At Bar Calico, tucked away on 23rd street up a red-carpet staircase at New York’s Freehand Hotel, Head Bartender Alex Dominguez’s menu is a love letter to Mexico and the American Southwest. Both the bar and the nightclub, Georgia Room, draw inspiration from the life and work of artist Georgia O’Keefe. A bovine skull hangs on the wall as if to prove the point.
The star here is Dominguez’s deep dive on sotol, a folksy spirit made from the desert spoon plant, a hearty and adaptable wild-grown shrub found in Mexican deserts and jungles and wandering across the border into Arizona and Texas. A recent tasting showcased Nocheluna, a slightly smoky standard bearer; Cardenxe Sierra, a piney gin-like herbal iteration; and Flor del Desierto “Cascabel,” a complex, meaty pechuga-style sotol made by hanging a rattlesnake stuffed with fruit over the still to infuse the vapors with the protein. It results in a taste a bit like bacon. At Bar Calico, the sotoles are served with dried apricots, chopped walnuts and pickled nopales as palate cleansers.
In cocktail form, sotol is paired with a house-made tepache, a refreshing kombucha-like Mexican fermented pineapple brew that delivers a chuggable, light thirst quencher, which they call Savage Detective. The more spirit-forward Chihuahan Martini is built on Cardenxe sotol, with aloe-based liquor Chareau and an orangey splash of Combier standing in for vermouth. There is also a two-drink section of the cocktail menu dedicated to O’Keefe’s relationship with gallerist Alfred Steiglitz. The Honey Moon is a sweet and citrussy sotol drink spiced with cinnamon that tastes like a mulled wine left to chill in the desert overnight. Lingering Love, Calico’s answer to the espresso martini, combines sotol and Mr. Black cold-brewed coffee liquor.
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