The Rayo team with Tito Pin-Perez (bottom row, centre) and Álvaro García (bottom row, right)

Rayo’s Tito Pin-Perez and Álvaro García on creating North America’s best new bar

05 May, 2023

Rayo was opened in Mexico City in January 2022 by two ex-pats wanting to champion Mexican ingredients, a little over a year later and the bar placed number 17 on North America’s 50 Best Bars 2023 and was named Best New Opening. Drinks International caught up with its founders, Tito Pin-Perez and Álvaro García.

Rayo’s rise to international recognition isn’t a great shock. Have a drink with its founders, Tito Pin-Perez and Álvaro García, and you’ll quickly realise that their shared passion and ambition was always an irrepressible pairing. Perhaps the only surprise is how quickly they’ve managed it.

Their partnership makes perfect sense. Originally from northern Spain, García’s background in luxury hotels has included the Ritz Carlton in Shanghai, the Four Seasons in Miami and Costa Rica before the call came from Fifty Mils in Mexico City in search of a general manager.

Tito Pin-Perez, a New Yorker who was part of the team at Dante when the bar was named best in the world in 2019. After Dante, he founded his own one-man cocktail brand, Bar Conscious, and kitted out a 1962 Shasta Camper as a mobile bar. Pin-Perez had just got the project rolling when covid hit.

“My identity was stripped from me, I had to rebuild myself,” says Pin-Perez. “I discovered I wasn’t just a bartender, I was a creative. In order to survive I had to make new businesses and do things on my own, that gave me courage.”

This mentality brought Pin-Perez to Mexico, a country that had kept its borders open when the world locked down. On a consulting trip to San Miguel de Allende, Pin-Perez and García would meet and, with García looking for a new challenge to follow Fifty Mils, the pair teamed up on a craft cocktail ice company. It was as the ice company was beginning to take shape the pair were offered a space for a bar above the acclaimed modern fine-dining restaurant, Fónico, a space that soon became Rayo.

“We had a discussion,” explains García. “We sat down and talked about creating a concept, a really high-end, classy cocktail bar that is talking about Mexico. We wanted to take everything we’ve seen in Mexico City and create something different. We’re not a speakeasy, we’re not open on the street like [Licoreria] Limantour, we’re on the third floor of one of the city’s oldest houses so we have to talk about its history through what we do. So, we brought in a pastry chef because we want to have the best garnishes. We have a bar prep team with a laboratory, and with Tito as a supervising director.”

The pair also created a concept, to champion Mexican flavours and ingredients. The name Rayo in itself is a reference to this. The legend goes that when an agave grew from the grave of the Aztec goddess, Mayahuel, it was struck by a bolt of lightning, un rayo, splitting and cooking the liquid which then fermented, producing the traditional fermented agave drink, pulque.

“Working with only Mexican ingredients has been an inspiration,” says Pin-Perez. “In New York, I could find everything possible, it’s easy to use say an apricot liqueur with a Japanese whisky and anything else, we don’t get that here. In the beginning it was frustrating, I was trying to order Giffard and Scotch, and firstly it’s not viable from a cost perspective but also it’s hard to find so your bar programme won’t have consistency. But if you know the profile and palate, it’s liberating. We can infuse and redistill and make our own stuff. If we can think it, we make it, the limitation is our creativity.”

In April, the bar launched its new menu. An ambitious list of 10 drinks, each representing a region of Mexico. Alongside a written list the menu takes the form of a box of tasting samples of each drink. It’s a slice of the Mexican kitchen. Drinks arrive with garnishes of chicharron, or mole, or a moulded false esquite. And it’s not just agave. There are Mexican rums, whisky, sotol, and pox too.

“[With the new menu] We wanted to showcase Rayo but take it further,” says García. “If we take this menu to a pop-up in Hong Kong, even if someone has never been to Mexico, these drinks will give them an insight into Mexico.”

The Mexico City cocktail scene continues to raise its own high bar and Rayo has become the latest cherry on top of a cake that is becoming cartoonishly overloaded.

“We’re in another golden age of the spirits industry and it’s happening in Mexico,” says Pin-Perez.

“When Mexico kept its borders in during the pandemic, it brought in a lot of amazing creatives who came in and are amazed at how much is here. There’s no reason to obsess about the things outside of Mexico, we have everything we need here.”

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