Hidden away on a quiet side street in central Guadalajara, Pare de Sufrir is a small bar with an unremarkable facade that gives no indication of its status as a haven for mezcal lovers.
Inside, though, the walls are lined with striking murals of a majestic agave plant and a hippie-style bus. Mustachioed DJs spin eclectic mixes of funk, mambo, cumbia, boogaloo, and dancehall in between live sets by rockabilly outfits and experimental sound art bands. And at the center of it all, beneath a chaotic wooden sculpture strung together with nails and fairy lights, stands a bar stocked with probably the greatest mezcal collection in western Mexico.
Named after a slogan from a Brazil-based Christian denomination, the bar's full title "Pare de Sufrir. Tome Mezcal" is a nod to the agave-based spirit's famed curative powers. It means "Stop Suffering. Drink Mezcal."
While this smoky spirit's popularity has skyrocketed in recent years, it took a degree of audacity for owner Pedro Jiménez to open a mezcal bar in Guadalajara, the heart of Mexico's tequila-producing region, back in 2009. Yet Jiménez, a bearded 41-year-old filmmaker who grew up in Mexico City, tells me his primary motivation was simply to get hold of quality mezcals for himself and his friends in a city where the drink was hard to come by.
"I started drinking mezcal when I was 15 years old, when mezcal started to become popular in Mexico City," he says. "Later, whenever I traveled to film in other parts of the country, I would always buy local mezcals. But when I moved to Guadalajara in 2005, I realized people didn't have access to good mezcals. I began to really suffer."
As its name suggests, Jiménez's bar would prove the solution to his suffering.
"I'd bring back mezcals from my trips but I was surprised that many people here had never tried a good mezcal. So I started putting on tasting sessions in my house for friends and it began to take off," he explains. "People started asking, 'Why don't you open a mezcalería?' and I realized that would be the best way for us to have access to good mezcals. A few months later we opened Pare de Sufrir."
It didn't take long for Jiménez and his staff to convert the locals into mezcal lovers.
"Some people had had bad past experiences after trying a really crappy mezcal, but they didn't realize there are so many different kinds of mezcals," Jiménez says. "At the time we opened Pare de Sufrir people were looking for new experiences. It was about the same time that Mexico's craft beer scene began to take off and people wanted to try new things. It was a case of good timing for us."
No mere bartender, Jiménez is a committed advocate of traditional mezcal culture. In 2012 he directed Viva Mezcal, a documentary that explores the significance of the spirit, the stories of those who have distilled it for generations, and the growing array of challenges they face today.
That same year he founded Mezonte, a civil association that helps artisanal distillers to sell their products and protect their culture, which is constantly under threat from controversial industry regulations and heightened competition from the global drinks giants launching their own mezcal brands.
Jiménez says that among the industry's biggest problems, rising demand is inflating the prices of raw materials, creating agave shortages and fueling a loss of genetic diversity that makes the plants more vulnerable to pests. Savvy but scrupulous distributors sometimes exploit the rural farmers who produce the spirit, he adds, while the industrial methods favored by some new distillers are resulting in a substandard product that cheapens the drink's reputation.
Located just two blocks from Pare de Sufrir, the Mezonte office consists of a small room lined with mezcal paraphernalia, a psychedelic mural, and a well-stocked wooden bar for tasting sessions.
"We have an ever-changing selection of about 70 mezcals," Jiménez says. "They're mostly from Jalisco and Michoacán because this is the region where Mezonte is focused, although we also work with producers from Oaxaca, Durango, Puebla, Mexico State, Tamaulipas, Nuevo Leon, and Sonora."
Pare de Sufrir's collection also includes pechuga—a special kind of mezcal distilled with chicken, deer, or turkey breast, plus spices and fruit—as well as a range of lesser-known Mexican spirits such as raicilla, bacanora, and sotol. While raicilla and bacanora are essentially "mezcals with different names" made in certain areas of Jalisco and Sonora, Jiménez explains that sotol is a similar but less smoky spirit made from the desert spoon plant native to northern Mexico.
As well as introducing these spirits to locals, Jiménez has helped to popularize mezcal abroad. Although Guadalajara receives relatively few foreign visitors compared to Mexico's more cosmopolitan capital or its gringo-saturated resorts, Pare de Sufrir is often cited in the foreign press as one of the city's must-visit bars and it draws a constant stream of visitors from the United States, Canada, and Europe.
"I'm proud to say we've had a lot of international recognition for the variety of mezcals that we have," Jiménez says. "A lot of foreigners who live here, whenever they have visitors they like to bring them here because they feel it's a very Mexican place."
For a modest mezcal bar to become top dog in Mexico's tequila capital, he must be doing something right.