Photograph by Chris Mottalini. Shot at Barrio Chino.
Conventional wisdom says that tequila works with sugar, salt, and lime juice—and that's about it. This unyielding approach probably stems from the liquor's taste spectrum: One brand can be floral while another is earthier than dirt. That means that breaking out of the margarita box requires a level of skill the average bottle jockey doesn't possess. Fortunately, the bartenders at some of the country's top watering holes are up to the challenge. Rob Willey
THE ONES TO TRY
At Pegu Club, a SoHo spot, bartenders mix silver tequila with lemon juice, two syrups—cane sugar and grapefruit—and the aperitif Aperol.
77 W. Houston Street, 2nd floor, New York, 212-473-7348
Silver tequila is blended with fresh apple and lemon juices, house-made cassis, and cardamom at Teardrop Cocktail Lounge, a slick Pearl District bar.
1015 NW Everett Street, Portland, Oregon, 503-445-8109
This brazen combination of aged tequila, dry vermouth, absinthe, Galliano (an herbal liqueur), and orange bitters is part of a rotating drink list at the nautical saloon Bar Pilar.
1833 14th Street NW, Washington, D.C., 202-265-1751
Yellow Rose of Texas
A provocative mix of silver tequila, yellow Chartreuse, and rose water, the Yellow Rose is the drink to settle
in with at the Violet Hour, a lounge in Wicker Park.
1520 N. Damen Avenue, Chicago, 773-252-1500
THE RECIPE: LA ROSITA
La Rosita, a tequila-based riff on the Negroni, is potent but smooth—in other words, everything a cocktail should be.
*1½ oz silver tequila, such as Patrón (smooth) or Herradura (pungent)
½ oz Campari
½ oz sweet vermouth
½ oz dry vermouth
1 dash Angostura bitters
1 lemon twist*
Fill a pint glass with ice, add the liquids, and stir briskly. Strain into a chilled glass and garnish with the twist.
THE POUR: MEZCAL
Mezcal, tequila's smoky Oaxacan cousin, is a sipping spirit. Drink Del Maguey or the soon-to-be-released Sombra—both worthy substitutes for añejo tequila or single-malt Scotch—neat. And if you're feeling experimental, add a splash to an old-fashioned made with tequila.