Tuesday, June 25, 2024

El Gallo Altanero is Guadalajara’s best bar: what’s its secret?

Fourteen Mexican establishments appear on the 2023 list of North America’s 50 Best Bars. For the second year running, the 21st spot has gone to Guadalajara’s El Gallo Altanero, located in the heart of the city’s Colonia Americana, which Time Out Magazine named the “Coolest Neighborhood in the World” in 2022.

“What’s your secret?” I asked the bar’s owner Nick Reid, an Australian who’s been in the tequila business for many a year.

El Gallo Altanero's staff.
The crew of El Gallo Altanero.

“This bar was literally created to support small brands of agave distillers,” Reid told me. “Nobody else seemed to care about them, but to me, agave spirits are something special — for one thing because of the amount of time it takes to make it. 

“And then there’s the connection with nature because it takes eight years to show. But the big companies dominate the market, and I felt like theirs were the only stories being told — because they’ve got the big money.”

Reid’s conclusion? 

“We need to have a platform for small brands to tell their story,” he said. “I want a bar that will only do small brands.”

Nick Reid
Co-owner Nick Reid explores the ruins of an ancient distillery in Jalisco’s Santa Rosa Canyon. (Photo: John Pint)

So Reid opened such a bar, and it became quite popular. “More than a cocktail bar,” he said. “I’d say it’s a party bar. It’s a strange place.”

Strangest of all may be its name: Reid’s partner in this enterprise, Swede Freddy Andreasson, translates it as “The Unyielding Rooster.” The word altanero also refers to high-flying birds, but because roosters can’t actually fly, Andreasson says, the message is: “Against all odds, I will fly!”

There is actually a real live rooster behind the bar’s name. It seems that once upon a time, Reid was attending a funeral in the countryside for a much-respected don of the community. In the church, Reid noticed an old man sitting in a pew with a rooster in his lap. 

“Why is there a rooster in the church?” Reid asked someone discreetly. 

Rooster in flight
Roosters and chickens can fly… a bit. The record is said to be 92 meters, set in 2014. (Photo: Jason Roberts)

“Oh, it has to be here,” said his informant. “That rooster was the old man’s pride and joy.”

Why is Reid’s bar so popular? 

“El Gallo Altanero mixes great hospitality with great product and with integrity,” said Andreasson, universally nicknamed El Güero. “From day one,” he said, “we were focused on one idea: [that] people are going to have a good time at this bar!

“I think a cocktail bar focused on agave could be a little bit boring, or maybe the bar might take itself too seriously, so we wanted to create an environment where if you want to learn something, you can, and if all you want is to have a good time, you can come just for that. We don’t want to force anything on anyone, but… if you’re looking to learn something about agave, we’re happy to teach you.”

“We work with smaller producers, and we have great relations with them. By doing this, we’ve created integrity, and I think people respect that.”

The Unyielding Rooster also puts on one heck of a good show.

Man feeds wood-fire oven.
The bar supports local brands like Raicilla la Reina, here pictured making spirits the old fashioned way in Jalisco’s remote Sierra Jolapa. (Photo: John Pint)

Each month, the bar’s owners invite guest bartenders from Europe, the U.S. or somewhere else in Latin America to come to Guadalajara and take over the bar.

“We also invite the local bar community to come and see what we all can learn,” Andreasson said. “This kind of takeover is not only about having a good time, but it’s also about sharing knowledge, especially with the local bar community.”

Guests at El Gallo Altanero have included bartenders from the world-class bars Attaboy and Katana Kitten in New York City. 

“Katana delivered an exceptional hospitality experience, full of surprises, full of fun,” Andreasson told me. 

“And then, last week, we had an amazing bartender from Vermont named Ivy Mix, who now has a bar named Leyenda in Brooklyn. Ivy is a veritable fountain of knowledge. She’s been in the game for a long time, and she’s written a book called ‘Spirits of Latin America,’ which offers a great introduction to drinks like Perú’s pisco, and Brazil’s cachaça. But I believe most of the great bars in the world realize that it’s not about the cocktails — it’s about their customers’ experience.”

I asked El Güero about La Colonia Americana, not only the neighborhood where El Gallo is located but also in which Andreasson been living for eight years.

“It tops a list of 50 of the Coolest Neighborhoods You Don’t Know, and I can see why,” he said. “It’s a very livable place, very different from anywhere else. It has its own character. I don’t think there’s a neighborhood in the world that looks the same or feels the same. And it’s fairly small.”

Andreasson notes how his barrio‘s composition has been changing over the years. Americans, he said, used to come there to retire.

“But now, they’re looking for places to live from which they can work remotely, where they can have lower overheads, where they can spend less money and make more money.”

Andreasson calls the Colonia Americana “a very special community that likes to stick to its guns. They do things their way, especially culinarily and culturally. So this is a place where you don’t find replicas of everything. Instead, you find original concepts that come from the state of Jalisco.”

Included among those original concepts, of course is El Gallo. As one of their frequent customers told me, “This barrio is cool, alright, but the coolest place of all is El Gallo Altanero.”

The writer has lived near Guadalajara, Jalisco, since 1985. His most recent book is Outdoors in Western Mexico, Volume Three. More of his writing can be found on his blog.

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