Bar owner Areli Escotto is a force to be reckoned with. We recently spent nearly five weeks in Mexico with a month in Puerto Escondido, located on the Southern Coast of Oaxaca, and then hit up Mexico City for a few days on the way home. When we were in Puerto Escondido, our friend Lindsay told us that we should reach out to this woman called Areli. She happened to own a beer garden where we were, as well as one in Mexico City. And also a cocktail bar there. Oh, and she also owns a hostel in Mexico City. Lindsay described her as a badass boss lady and with that we knew that we had to meet her.
While in Puerto Escondido, we visited Jardin Escondido and immediately fell in love. Located right on the beach of Zicatela, it is a beautiful space with white painted picnic tables, hammocks, lush tropical plants… oh, and some ridiculously awesome beers. We then made plans to meet Areli when we got to CDMX at Jardin Chapultepec. My first thought when we walked in was: this would never be allowed in Canada! The converted parking lot was lined with picnic tables and jammed with people drinking beer. It had a similar vibe to Jardin Escondido but with a city feel and we loved it. Immediately when we met Areli, I knew we would be friends. She’s a lifer. Areli is someone who is hardworking and is always dreaming big which is something that I really love and respect. She was born and raised in Mexico City, studied Industrial Design in College and spent a year in Berlin where she got to experience her first beer gardens. Not long after her time there, she realised that she wanted to be a business owner. First came the hostel. Then the cocktail bar, Ladina Bar which three years later she partnered with some friends on. Just over two years ago she partnered with some other pals to open Jardin Chapultepec which is located in the Roma Norte neighbourhood of Mexico City. Most recently they opened Jardin Escondido. This woman seriously never stops! Inspired by her time in Germany, opening the Beer Gardens seemed like a natural thing to do, even though the concept of them is relatively new for the Mexican market. In the twelve years that I have spent regularly traveling to Mexico, I have seen the Mexican craft beer world explode. It was about time that someone should jump on to really start showcasing it. Mexican beer is no longer Coronas with a slice of lime, there are many more delicious options out there from local breweries. We interviewed Areli to find out more about all that she does and about what it is like to be a bar owner in Mexico.
Bartender Atlas: When did you start working in bars and what was your role there?
Areli Escotto: Before opening my own bar, I had never ever actually worked in one. After college I worked for an art collective and later on worked in retail until I realized I wanted to open my own business and opened the hostel in 2009 with the help of my mother and brother. After two years of managing the hostel I decided to open a bar, Ladina Bar, on the ground floor of the building, without having a clue about managing or owning bars. Opening a bar is something that I always wanted to do since I was very young. I always thought of it as an extremely relaxed, easy and fun thing to do and boy was I wrong! It’s fun for sure but definitely not easy.
BA: So you own a hostel, two beer gardens and a cocktail bar in Mexico. Am I missing anything else? What came first?
AE: I started off with the hostel which gave me experience in management, the bar came naturally second and then the beer gardens.
BA: What made you decide to open a beer garden in Mexico City?
AE: So I already had experience with a bar and a hostel and was looking to open something different. My boyfriend and I were looking for available spots and found an empty parking lot for rent! It’s really hard to find a place like that in the city, so we decided to rent it and later on figure out what to do with it, which is when I came up with the idea of the beer garden, an open-air place in the middle of the crowded city.
BA: Can you describe what Jardin Chapultepec is like?
AE: It’s a classic beer garden with wooden tables, lots of plants and great music. We serve Mexican craft beer, classic and house cocktails and a combination of Mexican and International food. Hamburgers, tacos, fish n’ chips, german sausages, sandwiches, etc. We have a boozy brunch every weekend and we organize events such as a vinyl market every month, a book market, and activities to bring the community together.
BA: Since we all know that beer gardens are not a common thing in Mexico, what have been your challenges with it?
AE: The whole system of sharing tables, ordering and paying at the bar and not having waiters was something people had to get used to, it’s not a common thing in Mexico. Apart from that we became a very popular spot very early on, we were very well received, people really liked our concept.
BA: How long after opening Jardin Chapultepec did you decide to open another beer garden, many kilometres away on the Pacific coast in Puerto Escondido, Oaxaca? What was your reasoning and goals for that?
AE: A year and a half after opening the beer garden in Mexico City my boyfriend and I took a week off and went to PE, I hadn’t been back there in a long time. The place had changed a lot, we loved it and realized it was the perfect place for a beach beer garden. No one was selling tap beer or craft beer, so we thought that replicating what we had in DF but on the beach would work, the beer, the cocktails, the food, and it did. Besides who doesn’t want to own a bar on the beach?
BA: How does Jardin Escondido differ from its Mexico City sister?
AE: For starters the beach, we are right there on the sand, steps away from the Pacific Ocean, with great views and sunsets. The food we serve is mostly the same but obviously I added a lot of fresh seafood dishes. The cocktails we make there are more exotic. There’s more room for experimenting, we have more mezcal cocktails there. The service is more relaxed and so are the customers, people stay longer, the way they interact with the space is different. In PE out beer garden is more like a beach club where people spend the whole day, they are in no hurry.
BA: What are the challenges of having a craft beer and cocktail focussed bar in a small and pretty isolated market like Puerto Escondido?
AE: It was hard at first, introducing new beer and cocktails, finding ingredients, bottles and even bar tools was very hard. People are used to commercial beer, Corona, etc. beach cocktails like margaritas or piña coladas, not many other cocktails. It was a mix of patience, strategy (we drive from Mexico City to PE every two months and fill the car with tools, bottles, etc) and word of mouth that made us be able to maintain the concept.
BA: What is your cocktail bar in Mexico City like?
AE: Ladina Bar, the cocktail bar is on the ground floor of our hostel, is in the Roma neighbourhood, our customers range from backpackers, to locals to expats, young and old, we have a very eclectic mix of people, from the tourists looking to try Mexican craft beer and different mezcals to cocktail enthusiasts and foodies as well as a more relaxed crowd looking for a mixed drink. Our main goal with this bar was to be the neighbourhood bar that makes great cocktails and food at affordable prices. Our cocktails go from classics to house cocktails, Tiki, Mezcal cocktails, beer cocktails. We specialize in modern Mexican food. We have Tiki nights every Wednesday and are currently organizing a Rum Week from the 14th-17th of March with Flor de Caña, Ron Barceló, Bacardi and Sailor Jerry. This is our first time organizing the rum week but we hope we can turn it into a bigger rum event next year.
BA: What are the challenges of being a bar owner in Mexico in general?
AE: Being a bar owner in Mexico is really hard. There are a lot of laws that constantly change (not in your favour), very expensive licences and permits and the authorities are constantly trying to get money from you. It’s a lot of work and bureaucracy.
BA: What skills did you bring from other parts of your life in order to be a successful bar owner?
AE: I’m very impulsive, which is not really a skill, it’s a blessing and a curse. I tend to just decide on things fast and make things happen. I don’t get easily scared and I’m not afraid of failing, which I have in the past in other businesses.
BA: Do you have any future projects on the horizon that we should look forward to?
AE: We want to open beer gardens all over Mexico, the next one probably in Oaxaca City this year and a Tiki bar in Mexico City.
Thank you Areli for taking the time to chat!