Several weeks ago in Gastown I bumped into Bill McCaig, owner of the much lauded, VPN-certified Nicli Antica Pizzeria and its undersung East Cordova St. neighbour, Nicli’s Next Door. We got to talking and he quickly confided that he’d just sold Nicli’s. He couldn’t tell me who the buyer was as the deal was only a handshake at that point, but he said I knew the people and that it was a good fit. He appeared as thrilled at becoming a landlord to a solid company as he was happy at the prospect of concentrating solely on the pizzeria.
Fast forward to this past weekend and the new tenant has reached out to us with the good news. La Mezcaleria – one of the better restaurants on Commercial Drive – is coming to Gastown. They signed the deal for the Nicli’s Next Door space at 68 East Cordova today, and are going to start work on transforming it into the second location of La Mezcaleria straight away.
I’m looking forward to seeing what they do with the place. Marcelo Ramirez (top right) had just returned from a buying trip in Mexico yesterday when I met up with him and co-owner Ignacio Arrieta (top left) at the space yesterday afternoon. He happily gushed about the handmade tiles from Guadalajara he’d secured and talked excitedly about the light fixtures he was aiming for (apparently designed by famed Mexican aesthete Luis Barragan). The animated conversation reminded me of when we first talked about them opening on Commercial Drive a few years ago. “It’s going to be different that the first place,” Marcelo told me. “We don’t want to be a chain. It’s like we will have two children, each with their own personality.”
That also means the menu will be different from the original location. Though many of the standards will remain (eg. guacamoles, ceviches, etc.), it sounds like they want to get more carnivorous. There’s even talk of them getting a fire-breathing Wood Stone oven similar to the one at Savio Volpe. The kitchen crew from Commercial Drive will be consulting heavily on menu development. They’re also bringing up a chef from Mexico. As far as renovations are concerned, they will be considerable; the expectation being that the 50+ seater will share the same aesthetic as the original. Opening day is expected at some point in May.
This is one of those rare occasions in the restaurant world where everybody wins. Bill wins because he gets the awkward monkey of Nicli’s off his back and lands a reliable tenant that will likely increase business at the pizzeria (if that’s even possible); Nicli’s kitchen crew wins because they’ve been hired en masse by Wildebeest (Josh Gale is the new chef de cuisine); La Mezcaleria wins because that’s what they do as soon as they wake up every morning, plus they now have a super friendly restaurateur as a landlord (!); and the dining public wins because all of the above multiplied by queso fundido (see below) and squared by mezcal. If you’re unfamiliar with the restaurant, click through the gallery below — and yes, it’s every bit as delicious as it looks.