It's going to be a great week. For starters, we are celebrating the 1 year anniversary of our beloved Comedor Lilia. Can you believe it? It’s only been 1 year! In addition, this is the week that we re-launch Bar Comala, down at the NW Park Blocks. I say re-launch because it really feels that way. Over the past month, I’ve watched our team (Chef Olivia, Madison, and Uncle Matt) invest hours of their time off working on the concept. If you’ve been over in the last two weeks, then surely you’ve seen the results yourself, the place is starting to feel like the space that we originally set out to make. Along with all of the cosmetic changes, Comala is set to launch an entire new selection of cocktails, primarily highlighting spirits from Mexico, more specifically Mezcal. For us, Mezcal has always taken center stage in our story. When we first launched República, there were about 25-30 sku’s available in the city, and for the most part many of them belong to the big brands; Del Maguey, Ilegal, Union, Bozal, Vago, big budget stuff. We had no interest in them back then or now, for us they represented much of what we didn’t like about Mezcal, despite some of their work being pretty outstanding (Del Maguey & Vago). Supporting brands that were not owned by Mexicans or that we felt exploited our culture was something that didn’t align with our values.
And so I went to every liquor store in town. I bothered them about brands and labels, most of them didn’t really believe in the mezcal hype, especially when a case of Mezcal is running them at $1,600+ for 12 bottles vs ¼ of that cost for a case of very good whiskey. No one really paid attention to my list… until I met with the folks at 11th Avenue liquor, after that it was on.
It’s been 3 years since I began showing up at liquor stores asking them to carry certain things. To give you a better idea of that growth, 11th Avenue liquor had a dedicated space for Mezcal that would take maybe 5% of their two rows of Tequila display. If you go now that split is about 60-40 with Tequila still holding on… but it's not by much. Surely, I cannot take all the credit, after all, it was those guys who also got hit by the Mezcal bug, so much that anytime something comes across their radar they are often the first to snag it. I will say this though, what makes our selection at Comala so special, is the level of intentionality, more specifically, our knowledge of the spirit and the collection we choose to curate. As Mezcal continues to rise in popularity and I watch a lot of new (and old) Mexican establishments attempt to place more emphasis on it, their driver for doing so is by simply carrying more of it, especially when they belong to some sort of bigger group. It becomes a thing about owning as many as possible, stocking their shelves with either lower quality brands or 15-20 of the same type of varietal, more specifically Espadin, or an Espadin blend, which are typically the most affordable. Tequilas are not much different, anytime I get a request for one here, I tell them we only have maybe 12-13 of them total, all owned by Mexicans, all of them diffuser free. What are diffusers you ask? Ugh… I’ll save that one for another time but let you google it instead.
Going back to the original point, intentionality.
Look, I’ve said this on many occasions, I am not a Chef. At best, I might be a writer. But if there is something that I am certain of is that I am a reader.
Any topic out there, when I want to understand something better, I don't read for answers I read for inspiration.
I read to try and understand authors formulas, the way beat- junkies listen to J Dilla, in hopes of making sense of the patterns that made his sound one of a kind.
Can I first understand Bolaño and Borjez before I can understand Neruda?
Or is it supposed to be the other way around?
Did I read “Laberinto de la Soledad” because I was confused. Or Am I confused because I’ve read “Laberinto de la Soledad”?
Despite that last sentence, I don't read because I hope to emulate someone's style. (Although shoutout Nick Hornby for that last line).
I read because it forces me to develop my own style, not as a writer but as a teller of stories.
Not just on paper or on social media, but more than anything, as a creator of concepts.
At República, these books here are what we present our checks on at the end of one's meal. We are certainly not the first to do it, but probably the first to intentionally pick the writers who inspired this space and even a dish or two in the past. The same writers, who write poems to which we name cocktails after.
Every once in a while, you get the literary nerd or the retired anthropology professor. Course by course or drink by drink they begin to connect it all. The history, the etymology, the poetry, the details… and when it all hits them, it blows their mind.
Some of our tables are named after those writers instead of numbers. Hemingway, Neruda, Fitzgerald…
You ask yourself, what can be better than naming a dish "Ode to the Apple"?
A person reciting the actual poem to their partner while sitting at "Neruda", having an anniversary date.
That's my formula, I guess.
Give the little things meaning.
You say the margarita is the most requested cocktail in a Mexican restaurant? Great, name it "What happened in 1519" .
When they ask why we chose to call it that, simply explain to them the story of the arrival of Spaniards to the coast of Veracruz and the good and bad that came from that exchange.
And when you do it, channel the cadence and approach of the greats.