Dos Urban Cantina will soon welcome a new monthly pop-up devoted to the wonders of agave. The Vagabond is helmed by Roger Landes, a 13-year veteran of Chicago’s bar scene with stints at the Loyalist, Rick Bayless’s El Sótano, and Mi Tocaya Antojería. He’ll debut the pop-up on August 30 with guest bartender Meghan Konecny, formerly of Scofflaw and Royal Grocer & Co.
Landes had plans to open a bar in Humboldt Park, but the pandemic intervened and he continued to search for ways to apply his talents. One evening last summer, he stopped by Dos Urban Cantina, the critically acclaimed Mexican restaurant in Logan Square, and began chatting with co-owner Brian Enyart, another alum of the Bayless empire. There should be a place in the neighborhood, they decided, to celebrate agave spirits. Thus, the idea for the Vagabond was born.
The pop-up’s menu consists of four drinks, most containing tequila and mezcal, all featuring flavors inspired by the food of Mexico: roasted chayote squash, pepitos, epazote, prickly pear, and marigold. “I want to showcase the stuff you typically see in Mexican grocery stores,” Landes says. Some of the drinks will be served in clay pots called cantaritos hand-painted by artist Margo Bueno (Landes has a phobia of the texture of clay). There will also be food provided by Fresco’s Sonoran Hot Dogs.
Beyond the pop-up, Landes’ former stomping grounds, Mi Tocaya, continues to pump out new agave cocktails. But it’s not a dedicated bar like Landes envisions. It’s also reminiscent of the Todos Santos, the basement bar where Quiote (now Testaccio) used to stand.
But ever since he began thinking about opening a bar, Landes has been also thinking about the ethics of bar ownership. Workers should be paid appropriately, not just minimum wage, with health insurance, and they shouldn’t be scheduled for 12- or 13-hour shifts. And then there was the question of what to serve.
“How do we use sustainable spirits?” Landes asks. “How do we give back to the Mexican community that has bolstered my career over the past decade? How do I make sure the people involved [in producing the spirits] are getting money?” Which is why he hired Bueno and why Fresco’s will be keeping all the profits from their food. It’s also why he’s using Banhez Mezcal, produced by a village cooperative in Oaxaca, and why he’s donating a share of the proceeds to SACRED: Saving Agave for Culture, Recreation, Education, and Development, a nonprofit that works to improve the lives of people in rural Mexico where agave is grown. The organization was cofounded by Lou Bank, who’s also behind Chicago design firm Ten Angry Pitbulls. Bank is a beloved figure among bartenders for his passion for all things agave.
“I’m going to do something cool for Dos,” Landes says, “and raise some money for SACRED. I miss the crap out of people. I can’t wait to see a beautiful room full of people enjoying cocktails.”