Bar Sótano space
All photos courtesy of Bar Sótano

Dish By DishChicago

What to Drink at Rick Bayless’ Agave Speakeasy Bar Sótano


In a city that loves speakeasies, Bar Sótano stands out. Opened in 2018 by culinary icon Rick Bayless with his daughter Lanie Bayless, this speakeasy combines a passion for agave spirits with market-driven ingredients and Mexican inspirations, creating cocktails that feel familiar but swerve in unexpectedly delicious directions, thanks to chef Jacqueline Hernandez and GM/beverage director Julianna Arquilla.

Take the silky, verdant, and herbaceous Guacamole 3.0 cocktail, made with avocado purée and jalapeño-infused Tequila. Or the Mexican 75, which revives the beloved ‘90s-era flavor kiwi-strawberry. 

In true Chicago fashion, the entrance to the subterranean venue is located in an alley behind Clark Street and beneath Frontera Grill. Guests ride a freight elevator down one floor, and once inside, the low ceiling, sleek gray stone walls, plush banquette seating, and chic high tops all create a sophisticated and welcoming atmosphere — and a pleasant departure from the usual bohemian speakeasy vibe. 

“Bar Sótano is customizable: you can come in just for happy hour and have some snacks, you can sit down and have an amazing dinner, or come down just for an after-dinner drink,” says Arquilla. “It’s as fancy as you want to make it or as casual. It’s just a really fun cozy basement with endless possibilities.” And there are Mexican bar bites, too, like crispy lion’s mane mushroom tacos, and bone marrow smothered in salsa macha. 

Arquilla’s mezcal journey bloomed after her first “real” sip of mezcal. “I remember the first time I tried proper mezcal many years ago, I was like, ‘What is this? This is so wild, I need to learn more,’” she laughs. She has since become a mezcal maestro, creating many of the cocktails you’ll find on the menu. “Even if you come in with little to no knowledge about mezcal or agave in general, if you want to learn, we’ll teach you,” she says. We caught up with Arquilla to get the scoop on her favorite cocktails — and what makes them stand out.

Bar Sótano Taco Al Pastor cocktail
Bar Sótano Taco Al Pastor cocktail

Taco Al Pastor

“We have three categories: “cocktails in the spotlight”; “cocktails in the market”; and “greatest hits.” I’m going to start with three of our “greatest hits,” which are cocktails that have been on the menu since day one. These cocktails take ingredients that may not seem approachable, and make them so.

“The first one is the Taco Al Pastor, which is super unique to us. We always try to work with savory ingredients and make a savory cocktail that’s easy to drink. For this one, we take chorizo fat that’s leftover from the kitchen, then fat-wash our mezcal with it and then add achiote homemade bitters, a little bit of lime juice, and caramelized pineapple purée. It also has a little cilantro which gives you a bit of that nose. The result is this nice, bright, sweet, spicy, savory cocktail. But it’s so approachable, you can have more than one of them.

“Fat-washing imparts flavor but also texture to the spirit and gives a richer mouthfeel. You liquefy any fat — you can do bacon fat, brown butter, chorizo, coconut oil, or anything that solidifies. You then put your spirit in there, mix it for a couple hours at room temperature, put it in the freezer, and eventually you will have a fat cap on top. After you remove the fat cap, you strain it through a cheesecloth. It’s a bit more viscous and adds a different weight to the spirit.”

Bar Sótano El Sótano cocktail
Bar Sótano El Sótano cocktail

El Sótano 

“The El Sótano is our namesake cocktail. I love this cocktail so much. When I was first learning to make classic cocktails, the Last Word was one of my favorites. So when I saw the specs for this cocktail, I knew exactly what we were doing. We juice fresh sugarcane every day. So what’s really unique about this cocktail is, instead of Luxardo, we make our own hoja santa syrup for the sweetener [which has almost a sassafras, eucalyptus, and anise-like profile], and add mezcal, and then some green Chartreuse and lime juice. It’s shaken and served up in a coupe with a little dehydrated lime.

“It’s not as sweet as a classic Last Word. This one’s a bit brighter and herbier, but you still have that viscosity from the sugarcane and the addition of the hoja santa makes it not as spirit-forward. It’s such a refreshing one to start your meal with, or just carry you through your entire meal. Even if you’re not a huge green Chartreuse fan, this cocktail is really crushable.”

Bar Sótano Mango Chamoy cocktail
Bar Sótano Mango Chamoy cocktail

Mango Chamoy

“The Mango Chamoy is the cocktail everyone has seen on TikTok. It’s bright orange and can be described as a margarita-meets-agua fresca. The drink is an homage to the popular aguas served in Mexico City, where often you’ll pick your agua, the vendor in the market will put it in a plastic bag, and you can take it with you.​​ This cocktail is served in a plastic bag with a straw, and it has Espolòn  Tequila Blanco, a bit of mango purée, housemade chamoy, a touch of tajín and lime, and is topped with Topo Chico to give it some effervescence. If you’ve ever had a piece of fresh mango with some lime and tajín, that’s what it tastes like. Not crazy spicy, just nice and juicy.

“When we deliver it, sometimes guests are like, ‘Why am I paying for a drink in a bag?’ Other people are like, ‘Heck yes, it’s like college — slap the bag.’ It’s a fun homage and even though it might not be the prettiest thing, it’s really fun and nostalgic for people. I’ve had friends come from Mexico and say, ‘This takes me back to going to the market and getting either a Coca-Cola bag or the agua bag.’ So it’s always fun to see those smiles and the stories that people tell you.”

Bar Sótano Guacamole 3.0 cocktail
Bar Sótano Guacamole 3.0 cocktail

Guacamole 3.0

“For this one, we make a cilantro syrup where we blend cilantro with water, add salt, strain it, and to finish it off, we add equal parts by volume of that cilantro water and sugar, so you get this really bright lovely green syrup. Then we combine that with an avocado purée that we make in-house, Tequila that we infused with jalapeños, and mezcal from Derrumbes San Luis Potosi, which has little to no smoke. It’s nice and herbaceous, and has a briny flavor that plays into the guacamole without adding too much salt. It has that heat and boldness coming through, too, with a silky texture and a delightful flavor. And it’s not too heavy — you don’t feel like you’re drinking straight agave and guacamole. But it’s nice and pretty, and you can definitely have more than one of them.”

Bar Sótano Kiwi-Strawberry Mexican 75 cocktail
Bar Sótano Kiwi-Strawberry Mexican 75 cocktail

Kiwi-Strawberry Mexican 75 

“I worked with one of our bartenders on this one because we’re both ‘90s kids, and we were talking about how everything was kiwi-strawberry in the ‘90s. Candy, drinks, you name it. It was all over the place. So we worked to create a kiwi-strawberry French 75. We infuse Tequila with fresh kiwi, strain it off, add a little bit of this strawberry liqueur, and then to make it not so on-the-nose, we add a little bit of Rosato Ramazzotti, which adds a layer of orange and hibiscus. Then we top it off with some sparkling wine and a little piece of kiwi garnish.

“It makes you think, ‘Wow, Snapple, but elevated.’ It’s fun to do a cheeky drink that still has purpose. I love to use familiar flavors, but then also sneak in something that guests might not know. When guests see something they know on the menu, they trust you and then say, ‘Oh, maybe I do like mezcal or rum, I just haven’t had it in that capacity before.’ It’s always our goal to open people up. There’s a mezcal for everyone and there’s a cocktail for everyone, too.”


Elanor Bock is a Chicago-born professional writer, dancer, and Renaissance woman. Follow her on Instagram. Follow Resy, too.