Mezcal is a spirit torn between old-world traditions—agave slow roasted over a pit of hot rocks—versus new-world demands—spring break tourist-trap offerings of worm-laced shots. Mezcaleria Las Flores, opening tonight in Logan Square, reflects the best of the blossoming spirit.
"The thing about mezcal is that it is all somewhere in between," says Jay Schroeder, the mastermind behind the partnership with Johnny's Grill chef and owner Sarah Jordan. "What sells us right now is authenticity—to have the most authentic, untouched, pristine, indigenous product possible." To prepare, Schroeder traveled to Oaxaca, Mexico, the homeland of the smoky spirit.
With a selection of over 60 bottles of mezcal, from small-batch Illegal añejo to un-smoked Mina Real joven, a tour of the back bar is a great way to travel to Mexico without a plane ticket. For the less adventurous, yet agave curious, Schroeder prepared a menu of cocktails each featuring at least an ounce of mezcal, tequila, or sotol: "I'm not going to sideline or push out agave spirits or bury them somewhere," he says. That also goes for split-base cocktails, such as the Illuminati Handshake (Mina Real Espadín and Old Overholt rye with Lustau Olorosso, roibos, Angostura orange bitters, and Sal de Gusano).
Schroeder offers a helping hand while navigating the cocktail menu by putting a guide below each drink. A sliding scale shows how "spirit-forward," "smoky," and "adventurous" each one is. For example, the Basedworld Paradise (Mayalen Wild Cupreata, Victoria beer, pineapple, lemongrass, Dolin Genepy, fresh lime, and chile Tajin) is on the less smoky side, while the Shook Ones Pt. 1 (Del Maguey Mezcal Vida, Kailani coconut, fresh lemon, St. George Absinthe, cacao, and sesame) goes heavy on the smoke, but light on the "adventure." Drinks are served in ceramic mugs, dried gourds, and other vessels brought back from Oaxaca.
"You want to come in and rip Negra Modelos and cheap shots of well mezcal or tequila, that's cool."
The serious selection is reminiscent of one of two different types of Mezcalerias that Schroeder encountered during his travels. One where the spirit is treated like a subject to study in dark lounges with well-versed bartenders holding the key to the keep. Mezcaleria Las Flores will also channel the second type of Mezcaleria, a livelier club atmosphere with an unassumingly special agave list. The teal blue bar has undergone few renovations except for the addition of some imported art and artifacts: "We want people to have a good time," Schroeder says. "You want to come in and rip Negra Modelos and cheap shots of well mezcal or tequila, that's cool."
Mezcaleria Las Flores, 3149 W. Logan Blvd., (773) 278-2215, open daily from 5 p.m. to 2 a.m. and 5 p.m. to 3 a.m. on Saturdays. While the bar offers its own cocktail menu, guests are able to order food from neighboring Johnny's Grill.