In Antigua, Guatemala, there is a dusty, dimly lit adobe cantina where the artisanal liquor brand Ilegal Mezcal was created. With a hidden mezcal bar accessible through a rickety fridge door, Cafe No Sé is a cozy watering hole that's billed as the first mezcal bar outside of Mexico.
This week, you only have to travel as far as Los Feliz to experience the desmadre that is Cafe No Sé. Every night through May 10, Harvard & Stone's back room will be transformed into Bar Ilegal, a temporary Los Angeles version of Ilegal Mezcal's Guatemalan home (which itself channels its inner Oaxaca, the Mexican state where mezcal was born).
Starting at 8 p.m. at Bar Ilegal, shots of mezcal will be poured, craft cocktails will be mixed by guest bartenders, food from celebrated Oaxacan restaurant Guelaguetza will be available to soak it all up, and L.A. bands will play. If you're feeling really adventurous, Martlet Tattoo will be on hand doing Ilegal tattoos.
In addition to transporting drinkers to Cafe No Sé (“We're not trying to create a carbon copy, but we will bring some of the same feel to the space,” Ilegal Mezcal owner John Rexer says), the drink menu includes limited-edition wild agave mezcals and infused mezcals, as well as Mexican craft beer.
Bar Ilegal is just another sign of the growing mezcal-apalooza. Las Perlas opened in 2010 as the city's tequila and mezcal iteration of the single-spirit-bar trend, and mezcal has become a mainstay on cocktail menus from Gracias Madre to Terrine.
“Because of its proximity to the border, there are already so many influences of Mexican culture in L.A.'s gastronomy world, so it makes sense that it's moving towards bar culture as well,” says Gilbert Marquez, a prominent L.A. mezcal mixologist (Tacoteca, Mexicano) and Ilegal Mezcal's brand ambassador. “You can't really go to a bar with out seeing a mezcal cocktail on the menu these days.”
Bar Ilegal will be open from 8 p.m. to 2 a.m. every night through May 10 at Harvard & Stone, 5221 Hollywood Blvd..; Los Feliz; (323) 466-6063; harvardandstone.com.