agave plant instead of distilled agave. In Mexico, it’s typically served at specialized bars called pulquerias. It isn’t easy to find in the United States which makes a trip to New York’s Pulqueria a must for the full agave experience. The cocktail of choice is Tijuana Flashback which is like drinking guacamole without the avocado (it works!).
Saturday night plans. A post shared by Pulqueria (@pulquerianyc) on
7. La Contenta :: Cuchillo Negro
102 Norfolk Street, New York, NY 10002 (map)
Ingredients: Laird’s Apple Brandy + Ochocinco’s Reposado Sotol + homemade pomegranate syrup + Mexican cinnamon
Quick Note: As far as I know La Contenta is the only NYC bar other than Pulqueria using pulque as a base spirit in cocktails. La Contenta uses it in the Pulque de Guayaba, but I’m not sending you to this Lower East Side bar for that cocktail (but, by all means, try it).
You should consider the Cuchillo Negro which is one of the most “these ingredients shouldn’t work together but holy hell do they” cocktails you’ll put in your mouth this week.
8. Rosa Mexicano :: Paloma
What’s the most popular tequila-based drink in Mexico? If you said margarita you’re wrong. That distinct honor goes to the Paloma which is made by mixing tequila with a grapefruit-flavored soda. At Rosa Mexicano, they cut out the soda and instead go the fresh route with ruby red grapefruits, grapefruit liqueur, and grapefruit bitters.
9. Leyenda :: Summer Shade
221 Smith Street, Brooklyn
Ingredients: Rose, mezcal espadin, gin, watermelon, pink peppercorn, lime
I know what you’re thinking, “but I can’t get a pitcher of margarita and split with my friends.” Leyenda to the rescue! Order a pitcher of the mezcal-based Summer Shade for the perfect way to bridge the final month between Spring and Summer.