Adelitas Owner Opens Denver's First Oaxacan-Style Mezcal Bar

Restaurateur Brian Rossi opened Adelitas Cocina y Cantina at 1294 South Broadway three years ago, giving the Platt Park neighborhood a taste of Mexican eats and great margaritas. After the first year, Rossi attempted to open El Guapo in the space behind the cantina, where a big patio and a small indoor area seemed like the perfect place for summer drinking. But a noise complaint from a neighbor made Rossi change his mind, so El Guapo quickly shut down. "I have decided to close until I can make right with the neighbors, and come to an agreement that will make all of us happy," he said at the time.

And now he's ready; Rossi will unveil Palenque Mezcaleria this Thursday, May 19, at 4 p.m.

Palenque will be a temple to agave spirits — specifically to the liquid treasure from Oaxaca known as mezcal, of which some 75 different labels will be represented. Rossi wants the mezcaleria to be an educational center where guests can learn about the history and many different variations of the smoky, traditional beverage. So, for example, bartenders may suggest several different versions of espadin (one of about a dozen varieties of the maguey plant) mezcal from different villages in order to highlight the terroir and technique of each.  

"I don't look at it as a liquor," Rossi says of mezcal. "I look at it, truthfully, as a way of life and culture."

You'll find the entire range of products from the popular Del Maguey, but there will also be rarer brands, like El Jolgorio, which will be exclusive to Palenque in Colorado. Rossi explains that the goal of his new spot will be to showcase a wide variety of mezcal "expressions" — spirits made with specific maguey varieties (along with espadin, there are also tobala, tepeztate, Mexicano, cuixe and arroqueño, to name a few) by distillers in specific villages. One-ounce pours will be the standard so that patrons can sample a wider range.

The bar will stock other agave spirits, but with an eye to highlighting regional differences. So only three tequila families will be represented: Fortaleza, made in the valley region of Tequila, Jalisco; Ocho, from the highland region of Los Altos; and Don Fulano, a hybrid made with highland agave at a distillery in Tequila. For local, non-agave products, Palenque will stock Leopold Brothers, Laws whiskey and Bear Creek vodka.

The Palenque staff will be trained to answer questions about all of the spirits offered and help guide guests toward the best drink for their tastes. "If they're with us for a year, I take them down to Oaxaca, Jalisco, the raicilla regions," Rossi says of his staff.

A small food menu will also be offered, featuring Oaxacan specialties: tlayudas (thin, toasty corn tortillas slathered in black beans and cheese), frijoles, Oaxacan cheese queso, shrimp and mango ceviche, lamb barbacoa, and chapulines — toasted and seasoned grasshoppers.

Palenque will be covered inside and out with murals painted by Amanda King, although the wet weather has so far put a damper on any exterior painting. The bar will be open from 4 to 11 p.m. on weekdays and from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. on weekends. There will be no entrance through Adelitas; customers will need to enter from the patio. Monday will be the big day for agave aficionados; all mezcals will be poured at half price.

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Mark Antonation is the former Westword Food & Drink Editor. In 2018, he was named Outstanding Media Professional by the Colorado Restaurant Association; he's now with the Colorado Restaurant Foundation.
Contact: Mark Antonation