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On a balmy spring night, more than 100 New Yorkers filled the event space at Cantina Royal, a hip Mexican haunt in Williamsburg, for Mexican-American journalist Daniel Hernández’s “Down and Delirious in Mexico City” book party.

The young, diverse crowd sipped margaritas as they listened to Hernández read a passage about subcultures in Mexico‘s capital.

In a way, they were also replicating the same kinds of scenes the book portrays. Cantina Royal is bringing the Mexico City bar culture staple – the cantina – to New York.

“The cantina is neither bar nor restaurant, it’s somewhere in between,” said Felipe Méndez, co-owner of Cantina Royal, which opened in late February. “It’s a totally different scene where you sit, converse and listen to good music.”

Méndez, who also owns the Williamsburg Mexican restaurant La Superior, and business partner Julio Mora, chef at Cantina, are taking full advantage of the large space to host film screenings, art shows and other cultural events.

Filmmaker Jano Mejía joined the venture and brought in his connections to Mexico City’s art and film worlds.

“I think that Mexico City right now is very strong in culture and atmosphere,” said Mejía. “It was a principal idea to bring the real thing and to have a type of exchange between New York and Mexico City.”

Like Cantina Royal, the lower East Side’s Casa Mezcal also boasts a visual artist as a co-owner. Painter Guillermo Olguín opened the Manhattan space with the restaurateur Ignacio Carballido last summer.

Casa Mezcal’s concept revolves around its namesake agave-derived spirit, which the two restaurateurs distill and bottle in the southwestern Mexican state of Oaxaca.

“We wanted to introduce mezcal to New York,” said Carballido.

“We felt no one here knew much about it. No one knew how to drink it or how to enjoy it.”

They own a small tasting room in Oaxaca City and export their product to four U.S. states.

The three-story cultural center, which took a year and half and nearly a million dollars to construct, contains a cinema, art space and live music venue. In addition, there’s the bar and restaurant – all designed to re-create the energy of the Oaxacan capital.

“Oaxaca is full of artists – there are a lot of writers and photographers and they sit down around the zocalo in a cafe in the afternoon and sip mezcal and they just talk,” said Carballido. “So we wanted to simulate something like this.”

In January, they inaugurated their art space with the work of Mexican photographer Damián Siqueiros.

“The whole idea of the gallery,” says Carballido, “is to give opportunities to young artists who don’t have the resources to show in a gallery in New York City.” [Daily News Latino]

Cantina Royal - Hip Mexican Arrives in Williamsburg
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