Mezcal and tequila are making a comeback — not just as sophisticated sipping liquors, but as ingredients in ambitious cocktail menus around the valley. With Mama Rabbit in Park MGM, Bricia Lopez, of the famed Oaxacan restaurant Guelaguetza, has married tradition and innovation by incorporating tequila and mezcal into a high-concept cocktail program. Lopez recently shared her thoughts on mezcal, Mama Rabbit, the L.A.-Las Vegas connection, and more.
You've been very successful in L.A. Why expand to Las Vegas?
What MGM is doing is being at the forefront of innovation in Vegas. I love that they're connecting not only the L.A. culture but L.A. subculture. Being part of that little corner of Park MGM seems so natural and perfect. I've been interviewed many times about mezcal and people always ask me, “When do you think mezcal will reach the masses?” I remember thinking to myself the world will fully embrace mezcal when Vegas embraces mezcal. Vegas is such a window to the world. So when the opportunity came knocking on my door, it almost felt like mezcal was kind of calling me back. It was almost a no-brainer: I can instill my passion, my love, my heritage, my me into something so it can be respected and be introduced for the first time in a formal setting.
What do you think the key is to persuading the average tourist — who may have a more timid palate — to try mezcal?
Cocktails. For me, having incredible cocktails is going to be the key, because you can really turn somebody with a cocktail. We're taking the program very seriously. We're taking salt very seriously at Mama Rabbit, too, because it adds a different layer of flavor. Not just that, but within tequila, there's so much more craft. We're going to have brands that are really making an extra effort to maintain tequila at a very craft level. Just having fun with changing people's perception of what they think it should be.
For those who are unfamiliar with Oaxacan cuisine, what do they need to know?
Oaxacan cuisine has a lot of smoke, a lot of herbs, a lot of spices that you're not going to find in different traditional Northern Mexico, Central Mexico. Flavors tend to go deeper, they’re bolder, they’re more intense. That's kind of why our drink, mezcal, is the same way.
How do you balance sticking to tradition but also trying to appeal to a modern palate?
There's something so incredible about tradition — that it’s tradition and it will never go away. There's a reason why certain things will never go out of style. You can always reinvent the way they look. You can appeal visually to people. The flavor will never change, but you can always play with the way people see seeing things. That's where creativity comes in. That's when the fun begins.
There's a word that pops up in pieces written about restaurants that represent cuisines from different countries — authenticity. It can be problematic in the way it’s used when describing a restaurant. What does authenticity mean to you?
I constantly say to people, “It's going to be authentic to me,” and I think authenticity is unique to someone. The way one person grew up. Authenticity is a singular — it doesn't represent a mass or people. Everything that we do at my restaurant and what I do at Mama Rabbit is going to be authentically Bri and that's something only I can do. I cannot be authentic for an entire culture. It's impossible.
You’ve participated in a roundtable discussion on immigration with the previous administration—
The only administration that matters.
Considering the extreme measures the current administration has taken on immigration, what do you see as the way forward?
For me, the way forward is always representation. I fight so hard to represent for my people, for not just my people but for my girls, my other women, my Latina sisters. When I speak of diversity, to see it in print, to see it in the movies, to see it in restaurants, to see it everywhere. To fight for more representation, that's the way I can be part of that.
So you’re not even talking in politics, you’re talking about pop culture.
Because I think that's how you teach people. That's how you change stereotypes. That's how you change perceptions of how people should look like and be and not caricaturize someone else's culture.
On a personal note, you’re from L.A.. Vegas is kind of close. Has your perception of it changed now that you’re seeing it through slightly different eyes — a businesswoman’s eyes rather than a visitor?
Not really. Vegas is Vegas. I used to come to Vegas when I was like 14 years old with my parents. We came to Vegas a lot, and my dad would always be like, “One day we're going to have a place in Vegas,” and all the kids were like, “Okay, Dad.” And now I’m doing something here, so it's a real trip. Looking back, I think there was a part of me that probably really believed it. I don't want to get goofy about it, but I definitely think in some sort of way that manifested into what it is today.