A hidden gem exists inside one of downtown St. Pete’s most popular spots for a meal. Florida’s biggest tequila library, one of the largest tequila bars in the south, can be found just inside the doors at Red Mesa Cantina.
The massive collection includes more than 400 tequilas and 100+ mezcals, all available as sippers or as the star ingredient in a cocktail. And the good news is that the list has plenty of options for any budget. Thrifty drinkers can find a smorgasboard of great tequilas available for single-digit dollars, while adventurous imbibers are able to sip on all manner of rare and high-end plata, reposado, anejo and mezcal.
For those whose experiences with tequila are limited to fruity drinks or cough-inducing shots of whatever is cheapest (no shame in either, they both have their time and place), Cantina’s tequila-filled library offers a boozy education on just how great the spirit can be. It may seem counterintuitive to some, but the premier aged tequilas and mezcals are right up there with the best aged bourbons. And because the rules for producing tequila are far less strict, the end result is a far wider spectrum of flavors.
Cantina’s tequila book – because “menu” doesn’t do the binder full of spirits justice – lists tasting notes next to each option, so you can steer your experience into safer waters. Some are on the sweeter side with notes of oak, honey, maple or caramel. Others hit the spicy side with notes of pepper, ginger, allspice or even sea salt.
Smoky mezcal brings the heat – and the sweet, and the savory
When it comes to mezcal, the flavors really get wild. The Clase Azul, for example, promises blackberry and BBQ on the palate. The Scorpion Tobala brings kiwi and grass to the forefront. One of Cantina’s standout bottles, Bozcal Borrego, delivers lightly sweet notes of persimmon alongside savory flavors of lamb. Weird as it sounds, it’s delicious, and a personal favorite of the owners.
Of course, the list changes often, particularly among the more unique options, as bottle availability ebbs and flows. But the core of the list stays steady and always runs deep. The cocktail menu itself even comes with a list of nearly 50 readily available tequilas and mezcals.
And if the idea of sipping tequila neat rather than knocking it back as fast as possible doesn’t sound promising, it’s worth perusing the list and trying new spirits in your favorite cocktail. After all, there are far worse ways to pass an afternoon than sitting in the courtyard and drinking a margarita with The People’s Tequila, Dwayne Johnson’s popular brand Teremana.
Located at 128 3rd Street South, Red Mesa Cantina opens daily at 11 am and is home to some of St. Pete’s best Latin, Caribbean and Tex-Mex fare.