I’m always paranoid about not being able to find the entrance to a speakeasy, but on my first visit to Osito’s Tap, I’d been told what to look for: a red neon Chihuahua. I could see it glowing above an open door in the back of Moreno’s Liquors, beyond the aisles of agave spirits and stacks of White Claw.
That Chihuahua is a likeness of Osito, the Moreno family dog. His namesake bar, which opened in November, is the first craft cocktail spot in Little Village, the epicenter of Chicago’s Mexican community. Already it’s become a favorite hangout for locals — owner Mike Moreno Jr. says that 75 percent of his customers are from the neighborhood or are industry types who’ve come to taste hard-to-find mezcals and the many cool things bar manager Denisse Soto does with them.
My mezcal tasting included a pour of fruity, aromatic 5 Sentidos Tobalá, which was served in a bright blue glazed cup, but more memorable was El Oscuro, an old-fashioned made with chile liqueur and chocolate and orange bitters. Sweet, spicy, and smoky, it summed up what Soto does best: giving traditional cocktails a bold Mexican inflection by subbing in agave spirits or using ingredients like roasted corn, epazote, and Jarritos. She also breathes new life into traditional Mexican specialties like tepache, a fermented pineapple drink, which she punches up with tamarind and ages in a bourbon barrel so it’s funky, woody, and tart. I especially loved the Agave Sazerac, a blend of reposado tequila and agave nectar that’s softer than the whiskey version. Word of advice: Order the meat and cheese board when you arrive. For one thing, it’s delicious — mine included dry-aged chorizo and marinated queso fresco — and it’ll also keep the evening from getting too sodden. Because Osito’s is the kind of place that makes you want to stay awhile. 2553 S. Ridgeway Ave., Little Village