There’s no shortage of places for adults to celebrate Halloween. Bars throughout the D.C. area have come up with spooky-themed cocktails, costume parties and creepy decorations. The hottest spot in town these days is Pub Dread, Derek Brown’s Halloween pop-up bar in Shaw.
While Halloween’s popularity continues to increase in the U.S., it pales in importance in Mexico and Latin America, where you’ll find colorful and ghostly painted skulls and paper- mache skeletons paraded through the streets and people flocking to graveyards.
This is Day of the Dead, an ancient holiday with roots in Aztec culture. It’s celebrated between Oct. 31 and Nov. 2 and coincides with the Catholic holidays of All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day. During this holiday, celebrants remember and honor deceased relatives. It is believed that on midnight, Oct. 31, the gates of heaven are opened and the spirits of departed children arrive to visit earth. The spirits of adults follow.
Participants build candlelit altars in their homes, adorned with flowers and chocolate and sugar skulls, where they leave food offerings and favorite possessions of the deceased. Next, they head to the cemetery. Families bring huge feasts to eat while they clean tombstones, sing songs and talk to their ancestors. The ritual includes alcoholic libations such as mescal and tequila to please the ghosts.
So if you’re suffering a bit of Halloween overload, consider jubilating after all the trick-or- treaters have gone home. The Petworth Arts Collaborative will hold a traditional Day of the Dead parade on Upshur Street on Wednesday, Nov. 1. If you’re hoping to toast your family tree with some adult beverages, head to Espita Mezcaleria, a southern Mexican restaurant in Shaw, which has declared “Month of the Dead.”
Activities have included a sugar-skull painting workshop and a mescal tasting. The restaurant will host a Oaxacan mole cooking demonstration on Saturday, Oct. 28. On Nov. 1, Espita’s annual Day of the Dead Party will feature tunes from everyone’s favorite deceased artists. Guests will be able to have their faces painted to resemble colorful skulls. (The tradition of painting faces to look like skulls has grown up as a variation on the Mexican practice of wearing skull masks.)
Mezcal may be the most authentic choice of spirit for this fiesta. In Mexico, the grandest festivities are held in the southern states such as Oaxaca, Chiapas and Michoacán, where mescal, the smokier cousin of tequila, is king. Most mezcal is made in Oaxaca.
A perfect way to observe this fiesta is by hoisting one of Espita Mezcaleria’s fall cocktails, which highlight autumnal flavors such as apple, allspice and mulled wine, along with some otherworldly additions. Partner and beverage director Megan Barnes, who created the tipples, says that “Mexico is fairly diverse, with immigrants coming from Asia and Europe, so we wanted to incorporate a range of ingredients that reflected that.”
One that assimilates a little Brazilian mojo is the Los Olvidados (The Forgotten), forged from espadín mezcal, aged cachaça (Brazil’s national spirit), plum wine, allspice dram and Corazón Bitters. This spicy number gets some kick from the Corazón Bitters, which are made from five types of dried peppers, and a twinge of sweetness from Japanese plum wine.
Two cocktails blend apples into their mix. The Al Diablo con Los Guapos (To Hell with the Handsome) features mezcal, American apple brandy and spiced grenadine, while the Apple Coriander is served tall with mezcal, Mexican rum, Granny Smith apples, ginger and coriander. The Walnut & Wine mixes Oaxacan rum, mezcal, red wine and Nux Alpina walnut liqueur for a nutty twang.
If you prefer to stay in, or you can’t make it to Mexico, you can still celebrate by making your own altar to honor your loved ones who have passed on — or by toasting them with a mezcal cocktail.
1 oz. aged cachaça
1 oz. Japanese plum wine
.5 oz. espadín mezcal
dash of Cotton & Reed allspice dram dash of Bittercube Corazón Bitters
Stir ingredients over ice and strain into a glass.