At Barcoa Agaveria, the tequila is strong, the mezcal is smoky, bright colors pop and Mexican-style music thumps through the speakers. But for co-founders Dave Tyda and Ryan Oberholtzer, all of that came secondary to creating a space that honors and celebrates Mexican heritage.
“Barcoa is inspired by and honors Mexican-style bars,” Oberholtzer says. “We have two floors, one of them is a cantina, very casual and very comfortable style, then one (downstairs) is more of an upgraded, Big City Mexico, craft cocktail style. But almost everything that we have uses spirits that are from agave, which is a spirit that you only get in Mexico, so, tequilas, mezcals, all those fun things.”
Only using spirits from agave certainly doesn’t limit them, though, as Barcoa has 250 different spirits. Tyda says they have about 30 to 35 brands of tequila and each brand has three to four expressions, and the same with the mezcal. Then there is what Tyda called the “funky stuff,” adding more options.
The upstairs cantina has classic Mexican cocktails like margaritas, palomas and a mezcal mule. Downstairs, however, “those are our inventions,” Tyda says. Customers can find flavor combinations they have likely never seen before, like in the leche de pistachio ($15), with mezcal, pistachio milk, coconut cream and lime. Tyda says another one of their interesting basement cocktails is the espresso con cordones ($16), with tequila, espresso and Mexican chocolate coconut cream.
What guests won’t find at Barcoa are celebrity tequilas that are improperly harvested. The reason for this goes back to the whole reason they created the bar in the first place, to honor true Mexican culture.
That wasn’t just a business strategy for them, it was the founding idea that made everything come together.
Oberholtzer says he and his family lived in Guadalajara and had an “incredible experience” with the culture, people and music. When they returned to the states, he says he wanted to share that culture somehow, which is when a mutual friend introduced him to Tyda.
“Most people who open a bar or restaurant start with a business plan…We didn’t do that. It’s almost like this place found us, it all happened simultaneously and serendipitously,” Tyda says about opening Barcoa. “When I said I wanted to open a tequila bar, I was kind of joking. And Ryan just said, ‘I have this taco shop and I love Mexico,’ so what’s the next logical step? But neither one of us really thought through that process, and then it just happened. It’s literally just listening to the universe, pushing us in that direction.”
Tyda says once he and Oberholtzer spoke, they realized they had a similar passion and vision. They say it was very important to them not to just mimic a Mexican bar and put a sugar skull decal on the wall. They wanted people to really experience a Mexican bar and culture in their space.
“One of our big concerns was, ‘How do we do this correctly and in the right way?’ So, we hired a friend who lives in Guadalajara, she’s an interior designer and architect,” Oberholtzer says. “We told her the kind of vision we saw and from there, she designed everything. Her whole purpose was to make this real and make this the way that you would see it in Mexico.”
Everything in the upstairs Cochina is from Mexico — the tables, tiles, cups, decorations, light fixtures. Even the music is a playlist assembled by friends from Mexico so it would sound authentic. And, not entirely planned, Barcoa is located directly behind XICO, a Latino and Indigenous art gallery and working artist studio.
“David and I both have such a love and affinity for Mexico that we knew we couldn’t do it halfway, we had to really do it all,” Oberholtzer says.
Barcoa is a “come as you are” space. The cantina doesn’t take reservations, but they are strongly recommended for The Basement, which offers a higher-end menu and has limited seating. The bar also hosts private parties.
“It’s important to note that we don’t want to feel like we’re representing Mexican culture. We just have a passion for it. We wanted to create a place for us to express that passion for the culture,” Tyda says. “I tend to shy away from the word ‘authentic,’ even though we wanted the place to feel authentic, I don’t think it’s our place to say what is authentic. It’s so important to us when somebody from the Hispanic or Mexican community comes in and says, ‘Thank you for how you created this place.’ It means the world to us. It gives me chills.”
829 N. First Avenue, Phoenix