If you're new to mezcal (tequila's lesser-known cousin), this downtown den is a great place to start a strong and smoky love affair. With its well-informed bartenders and on-point cocktail menu, Ebanos Crossing will win over even the most discerning drinker. A nod to the Texas-Mexico border's bootlegging days, the drink program curated by Mayahuel's mixology master Philip Ward has a strong focus toward '20s smuggling spirits like gin and whiskey. But where Ward really shines are in his well-balanced—not to mention boozy—mezcal concoctions, ranging from the refreshing Angel's Flight ($12), saturated in citrusy sweetness from Pamplemousse and Aperol, to the complex Ebanos Old Fashion ($12), which brilliantly marries a vanilla-edged Chichicapa mezcal with their house-made bacon-infused bourbon. Ebanos Crossing raises the standard for this city's pre-Prohibition bar scene. You'd best give it a try before the place gets too trendy.
Good for: Getting a solid primer on agave spirits from some very savvy bartenders. Sample as many craft cocktails as your liver can take Tuesday through Friday from 5 to 8 p.m. (otherwise known as "Crossing Hour"). Wash down fresh oysters ($2 apiece), chicken sliders and catfish tacos ($6) with $7 cocktails, ranging from an invigorating ginger-grapefruit Jet Scream to the ancho-chili-infused Pueblocita. The latter will put hair on your chest. And keep in mind, the drinks come out fast.
The scene: The dark, bordello-y bar located at the edge of Bunker Hill shoots for (and hits) "forbidden sexiness" without being a speakeasy gimmick. Plush sofa seating and exposed brick fill an expansive space, formerly a 24-hour pho restaurant, splashed in red light and twinkling chandeliers. Real craft cocktail lovers will set up camp on stools around the bar in the entrance, while the back room's got more of a clubby vibe, DJ booth and all. It's hit-or-miss in terms of crowds, but when it's busy, it's busy.
The playlist: Surprisingly the place was empty on a Thursday night and the venue's playlist consisted of glorious oldies from the likes of Diana Ross, Jackson 5, and Martha & The Vandellas. With a little mezcal in the system, those tunes definitely got the shoulders shimmying. But the sound system really gets put to use when the DJ arrives. And at that point, it's anyone's bet what they're going to spin.
The bartender says: Sit at the bar and the bartender might be nice enough to let you sample some high quality mezcal out of a traditional copita (small clay cup). There's every kind of drink here, just depends on your mood. Thank Ward's New York legacy for the very strong libations. There isn't a margarita in sight, though you could probably order one. But with so many excellent options, why even go there?
Drink this: The Jet Scream ($12; $7 during happy hour) is a perfect balance of sweet and smoky. The golden libation is made over crushed ice, with a fresh flavor that highlights ginger, lemon and grapefruit, and a dash of cinnamon. Don't miss Ward's twist on the old fashioned, a brilliant concoction of house-made bacon-infused bourbon, smoky mezcal, agave, angostura bitters and an addicting candied bacon garnish. It goes down like iced tea.