Mezcal — tequila’s wilder agave cousin — is having a moment. More U.S. bars than ever are taking the time to showcase the often smoky spirit from our southern neighbor on their menus, but there are very few in Austin entirely devoted to it.
Consider that changing with the addition of downtown Austin’s new Las Perlas, a mezcalaría opening next door to sibling spot Seven Grand Whiskey Bar. Although Las Perlas has plenty of tequila on hand for those who don’t care for mezcal’s distinctively rustic profile, the bar is primarily focused on mezcal and has a growing collection of hundreds of bottles.
Las Perlas will share a grand opening celebration with Seven Grand on Sept. 14, a soiree with a spirits emporium, a whole hog roast and live music. But the bar — decorated to look like an authentic Oaxacan mezcalaría with vibrant colors, including mint-green bar shelves — is open softly now for people wanting a first look.
And what will they see? The hope with Las Perlas, according to its co-founders, is that it becomes to mezcal what three-month-old Seven Grand is gradually becoming for whiskey in Austin — a boozy educational experience as much as a hangout with plenty of spirits and cocktails to choose from.
Not sure you like mezcal? One bottle in the wide range of options is sure to please you, and the bartenders will help you find it.
Or if you’re already a dedicated fan, as I am, they (along with a binder containing pages of available mezcales) can also point you in a new direction. On a recent visit to the watering hole, where a painter was beginning to decorate the walls with 400 playful rabbits, my friend and I sipped Alipús San Baltazar neat in a clay copita, the traditional method of serving mezcal, at the recommendation of one of the bartenders.
Los Angeles-based 213 Hospitality, which also opened Rainey Street cocktail bar Half Step here, runs both Las Perlas and Seven Grand. Each one has an original location in California that the hospitality group thought would be a good fit for quirky, liquor-loving Austin, 213’s director of operations, Andrew Abrahamson, said.
And like Seven Grand with whiskey, the 2,000 sq. ft. Las Perlas will establish a meet-up group for mezcal enthusiasts, who will be able to partake in comparative tastings with brand ambassadors and distillers of the spirit.
“Our mezcal collective will be similar to Seven Grand’s,” 213’s California-based spirit guide Pedro Shanahan, who has been in town to introduce both bars, said. “So there will be these wonderful opportunities for the community to come together and learn about these spirits.”
Las Perlas also serves up a mix of mezcal and tequila cocktails and nine Mexican beers that you can order by the bottle or the bucket. (This place sure isn’t in Oaxaca, a hotbed for mezcal, but you almost wouldn’t know it once you’re inside.)
My favorite drinks were the Poblano Escobar, with Vida Mezcal and a blend of pineapple and poblano peppers spiced with cumin, and the Spiced Daisy, a spicier version of the house margarita with blanco tequila, fresh-pressed jalapeños and cilantro. If you aren’t into spicy flavors, the Rested Old Fashioned, the Oaxacan Negroni and the Mexican Mule demostrate the agave spirits’ range.
Sip these and others inside the dimly lit interior or outside in the 1,500 sq. ft. patio area — both inside and out, Latin music will serenade you. Starting next month, the music will be live and based around a program of mariachi, spaghetti cumbia, banda, norteño, Tejano and more. Also next month, street tacos will be available from a local vendor, according to 213 Hospitality.
Las Perlas is located at 403 E. Seventh St. and open from 5 p.m. to 2 a.m. daily. For more information, visit 213hospitality.com/las-perlas-austin/.