There’s nothing like a devastating fire to force you to remodel, but the folks at Café Mexico made the most of it, reshaping virtually everything about their classic Mexican restaurant.
That included having a new bar ready when they reopened in 2016. Jhol Spindler is general manager, which at this relatively small establishment means he also has a hand in the bar, which specializes in quality tequila and mezcal cocktails and straight-up drinks, for those who like to savour the flavours and complexities of these two agave plant-based spirits on their own.
Having ramped up his bartending skills working at The Guild nearby, he’s been at Café Mexico two years now. In that time he’s travelled to the old country to sample firsthand some of the wide variety of tequilas and mezcals distilled there. Of the roughly 120 varieties of tequila and mezcal the bar has on hand, none are gold – those unpure spirits are often what people have bad experiences with, Jhol says with a knowing grin.
Today he serves me a Last Word, made with similar ingredients to the traditional gin-based cocktail: chartreuse and maraschino liqueurs, but with Koch El artisanal mezcal instead. This espadín mezcal’s smokiness comes through nicely and gives the drink an interesting and satisfying finish.
My partner Ruth selects the Agua Fresca, a good choice for newcomers to the spirit, Jhol says. This fruit-flavoured refresher is based with Hornitos Reposado tequila and is combined with tamarind syrup, pineapple and lime juices, soda and finished with old-fashioned bitters.
With input from all five members of the bartending team, Café Mexico is preparing to roll out its new spring/summer cocktail menu in April, so stay tuned.
Now, while I’m sipping on my cocktail, let’s let Jhol have the real last word!
Your claim to fame/best up-the-sleeve trick or technique?
My claim to fame is bartender at The Guild and learning from Oz and R.J. (of Swans). They first taught me about making proper cocktails, and after some bad to mediocre drinks, I got a feel for how to do it right.
What’s hot right now?
Mezcal, of course! I’m biased for sure, but when I go out to have a big night, that’s all I want to drink. It is absolutely one of the most complex and intriguing spirits around. A Mexican fairytale in every bottle.
What traits make a good bartender?
Maybe because I’m a manager now, I look for cleanliness and efficiency. I was at Cenote a few weeks ago and was blown away by how Nate’s hands were always moving and always had a purpose. That’s impressive to me.
What’s your signature drink?
Every summer since I started making cocktails, I’ve put a crushable watermelon cocktail on the menu, I’m actually getting ready to test some ideas out for our upcoming summer cocktail menu. Spirit, Mint, Watermelon, and Citrus? Get me to a patio.
What are you drinking these days?
I’m into anything new and exciting. I had Lambrusco at Pagliacci’s the other night and really enjoyed it. Agave spirits always. Whiskey in all forms. Anything on the Pags list, especially now that Shawn is there.
Best memory from behind the bar?
I think having Will and Jenn come to The Guild and request seconds of my “Watermelon Smash.” They had been drinking cocktails in this town long before I’d started making them. I think that’s when I knew I could do this. They enjoy many of the same tasty things I do, so it certainly reaffirmed my belief that I could make a good drink. Eventually they trusted me to make something up “off-the-cuff” and it meant the world to me.
1425 Store St. (Market Square)