🌵 Good Chats: Vamos-ing to Mexico with Alex, Jeremy and Daisy
Mezcal stored under a Dora The Explorer mattress for 30 years. A run in with (maybe) military police in balaclavas. Putting the kids to bed. Rolling into your bar at 10pm on the hooch (big black tea NRG). Is this living? Alex, Jeremy and Daisy, the big loose brains behind CantinaOK!, The Cliff Dive and Tio’s, say yes. In a mad, beautiful twist of fate, we could have all ended up with three dad rock bars themed after the pool room in The Castle. True story. Instead, they blessed Sydney with Tio’s in 2012. A few months later Daisy and Alex pashed on that dancefloor and now have two children, a couple of pet rats called Ratty and Muffy, and a World Top 30 Bar title with their best friend. A few Gwyneth Paltrow in Sliding Doors moments coming up, strap in.
Joel Amos: Remember the time you told me about passing a truckload of very drunk soldiers leaving a mezcal maker?
Alex Dowd: The only reason they stopped drinking was because we rocked up! They were in the full regalia - all black, balaclavas with automatic weapons. They looked like a class of naughty kids when they realised we’d spotted them. They piled into the massive ute and a flannel clad farmer hopped into the driver’s seat and drove them off down this bumpy dirt road. They were super wobbly. Lucky we came in peace.
Jeremy Blackmore: Actually I think they were Military Police! They made sure the one guy not in uniform was the one that drove everyone off to what I can only assume was a huge kick on. It was 2pm.
Joel Amos: What actually goes into a mezcal sourcing trip? How do you even figure out where to begin?
AD: We’re lucky to have Happy as part of our team. He’s got deep connections in Mexico, lived there for ages and speaks colloquial Spanish in a way we never could. Planning usually goes a little like this. We put a list together of places we want to go, find out if we’re likely to get killed there, Happy reaches out and speaks to a couple of locals, we book flights and then hope for the best. Invariably, plans change and we’re left in rural Mexico doing our best to find our guides/where we actually are/mezcal where we can. Most of the time it works out though and we’ve seen some unbelievably beautiful parts of Mexico.
JB: Like every project we embark on I start by trawling the strange corners of Youtube, looking for home video of weird mezcal and then Happy logs on to Facebook and contacts (no joke) every person that has even tasted mezcal in Mexico to try and connect us to the weirdest stuff we can find.
Joel Amos: Daisy, you stayed back home. What kind of intel (and photos) were you getting?
Daisy Tulley: Alex, Jeremy and Happy always leave for Mexico in the middle of Sydney's winter just when the kids get their yearly cold. So I'm usually nursing a sick child, picking up the work slack and intermittently hearing from Alex. They head to small towns off the beaten track so most of the trip I won't hear from him, I just have to hope he's alright. When they do have reception I get bombarded with hilarious pics of Jeremy holding four goats or Alex drunk asleep shirt unbuttoned in the backseat of a car or beautiful food and landscape pics that make me super jealous I’m not there. But most of all I just really miss them all.
Joel Amos: Back to the early days—Tio’s—why tequila and mezcal and this part of the world?
DT: I started dating Alex when Tio's was 3 months young so I wasn't around for this! We had our first pash at Tio's though, which is pretty cute.
AD: Jeremy had worked with tequila in the UK and it was just starting to grow in Australia. We joke that a brand rep we knew at the time told us ‘tequila would never be cool’ which to us was the green light to start working with it. Honestly, as 24 year old bartenders, we loved the good-time association with it and thought it would be a perfect vehicle for ensuring our guests had a party time, all the time.
JB: We were tossing up between a tequila bar and a dad-rock bar that was themed after the pool room in the Castle and once a week we would have a night called Mum-rock and my mum would DJ. Sometimes I think about what our life would be like. It’s like sliding doors - my favourite Gwyneth Paltrow movie.
Joel Amos: I can only drink one mezcal at Cantina, what are you serving me (and the story behind it)
JB: I love serving our really old mezcals. They are an incredible snapshot back in time. It took us lunch and lots of mezcals, plus a goat holding competition and rabbit milking, to get the invite to try a few sips. This is a crazy vintage wild mezcal that Augustin made in 1991 and had stored under a Dora the Explorer mattress for almost 30 years. Also it’s super delicious and tastes like a tidepool, all oyster shell and seaweed.
Joel Amos: What’s it like being a mum and dad and running three bars?
DT: It's the best. The flexibility is gold with young children. One of us can always pick up the slack for the other and we always manage to work it out, workload or timetable. Since The Cliff Dive has reopened I have been heading in and having some late nights. That's the hardest part, when you're really tired from a kid not sleeping but then you have to head into work at 10pm to suss out a new House & Techno night lol. I smash a black tea, put my big puffer jacket on and hoon our Rav4 into town blaring hip hop music. By the time I get to the club I feel energised and it's fun!
AD: We don’t know any different. I think about our kids a lot - I want them to believe that they can bring their ideas to reality. That’s one of the most powerful and addictive parts of what we do. We get to design spaces that form the centre of the social pantomime. I grew up in a conservative part of Sydney where everyone was professional; I like that we do something different.
Joel Amos: Your prediction for the next time you’ll make it to Mexico…
JB: 2022 October
AD: 2024? I dunno. I’ll check my horoscope.