Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Barfly's Beat: Mayahuel - Worth Breaking the Rules

I have to confess. I was not the first on line to get into Mayahuel when it opened. I heard "tequila" bar and arched my eyebrow. I'm more a gin and rye guy. Plus, I have a two month rule: I do not go to a new bar/lounge until they have been open for at least two months. This helps them get the opening kinks out of the way. I succumb to the best inducement of all - free drinks!

The decor didn't grab me at first the way it does when you walk into a PDT or Death & Co. The space seems disjointed, as if the bar was built around a multi-floored storefront with irregular rooms. It didn't seem like a cocktail lounge. But Mayahuel isn't trying to be a cocktail bar that specializes in tequila, it is a tequila bar that specializes in tequila cocktails. And by tequila I mean the real deal from Jalisco province in Mexico, blue agave, or mezcal, and all quality. You can enjoy a hand crafted cocktail from co-owner and Death & Company veteran Phil Ward and his crew behind the stick. Or you can sip one of their stellar selection neat. Really anything goes. There are no behavior rules a la the speakeasy posted in the bathroom. You can be loud here, but it ain't Margeritaville, the tequila is the center of your attention not a sun burnt shot off a body part.

Mr. Ward employs the cocktail trifecta that makes Mayahuel a must visit for any bon vivant.

First, the ingredients: mole bitters, agave nectar, freshly squeezed citrus juice, fresh fruit such as watermelon, and pomegranate molasses are just the beginning. There is jalapeno infused tequila, cocktails with tea infusions, and a spicy sangria that push the bar (no pun intended) higher for the cocktail aficionado.

Second item is the innovation. Tequila cocktails? Are you serious? Mr. Ward is deadly serious and needs no words of persuasion. His actions - crafting exquisite libations using this overlooked spirit - will broaden your horizons and help you see beyond whiskey, gin, and scotch as base spirits for your cocktail. Soon you'll be ordering them without being in Mayahuel. Head over to Allen & Delancy if you don't believe me, their latest menu is all tequila.

Finally, a convivial environment where one can have decent conversation and a staff that is very attentive and friendly. Sit in one of the intimate nooks, at the bar, or upstairs in the dining room. Order some Mexican specialities from their menu. The food ranges from small shareable plates like tacos to entrees such as the sublime cochinita (pork belly) and tamales. There is dessert too! The place is homey and laid back, loosen your tie, you'll be there for a while.

Some of my favorite drinks from Mayahuel's cocktail menu (June 2009):

The Mexicano (Reposado Tequila, Carpano Antica, and Mayur's Picon) is served with a sizable hunk of hand chipped ice. The drink is touted as their version of the classic Italian aperitif, "The Americano." Clearly, I was skeptical but that weariness was erased with one sip. The Mexicano tasted like dark savory chocolate and went down too smooth. Phil Ward agreed and pointed to the Carpano Antica Formula vermouth. The Carpano and the tequila really blend together in a unique way that I have never experienced.

As a Manhattan and Brooklyn aficionado, I was very eager to taste the Italian Inquisition with reposado tequila, Punt e Mes, Averna and Solerno, Xocolati mole bitters. Served in a vintage square cocktail glass, the Inquisition was a party on my palate. The Averna was enhanced by the bitters, and the tequila, punt e mes blended well creating a smokey tasting drink.

Some other favorites:

Division Bell (Joven Mezcal, Aperol, Maraska, & Lime)
Selena Fizz (Blanco Tequila, Elderflower, grapefruit & lime with egg white & soda with a dash of orange bitters)
R'Cobbler (Blanco Tequila, Campari, Carpano Antica, Punt e Mes with Xocotatl Mole bitters)
Slight Detour (Trio of Jalapeno Tequila, Reposado & Joven Mezcal, agave nectar, & Xocolatl Mole bitters)

Tequila Glossary:
Reposado: is tequila aged for two months up to eleven months in oak barrels.
Blanco: is bottled within two months of distillation and is the purest version of agave.
Anejo: is aged or vintage Tequila that has been rested in small oak barrels for more than one year.
Mezcal: Agaves that make up Mezcal which are blends are usually roasted and cooked in the earth and stone pit resulting in a rich smokey flavor.
(Source: The Mayahuel Cocktail menu - June 2009)

Mayahuel is changing the cocktail landscape and is a place to break the rules!

- Salud!

304 East 6th St @2nd Ave
New York, NY

Read the NY Times review of Mayahuel.

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