Las Almas Rotas mezcaleria is a shrine to the spirits of Mexico in Dallas.
Mezcal became my preferred spirit the moment two friends and I were served three producers’ takes on it, all distilled from the same agave variety — tobalá. We were sitting on the patio of a mezcal bar (mezcaleria) and restaurant along Mexico City’s Plaza de Coyoacán. With each sample, we toasted salud! And we took a drink. The difference in each was staggering. One was a celebration of oranges. Another bit back with a spicy gnaw. And the third was as easy to get along with as a best friend. I don’t recall the labels on those bottles, but I do remember that I returned to Dallas with three other bottles, two from Alipus and one I picked up at a friend’s nearby restaurant after a tasting session that included more bottles than I care to admit. It was a joyous night.
Mezcal is joyous. Distilled from the agave plant, mezcal is a broad category of distillate rooted to place with denominations of origin designation — like champagne and tequila, the latter of which is a mezcal. It can be produced in only certain Mexican states, including Durango, Guerrero, Oaxaca, Puebla, and Guanajuato, and then only with specific types of wild agave plants. Espadín and tobalá are among the most commonly used.
In Dallas, an abundance of joyous emotion (spirit!) animates Las Almas Rotas, a mezcaleria across from Fair Park, home to the State Fair of Texas, a shrine to fried food and the larger-than-life spirit of Texas. On the other hand, Las Almas Rotas, which translates from the Spanish as “broken souls,” is a shrine to the spirits of Mexico.
Opened in 2017, Las Almas Rotas developed from informal bottle-sharing get-togethers of owners Taylor Samuels and Shad and Leigh Kvetko and friends. Then came a short-lived series of pop-up dinners and informal tastings. After news of the happenings broke in the local media, they were quickly shut down, but the shindigs led to the current permanent space.
“It was the best way for it to end,” Shad Kvetko says over the phone, shortly after returning from a research trip to Durango, Mexico. “It was only around for a few months, but the waves it created were pretty incredible, and the kind of reputation [it got] and the people and contacts we met through it have really helped us and been a boon to us. And it was fun.”
An abundance of joyous emotion (spirit!) animates Las Almas Rotas.
Samuels describes the first iteration of Almas Rotas as a “little jewel box of a beautiful room. ... There was no kitchen. There was no running water in the space. Everything was run out of coolers.” In the original space and at events, they talked about mezcal, and attendees relished the food, the drink, and the stories. “We did a few nights where we had friends bring in groups of friends, and we did the kind of mock service, a version of what we’re doing now, in the bar, which is flights of curated spirit selections.
“And then, from there, people would order small neat pours or a bottle of beer because that’s all we offered. We didn’t offer any cocktails. There was no full bar, there was no frozen [margarita] machine.”
In the current space, reverence for mezcal shows not just the front room’s expansive collection of it and similar agave spirits, but also in the banquette along the opposite wall, cobbled together from salvaged church pews. The décor, heavy on religious iconography and antiques, comes from Kvetko’s days as an antiques dealer, much of it through his personal collection.
“We reused some of the items from the original Las Almas room, including tabletops and stuff like that, but most of that stuff’s in our back bar, which is kind of a re-creation of that original space,” Kvetko says. “And then I kind of used my skills as an antiques dealer to source everything super cheap.” The back bar, a small room near the kitchen, is overlooked by a statue of St. Jude, patron saint of lost causes, a piece Kvetko has had in his personal collection for more than 20 years.
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Although cocktails and food are secondary to straight spirits here, there are enough of both on offer to keep you sitting and sipping as you work your way through the hundreds of marks on the wall via curated flights. The most popular cocktail is the El Topo, a take on the West Texas ranch water. But at Las Almas Rotas, the tequila is swapped out for mezcal. The cocktail is named after an iconic film by one of Kvetko’s favorite filmmakers, Alejandro Jodorowsky.
The spirit of the semi-fleeting, splashy shindig hasn’t been exorcised from Las Almas Rotas. This summer, Samuels and the Kvetkos have taken over the pool at the historic Belmont Hotel, a renovated 1940s motor inn with stunning views of downtown Dallas. Dubbed “Playa Belmont,” the Memorial Day-to-Labor Day pop-up is inspired by 1970s Puerto Vallarta, complete with hammock grove and pastel hues. If you can’t soak in the fun at Playa Belmont, at least you can make the cocktail recipes featured we’re featuring here next week.
Las Almas Rotas, 3615 Parry Avenue, Dallas, 972.685.5666, lasalmasrotas.com. For event information, visit the mezcaleria’s Facebook page.
From the August/September 2019 issue