There’s an arbitrary holiday designation for just about everything under the sun these days, but if there’s one we can fully support, it’s National Tequila Day, held on July 24.
Austinites and Texans in general have long loved the Mexican spirit. No longer thought of in America as just the cheap liquor that shot bars would offer with a lime wedge and a ring of salt, tequila has come to be recognized as a beautifully complex, vegetal base in a range of craft cocktails — and in the margarita, of course — and we drink plenty of it here.
Raise your glass to one of Mexico’s greatest exports at these Austin bars and restaurants. Whether you want to deepen your knowledge of the agave spirit or taste an intoxicating new way to mix it, one of the below places will have the tequila drink for you.
If you want to explore the wide world of tequila, neat
You might feel as though you’ve been transported to a cozy Oaxacan mezcaleria while at Las Perlas. The country’s first mezcal bar opened its second location last fall in downtown Austin (the original is in Los Angeles) and quickly impressed with its focus on agave spirits — primarily mezcal, with lots of tequila, too. It’s the place to go if you want to try off-the-beaten-path examples of each one, including barrel-aged expressions of reposado and añejo that are ideal for sipping neat.
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Downtown restaurant La Condesa was an early influence in Austin’s now-thriving cocktail scene, pushing for fresh ingredients and high-end spirits at a time when premade sweet-and-sour mix was a staple behind the bar. Today, it still has one of the strongest tequila programs in town and is worth a visit if you want to try reliable staples and rare bottles alike, from Código to Arette Gran Clase. You don’t have to choose just one, either: La Condesa has tequila flights.
Las Perlas, 405 E. Seventh St.; La Condesa, 400 W. Second St.
If you want a good old margarita
A group of Austinites stuck on a desert island would probably find a way to make margaritas, even if they had to MacGyver some mixing tools. Fortunately, Austin is no island, and we don’t have to worry about how our margs will get made — just about every Mexican restaurant and many other local eateries feature at least one on the menu.
And some make many, many different kinds. Güero’s Taco Bar, located along a prime part of South Congress Avenue, offers famously strong margaritas that come either frozen or on the rocks and, if frozen, in flavors like mango and strawberry. Güero’s is extending its standard happy hour from 3 to 10 p.m. on July 24.
At El Naranjo, a sophisticated refuge from the Rainey Street madness, the drinks are as carefully considered as the Mexican cuisine. Try the Sweet Life, with Austin-based Dulce Vida Tequila, Naranja liqueur and lime juice. Like any margarita worth its salt, it’s disarmingly simple but has everything you need for a properly balanced cocktail, including a Mexico-made orange liqueur.
It’s worth noting that Las Perlas also makes one of the best spicy margaritas in town. The Spiced Daisy features Olmeca Altos blanco tequila, cilantro and fresh-pressed jalapeños and exemplifies why consuming your veggies doesn’t always have to be grimace-inducing.
Güero’s, 1412 S. Congress Ave.; El Naranjo, 85 Rainey St.
If you want creative cocktails featuring the agave spirit
Tequila is a remarkably versatile spirit that doesn’t just pair well with citrus. In Odd Duck’s draft-poured Spa Water, tequila combines with Chareau aloe liqueur, St-Germain elderflower liqueur, cucumber and honeydew to re-create the refreshing, often fruit-infused water instrumental at any day at the spa.
Pitchfork Pretty also features aloe, albeit in a completely different — and intriguing — way. The pun-perfect Aloe Can You Go is made with aloe flesh, coconut meat and water, and Código Rosa, a blanco tequila that rested for a month in French white oak barrels that had previously housed Napa cabernet sauvignon. You can count on one thing: Both of the drinks featuring aloe are perfect in this summer heat.
One of Austin’s most promising new restaurants, Suerte, re-creates an essential Mexican flavor with its ombré-hued Don Dario, featuring blanco tequila, tamarindo, sarsaparilla and lime. Agua de tamarindo is an agua fresca drink, made from sugar and the podlike fruit of the tamarind tree, that is traditionally served throughout Latin America, and the cocktail embodies how well Suerte has drawn culinary inspiration from our neighbor to the south.
Want an agave twist on a classic cocktail? Look no further than the Mexico ’75 at Licha’s Cantina, which transformed a well-known gin-and-bubbles concoction by using reposado tequila, grapefruit juice, pamplemousse liqueur and brut rosé. It’s a bicultural twist on the French ’75 and the Mexican paloma, if you will.
The Roosevelt Room has become known for its precise takes on classic cocktails, but it’s an original tipple you’ll want to turn to for National Tequila Day. The Lonesome Dove, with blanco tequila, lime and grapefruit juices, cinnamon syrup, vanilla, salt and rose water, is a bright, nicely spiced nod to the nearby downtown Austin restaurant of the same name — also as a riff on the paloma (which means “dove” in Spanish).
Odd Duck, 1201 S. Lamar Blvd.; Pitchfork Pretty, 2708 E. Cesar Chavez St.; Suerte, 1800 E. Sixth St.; Licha’s Cantina, 1306 E. Sixth St.; Roosevelt Room, 307 W. Fifth St.
Day of deals
Looking for specific National Tequila Day specials? Peruvian restaurant Yuyo is going Mexican in honor of National Tequila Day with the Hotter Melon Margarita. Featuring blanco tequila, watermelon, lime and aji amarillo, it will be at a discounted price of $8 during happy hour, 4:30 to 6:30 p.m., on July 24. The drink still has a little Peruvian flair: Aji amarillo, a bright orange chile, is ubiquitous in that country’s cuisine.
The open-air bar Upstairs at Caroline, within the Aloft Austin Downtown, is debuting its custom barrel of Tequila Avion Reposado in honor of National Tequila Day and will also have its signature Frozen Prickly Pear ’Ritas available.
Craftsman is celebrating the national holiday made for Austin with an evening of tequila tastings. Popular brands like Don Julio, Dulce Vida, Espolon, Partida and Maestro Dobel — as well as Grand Marnier, an orange liqueur — will be available to sample, and if there’s one you like in particular, Craftsman is featuring cocktails made with each brand. The drinks include margaritas and a frozen paloma.
Yuyo, 1900 Manor Road; Upstairs at Caroline, 621 Congress Ave. #201.; Craftsman, 2000 E. Cesar Chavez St.