On a sunny afternoon in Los Angeles, Bricia Lopez looks across the vast dining room of Guelaguetza, her family’s James Beard Award-winning restaurant. Soon Lopez will be heading to Las Vegas to celebrate the opening of her new collaboration with MGM Grand and the Sydell Group, a bar and lounge featuring the largest collection of agave spirits on the Strip. The name for the new bar concept comes from the mythological Aztec figure Mayahuel. This goddess of fertility and agave was the mother to hundreds of rabbits. Thus the name Mama Rabbit was born.
Alongside DesignAgency, Lopez aimed to create a modern space that evokes the color and essence of Oaxaca. Lopez and DesignAgency principal Anwar Mekhayech spent time in the region where Lopez grew up, exploring ways to bring the beauty of Oaxacan culture into the Mama Rabbit world. Now, a massive mural by Okuda and an installation of 400 black clay rabbits, hand made in Oaxaca, anchor the visual story.
Mezcal has always been part of who we are
The excitement around this celebration of Oaxaca (and Mexican culture as a whole) has been a long time coming for the Lopez family. Lopez was born in Mitla, where her father and his brother started a mezcal brand. They opened a store that sold only their own bottles, which her father would fill himself. Lopez remembers sitting with her older sister while they attached the labels on the bottles and filled sachets of salt to hang around the necks. Their job was to find tourists to come taste mezcal at the shop. “If you think about it, I am still doing the same job only in a different way,” she tells us. “Mezcal has always been part of who we are.”
When she was nine, the Lopez family moved to Los Angeles. Her parents opened a restaurant that led to opening Guelaguetza in 2000, at its current location on Olympic Boulevard, in Koreatown. There, her father was able to source the few mezcals that were available at the time. Later they built a full bar and have continued to expand the agave spirits collection. Lopez and her brother carry on their family legacy of running the restaurant as well as their I Love Micheladas event and products company.
Lopez often travels to Oaxaca to get inspired and continue to find ways to connect people to the culture and cuisine of her birthplace. She has become known as a mezcal expert. She explains how mezcal differs from tequila in three distinct ways: “Similar to how champagne can only be from the Champagne region of France, mezcal can only be made in Oaxaca.” Also similar to wine, where there are several varieties of grapes, mezcal is made from a variety of agave plants, while tequila is only made from Blue Agave in Tequila, Mexico. “And mezcal is not smoky tequila. It is roasted. We roast the plant just the way we roast our chiles. Like we roast spices or barbacoa under the pit,” says Lopez.
At Mama Rabbit, Lopez helped assemble an extensive mezcal list. They began with finding out which mezcals were available in Nevada and connecting additional small producers to be able to serve there. With a menu of mezcal, tequila, signature cocktails and small bites, Mama Rabbit shares the flavors of Mexico in a contemporary cocktail bar and lounge. They served tequila in classic copitas, while mezcal is poured into traditional veladoras (candleholders).
The Mama Rabbit cocktail menu was developed in conjunction with Craig Schoettler (who has worked at Alinea and The Aviary) and Marshall Altier to approach the menu through a culinary lens. Their Mama Rabbit Margarita Service features Patron Gran Platinum or Casa Dragones Blanco with Grand Marnier hand-pressed lime and salt service, all made table-side.
To develop the flavor profiles for the mezcal cocktails Lopez sent Schoettler and Altier ingredients from Oaxaca. “We are playing around with a lot of salt and infusing syrups,” she says. Hibiscus syrup, cacao, and house-made horchata all make an appearance in the cocktail list. “I always knew that once Vegas embraces mezcal, it will change the dynamics of what mezcal can be and will be,” says Lopez. “At that point you are reaching a different audience. People come to Vegas from all over the country, the world.”
Lopez remembers family trips to Vegas when she was young. “Vegas was the place where we could visit Paris and New York and Venice and dream that one day we could travel this world,” she says. “We would walk the strip and my dad would say, ‘One day we will have a place here.’ We all really believed it.” As an ode to her family restaurant in LA, at Mama Rabbit the Guelaguetza Cocktail pairs El Silencio Espadin with lime, gusano salt, and a lime paleta. The Lopez’s Vegas dream has become a delicious mezcal filled reality.
Images courtesy of Mama Rabbit