Good news for fans of mezcal: The basement bar at Quiote is open in Logan Square. There’s still a bit to do inside the space, but the subterranean bar portion of Dan Salls’ multi-level Mexican project — which is marked by a neon-green agave leaf — is ready for the general public. He’ll open the restaurant portion at a later date.
Salls’ food truck, The Salsa Truck, and his West Loop lunch spot and food truck commissary, The Garage, earned him recognition. While patrons will have to wait to taste his food menu, they’ll at least get a chance to sample the drink list and explore the dark, cavernous basement bar. Salls and his crew previously opened up the space for a New Year’s Eve party, and they quietly opened the bar on Saturday night to the general public, giving Chicago another spot to drink the Mexican spirit that’s soared in popularity around town.
Behind the bar is Bobby Baker, Quiote’s beverage director who Salls and business partner and ex-DNAinfo reporter Paul Biasco met while in Oaxaca, Mexico. Baker was building his appreciation for mezcal while working at a local bar, Mezcalogia, and marveled at the diversity in Mexican languages. Mezcal enjoys the same diversity. No two varieties are the same: "Every village has it’s own story, the way they’re making the stuff is totally unique," he said.
Baker’s drink list takes classic gin drinks and adapts them with mezcal. Take the "Guelaguetza," a riff on The Pink Lady made with mezcal, calvados, lime, hibiscus, egg white and pink peppercorn. While gin is an expression of the Dutch and the British’s colonial ways, Baker said mezcal is different: "It’s the opposite of ‘empire,’" he says. "It’s the most local way to make a spirit."
There’s also a margarita, which may come with unfair snotty judgements. Baker said the drink is a placeholder, kind of a test for the neighborhood to see what appeals. While he hopes guests will be attracted to more unique items, Baker says he loves margaritas and will ensure they make the best version possible. Eventually, Baker wants to introduce new drinks every couple weeks, making small changes as the seasons spit out new ingredients. A total menu overhaul should come once or twice a year.
Mezcal’s smokiness, history and layers of complexity appealed to Baker, who said he "learned to nerd out" on the spirit while in Mexico. While the Bay Area, where he previously worked, left an impression on him as a bartender, he’s more focused on bringing back the knowledge he acquired in Mexico to Logan Square.
The basement bar is open at Quiote, and folks will have to enter off Altgeld as work continues on the rest of the building. Take a gander at the drink list below, and prepare for more on Quiote in the coming days.
Quiote, 2456 N. California Ave., (312) 878-8571, basement bar open 5 p.m. to 2 a.m. Sunday through Friday; 5 p.m. to 3 a.m. on Saturday. Restaurant will open at a later date.