When my cocktail arrived with a corked ampoule of liquor fastened to the glass with a miniature clothespin, I knew there had to be a story behind this spirit riding side-saddle.
Fortunately, Wyatt Fee was nearby, from the growing cast of Tucson’s spirituous storytellers, to explain.
The scene was El Mezquite Grill & Taqueria, in the new DoubleTree by Hilton Tucson Downtown Convention Center, and I had the opportunity to preview the property shortly before it opened. My visit included a tasting from their inaugural menu with that clothespinned cocktail serving as the evening’s introduction.
“We wanted to create a menu of unique and bespoke cocktails that would be memorable and talked about,” said Fee, manager of the new hotel at 280 S. Church Avenue. That I was even having this conversation with him suggested his accomplished mission.
But my mission to learn more was just getting started, which quickly got us back to that cocktail.
The Heaven or Hell Margarita is built with reposado tequila, fresh citrus juices, and passionfruit syrup, with the aforementioned ampoule, filled with green chile vodka and habanero bitters, hanging off the rim of the glass.
“This cocktail caters to people who like things on the spicier side,” said Fee. “But if you want to have something more on the heaven side, you don’t add the hell to it; if you want to get it hot, you pour that hell in there.” He says this provides a level of interactivity for his guests to keep things fun and fresh.
Another cocktail which tells a distinctly different story is the Mayan Warrior, served in an ancient Mayan totem glass, with two kinds of rum, mezcal, orgeat and ginger liquors, Fernet Vallet liqueur, and fresh lime juice.
Fee described this beauty as the flavors of Mexico. “We’re not traditionally just a Sonoran restaurant. We’re contemporary southwestern, which encompasses all of Mexico, not just Baja or Sonora but Yucatan and the tropical regions as well,” he said. “The Mayan Warrior exemplifies a nice, jungle, rum, beach cocktail.”
Fee’s story wouldn’t be complete without a nod to the Day of the Dead Tea Party, a cocktail that comes with two price points. One if you’re sipping solo, and one if you’re joined by three friends.
This tribute to our local Dia de los Muertos culture features two Scotches, two expressions of ginger, and lemon honey, served in a vintage teapot.
“This is a traditional, antique shop, great grandma’s house, sitting on a doily teapot,” he said. “We had a lot of fun going down Grant Road and 22nd Street and stopping at antique roadshows to find them; that’s another fun thing about it, no two teapots are the same.”
Fee’s sense of place sipping is also evident on his horizon of tap handles for those who choose brews to accompany their meal. His selections are almost exclusively represented by Tucson breweries.
“We didn’t want to be local Arizona, we wanted to be local Tucson, and we partnered with local brewers whose beers tell great stories,” he said. Among the Tucson breweries represented at El Mezquite are Ten55, Barrio, Crooked Tooth, Dragoon, Firetruck, MotoSonora, Dillinger, and Borderlands.
“We’re building a vibe and culture here on the south side of downtown, up against the barrio, and the minute you see our neighborhood patio from the street, you’ll want to hang out with some of these cocktails and beers,” Fee concluded.
Sounds good to me. But if I’m bringing my friends, they may need more clothespins and teapots.
Contact Matt Russell, whose day job is CEO of Russell Public Communications, at email@example.com. Russell is also the publisher of OnTheMenuLive.com as well as the host of the Friday Weekend Watch segment on the “Buckmaster Show” on KVOI 1030 AM.