Any gritty saloon worth its salt has a history of heated card games and bar brawls, a past laced with whiffs of cold tequila and old leather. Angels & Mariachis (1721 W. Division St.), a new nightspot from the Eat Well Drink Better folks (English, The Grand Central, The Central), is no such place. But it is one heck of a good time.

Greater West Townies congregate for the no-muss-no-fuss menu of strong drinks and affordable Mexican food with Southwestern flair, a simple approach to bar fare that presents a striking contrast to the chock-a-block décor. Icons of saints rub shoulders with Day of the Dead figurines; images of cowboys and Lucha Libre wrestlers grimace from the walls; and a pair of mounted bulls’ heads keep tabs on the goings-on be-low. "We acquired them through an old matador we met at a bullfight in Mexico City," says a co-owner, Daniel Alonso, citing the partners’ art- and artifact-buying tour of Mexico. A soundtrack of everything from Dylan and Beck to country from both sides of the border keeps the good-times vibe going.

While the atmosphere can feel a bit manufactured, the drinks are the real deal. Options include a range of margaritas ($6-$7), from a pomegranate variety to Alonso’s favorite, a high-end version featuring mescal, the distilled liquor made from pure agave. Other authentic highlights include the michelada, a beer cocktail with a shot of the house chili sauce over ice ($3-$5), and the paloma: Cazadores tequila, Fresca, and fresh lime juice served in a kosher-salt-rimmed glass ($6 for the glass; $18 for a pitcher). "In Mexico Fresca is still one of the top-selling sodas," Alonso says.

The partners are already considering opening a second location next year. Alonso’s not spilling the beans on what neighborhood, but we’ll take a fiesta wherever we can get it.

Photography: Chris Guillen