Poquito rehabilitating tequila’s image

Beth Laberge/Special to the S.F. ExaminerFine spirits: Poquito bar manager and co-owner Richard Vila says their selection of quality tequila and mezcal will dispel any bad memories associated with agave spirits.

In the early 20th century, the Dogpatch neighborhood south of AT&T Park was mainly home to Irish immigrants who worked in the factories and dry docks along the eastern waterfront. Now that many of the warehouses have been converted to condominiums, the local saloons have begun to cater to a new clientele. But one intriguing outpost is Poquito, a restaurant and bar devoted to the cuisine and alcohol of Latin America, the Caribbean and Spain. The 2-year-old establishment has the look and feel of a local watering hole, with most of the narrow space devoted to a long wooden bar backed by a mirror painted with the current drink specials, along with a cozy dining area in the rear. But if you glance up at the rows of liquor, it’s likely you’ll come across something unfamiliar: at least a third of the shelf space is devoted to an eclectic mix of tequila and mezcal, and another section features pisco, cachaça and rum. The selection is a product of the travels and tastes of UC Berkeley alumnus Richard Vila, the bar manager and co-owner of Poquito who turned a hobby of visiting distilleries into a full-time job after becoming bored with work at a series of law firms.

Bar info: 2368 Third St. • (415) 643-3900 • www.poquitosf.com

So what is the best way to drink tequila?

Lime, salt and a shot glass, right? That’s what you do when you want to avoid tasting something. Everybody has a bad tequila story from college. When you’re coming to a place that has a nice selection of tequila, those are the kinds of memories that you’re trying to dispel. Tequila is distilled only twice, so you’re getting a lot more flavor [from agave]. Those are the things that actually make it nice to sip. For me, I prefer to drink it neat. When we do tastings, we often [use] wine glasses.

What do you like to drink these days?

I’m really into the agave spirits, so tequila and mezcal. I’ve really liked mezcals recently. Tequila has been something that I’ve really liked for a long time.

What is the difference between tequila and mezcal?

Mezcal is the name for anything that is distilled from agave; tequila is a very specific subset. For tequila, you take the agave and you’re essentially steaming it. For mezcal, the major difference is you’re essentially smoking the agave in order to convert the starch into sugar. So when you’re looking at traditional mezcal production it’s almost like having a luau … and you end up with really heavy smoke on the mezcal. They’re both agave spirits, but one is smoky and dense and has these almost scotchlike flavors, whereas tequila tends to be lighter and more floral.

What made you decide to set up shop in this neighborhood?

We definitely would have had a much different experience if we had opened somewhere in the Mission or in North Beach, somewhere that’s always bustling, but where you wouldn’t be able to build that rapport with your neighbors, which is nice. A lot of people in this area, it used to be more of a shot-and-a-beer area. But little by little it’s developing into dinner and wine or dinner and a cocktail. It’s nice to see that progression over time, and as more places open up, that’ll keep things going in that direction, at least in the Dogpatch.

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