Are you a fan of tequila? What about authentic Texas-style Mexican food? And are you free and local on Jul. 24? If the answers to those questions are yes, yes and yes, then you will probably want to be spending your Sunday at Avenida Cantina on Avenue B. One of the local establishments that will be celebrating National Tequila Day, Avenida Cantina will be offering flights and other specials for the occasion.
In advance of the event, Avenida Cantina owner Josh Gent caught up with Downtown about his very fine establishment. Josh — a native New Yorker — opened up Avenida Cantina with three Texans: Allison Baxley, Dustin Baxley, and Christen Hagan. Practically its own establishment, Avenida Cantina has a downstairs space known as The Mockingbird Bar, which one can easily describe as a tequila speakeasy. Avenida Cantina also has a sister restaurant in Double Wide Bar & Southern Kitchen, as located on East 12th Street.
For more information on Avenida Cantina, click on over to www.avenidacantina.com. The establishment also maintains a presence on Twitter and Instagram. Josh himself, a musician outside of his Avenida Cantina-related work, is on Twitter as @ElGant.
Any idea where the idea for National Tequila Day came from?
Josh Gent: The holiday gives people a chance to explore and celebrate a great spirit that sometimes gets a bad rep. Many people do not realize there are many different types that taste slightly different –- not just like the classic shot. On National Tequila Day, people can enjoy the spirit in its refreshing, natural element. For us, everyday should be National Tequila Day!
Lately we’re seeing a big shift in folks choosing to drink tequila over other spirits. Tequila used to have a stigma, that having a few shots can cause you to act wild. I think over the years, people have learned to experience tequila in a more discerning way, enjoying the nuances and depth of each different kind. Enjoying a silver or reposado appeals to people looking for a smooth, easy-drinking liquor. And the barrel-aged smokiness of some of the anejos and mezcals is pleasing to someone who’s accustomed to a scotch or bourbon.
As one of the largest tequila-focused restaurants in Manhattan, we’ve seen patrons move to tequila from whiskey as their new drink of choice every day! Overall, there is a rise in tequila sales as people want a cleaner spirit than the brown liquors they drank in the past. At Avenida Cantina, we revel in introducing our guests to the world of tequilas and teaching them to find their favorite brands.
What does Avenida Cantina have in store for National Tequila Day?
JG: We will have a flight available of different silvers, reposados, anejos, and mescals at both Avenida Cantina and The Mockingbird, our tequila speakeasy bar below the restaurant.
We will have our awesome Margaritas on special as well. We only use fresh-squeezed lime juice, Cointreau and agave for our Margaritas. In addition, we have fresh fruit purées for all of our frozens…Jalepeno Cucumber, Strawberry, Mango, Pineapple, Peach Habenero, and my current favorite, Blueberry…
Or there are always our delicious tequila-focused cocktails at The Mockingbird: Mexican Martini, Mezcal Mule, Jalapeño Basil Martini…Need I go on?
No, that’s alright. Any other promotions or events coming up we should know about?
JG: We always have specials at our restaurant! 2 for one cans of beer for lunch, Margarita Monday, Taco Tuesday ($2 tacos), Wing Wednesday (we smoke our own wings in-house), half-priced specialty cocktails on Thursday, and a two-hour all you can drink during brunch for $18.36! (Texan year of independence)
How would you describe Avenida Cantina to someone who hasn’t yet been there?
JG: Avenida Cantina will feel a lot like home with recipes passed through generations — authentic, down home and unpretentious — and an 80’s San Antonio vibe. Casual, fun, Tex-Mex….lots of queso and awesome things to pour it on.
What’s your favorite item on the menu there?
JG: Most — including myself — love the fried stuffed avocado best. We split an avocado, fry it lightly, fill it with salsa verde chicken or beef picadillo, then drizzle it with white queso and top it with pico de gallo. It is an impressive sight!
On your menu there’s an appetizer called Big Al’s Special. Who is Big Al?
JG: Big Al is actually Allison Baxley, who is actually rather small. She is one of my partners at Avenida. She’s from Rockport, Texas and her favorite version of queso comes with breakfast sausage mixed in. It’s one of her families’ recipes — it is AWESOME.
The Mockingbird is underneath Avenida Cantina. Do they share the same menu? How do the two spots compare?
JG: The Mockingbird is a tequila speakeasy located directly downstairs. It serves as more of a cocktail bar and event space. We do a limited menu downstairs for those that want something to snack on until 10:00 PM daily; the restaurant stops serving at 12:30 AM during the week and at 3:00 AM on the weekends. We have a special list of cocktails down there and a great nighttime vibe. We have a lot to live up to since it was once an iconic venue in the early 90s called Save The Robots.
There’s of course a Tex-Mex influence to your cuisine there, so what brought you to New York?
JG: I am from New York and my partners — including my girlfriend — are all from Texas. I am a die-hard fan of Tex Mex and I wanted to bring it here along with a casual atmosphere indicative of most Tex Mex places in Texas. New Yorkers are known for making everything pretentious, and I really wanted to steer it in the opposite direction. Good margaritas and tacos, enchiladas or burritos, and listening to anything from classic rock and old-school hip-hop, to new wave and reggae.
Prior to owning Avenida Cantina, had you owned a restaurant before?
JG: I’ve been involved in a number of bars and restaurants in New York on a managerial or investor level for the past 12 years, but this is my first baby. Our owner Christen Hagan also owns Double Wide up the street on 12th [Street] and Avenue A.
How did the decision come about to have your restaurant downtown? Do you live around there?
JG: After hanging out in the Lower East Side for the past 20 years and having our sister bar 10 blocks away — Double Wide Bar & Southern Kitchen — it was a no brainer. The energy is unlike anywhere else in New York City down in the underbelly of the East Village.
When not busy with Avenida Cantina, how do you like to spend your free time?
JG: What’s free time? (laughs) I also make music for a living. We have incorporated that tremendously with the vibe and lifestyle of our brand.
Other than Avenida Cantina, do you have another favorite restaurant?
JG: My favorite restaurant is right around the corner from Avenida — Supper on 2nd Street. Kat the bartender is the best, and the veal meatballs are dream-worthy.
Finally, any last words for the kids?
JG: It’s been a dream of mine to smoke brisket for 12 hours on a hot summer day in New York City, put it into a taco, and feed everyone that lines up for it. Ecstatic to see it coming true!