New bar pays tribute to mezcal

Beth Stallings, Columbus Crave

Mezcal hasn't been on Central Ohio shelves that long (this spring, brand Ilegal Mezcal was given the official OK by the state), but tequila's typically smoky cousin has already inspired one new bar and eatery set to open at the end of this month.

Mezcal Cantina & Grill takes over the former Old Bag of Nails, which closed after a fire, at 1993 Hard Rd. in Dublin. Chef-owner Jenso Soto fell in love with the bones of the 100-seater space immediately. "It's just the perfect setup for a restaurant. The bar is just beautiful," he says, adding the bar suffered only smoke damage. "It looks like you just walked into a 1930s speakeasy."

The bar will feature four kinds of mezcal (the only kinds currently available in the state). "We're trying to get the word out about mezcal," Soto says. To add a loose educational component, there will be mezcal and tequila flights, as well as craft cocktails created by notable local bartender Cris Dehlavi. "She is the fountain of knowledge for everything alcohol involved. She's going to have signature cocktails, including some with mezcal mixed in."

The menu, created by Soto, a graduate of both Ohio State and Columbus State Community College's culinary program, will be simple, good Mexican-style food-tacos, quesadillas, pizzas, wings, burgers and tortas. "The menu in no way, shape or form is authentic," says Soto, who wanted to be free to pull on his Puerto Rican heritage for dishes. "I just wanted to make it fun and accessible."

Soto plans to be open by Aug. 27, if not sooner, depending on how staff training goes. Mezcal Cantina will be open for dinner only Tuesday through Friday, and for lunch and dinner Saturday and Sunday, with hopes to expand to lunch, breakfast and eventually brunch.