L.A.'s "Oaxacan Princess" to Debut Bar Mama Rabbit at Park MGM
"I love representing L.A. everywhere, all the time, and it's a dream come true to have my little Oaxaca home in Las Vegas," Lopez says of the new mezcal and tequila bar opening this summer.
L.A.'s official mezcalera Bricia Lopez will debut her first Las Vegas venture, Mama Rabbit, at Park MGM in late July, sandwiched between the venues of fellow Angelenos the Houston brothers' playful nightclub On the Record and Roy Choi's warm hug to the cuisine of Koreatown, Best Friend. It will have the city's largest selection of tequila and mezcal.
Dubbed the "Oaxacan Princess" by late Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Jonathan Gold, Lopez hails from the family that runs James Beard award-winning restaurant Guelaguetza, which has been exposing Los Angeles diners to the cuisine and culture of theMexican state of Oaxaca since 1994. She was once invited to the White House as a guest of President Obama to participate in a roundtable discussion on immigration and economic issues.
"I love representing L.A. everywhere, all the time, and it's a dream come true to have my little Oaxaca home in Las Vegas," Lopez says. "My father started this journey in L.A. 25 years ago, and then we opened a bar dedicated just to mezcal in my restaurant before anyone cared about it. I am so passionate about mezcal, and everybody always told me, 'Maybe you should have your own l brand' and I said, 'That's not something that really calls to me because I want to talk about mezcal without putting a brand on it.' I want to put the people first, I want to put what mezcal is about first. I want to put Oaxaca first."
Lopez moved to Los Angeles when she was 10 years old from Mitla, Oaxaca. The 4,400-square-foot Mama Rabbit will be the latest chapter in her quest to tell the story of her home through tequila, mezcal, craft cocktails art and design. The space will comprise three rooms: a double-sided bar, open seven days a week, which will serve walk-up guests; a sophisticated taverna; and a lounge with banquettes and an elaborately decorated fireplace will feature live performances. Mama Rabbit will share Choi's kitchen to turn out its menu of authentic Oaxacan cuisine including mole, tacos and vegetable-forward bites to go along with the smoky and refreshing libations.
"When you enjoy mezcal it's typically with food — doesn't have to be a full meal. We will have maybe six or seven menu items, not finger foods, not small bites, but somewhere in between," Lopez says. "Dishes that aren't messy to eat, but also delicious and somewhat hearty."
Developing a concept driven by mezcal and tequila, which have exponentially grown in popularity over the last decade, is the perfect complement to the food and beverage program at Park MGM, which now boasts a roster of forces in the culinary world, including NoMad's Daniel Humm and Will Guidara and the sixth outpost of Italian food emporium Eataly.
Sean Christie, MGM Resorts president of events and nightlife, says the vision of the project is to create a completely authentic experience, free from the cliches commonly found in Americanized Mexican restaurants. The idea started out as a tequila bar, but designer Anwar Mekhayech from Design Agency in Toronto brought Lopez to Christie's attention.
"We'd seen some cool places that were tequila-centric bars — Candelaria in Paris was really an inspiration because it's not a Mexican restaurant, but it positions itself as a cocktail bar specializing in agave," Christie says. "I started doing research on Bricia and she felt like the right voice and the right person to tell us the dos and don'ts and to be our cultural partner. Anything that's really a game-changer is always about the authenticity."
For Lopez, it was imperative that the project has the right name that would set a tone of authenticity and one that would expose people to mezcal's feminine-forward tendencies.
"Mezcal comes from a female plant — agave. It was first used by women to heal," Lopez says. "The name Mama Rabbit comes from Mayahuel, the goddess of agave and fertility, who was the mother of 400 rabbits that she nourished with mezcal and tequila. That story is just so mystical, so beautiful. When you look at Zapotec culture or ancient Mexican culture you see the role women had in society and how the matriarchs are the ones who carry on the traditions."
Lopez traveled with the design team to Oaxaca and was especially inspired by the colorful agave fields. "When you go right before summer or before the rainy season hits, they look completely pink," she says. "The fields have these beautiful tiny little pink flowers. We're getting a few artifacts from Oaxaca and I love that. I want people to see Oaxaca the way I see Oaxaca."
"I think of her as the Mama Rabbit," says Christie of Lopez. "It's her passion and vibe — the fact that she can take on a complex subject matter and articulate it in a user-friendly way and not be so nuanced that it slides over people's heads."
The overall mission is to educate and get people to want to know more about Oaxaca and maybe even experience it for themselves, beyond the glass.
"I want people to fall in love and go to the source," Lopez says. "Hopefully, travel and try mezcal firsthand. Go meet the producers and then come back with a bigger respect. That's my goal in everything I do. And it's no different with Mama Rabbit."