Review: Casa Salles Is the World’s First “Tequila Hotel”
Luxury lodging and tequila nerdery take shape in the heart of Jalisco
“There are two main streets in Tequila,” says Steffin Oghene, the Vice President of Global Marketing & Business Development for Tequila El Tequileño, as our bus bumps aggressively over a cobblestone road. “And this is one of them.”
I’m part of a small group headed into Tequila, a town in Jalisco about an hour from Guadalajara that is, obviously, the birthplace of your favorite agave spirit. Tequila is home to 28 or so distilleries, numerous bars, several churches, some gift shops and, from my two previous visits there, very little else that necessitated an overnight stay. Or so I thought.
El Tequileño recently opened a boutique hotel in town called Casa Salles. The launch happened just before Covid, so any chance to experience the property had been limited to locals (Mexico, admittedly, has had a far more lenient travel policy during the pandemic).
But now that travel has opened up, the hotel has been more aggressively focusing on visitors from outside the country, and particularly people who may not realize Tequila is worthy of a few nights’ stay; while a press release for the hotel calls the distillery “Mexico’s best kept secret,” that phrase could equally apply to the town itself
Would I be willing to stay in the world’s first tequila hotel? You bet. The real question: Could the property appeal to visitors who aren’t obsessed with Mexico’s best-known tipple?
I navigated some bumpy roads to find out.
(We should note there is another hotel with a tequila theme in town called Matices Hotel de Barricas, where you stay in rooms shaped like barrels; it doesn’t seem as integrated with its nearby distillery as Casa Salles is with El Tequileño. If you want to get picky with the phrase “world’s first tequila hotel,” that’s an argument to be made).
Casa Salles Hotel Boutique — the official name of the residence — is a four-story, 25-room luxury property adjacent to a working distillery (La Guarreña, producer of El Tequileño tequila) and, while not in the town center, within walking distance of anything you’d want to see in the town of Tequila.
If the road getting to the hotel was rough, the property itself is an oasis. The rooms are huge, the beds comfy and the wifi strong. Onsite, you have access to the aptly-named Reposado Spa, plus an outdoor pool, ground-level restaurant/bar and, of course, a distillery that’s more than happy to offer up tours and tastings.
Each room, all very modern in design, features a small outdoor terrace with a table, where you can sit and take in the smell of cooked agave during the morning and afternoons. I stayed in a room with two queen-sized beds, a private bar, desk, rainfall shower and enough closet and storage space that I felt like I could move in permanently. Literally, the only “notes” I have on the actual living space is that, like every other hotel, the lighting system is confusing and outlets were sometimes at odd angles or in less desirable spaces.
The rooms on the third floor offer up slightly better views of the surrounding area but can also be utilized by larger groups and families.
The downstairs hotel/bar Mango Cocina de Origen features an elevated take on regional Mexican cuisine, along with almost a full bar … I say “almost” as they offer up a wide variety of spirits and cocktails, but your tequila choice is limited to the seven expressions of El Tequileño. Interestingly, the restaurant also excelled with fruit and fish options, the latter unusual as Tequila is not a coastal town. More selective eaters will find enough here (burgers, waffles, etc.) to survive, but I highly recommend trying the more interesting local dishes. Also, Mexican wine? Not bad!
That said, Casa Salles is certainly not a destination on its own, unless you’re using it for a wedding (the property is spacious enough to host a modest-sized reception). Instead, think of the hotel as a comfy home base where you should enjoy a meal or two and maybe a lazy afternoon by the pool after a distillery tour and tasting. But otherwise, you’ll want to get out and see the area, and do so early — Tequila isn’t a late-night metropolis.
“There are some bars in town that come to life on the weekends with mainly locals, but Tequila is a tranquil place to enjoy the day culture over evening buzz found in most big cities,” as Oghere tells us.
What’s within walking distance?
First, you’ll want to tour the distillery. El Tequileño was founded in 1959 by Don Jorge Salles Cuervo and is currently overseen by third-generation Master Distiller, Jorge Antonio Salles. Through the hotel or its website, you can book a tour and pair it with a tasting (where you’ll experience the excellent but difficult-to-find Reposado Rare) and/or a lunch.
As we mentioned before, there are over two dozen working distilleries within the town of Tequila, and many of them offer tours and tastings; or, you can hop on a bus shaped like a barrel or a chile and go between a few of ‘em.
Within town, there are a few museums (including the Museo Nacional de Tequila), some interesting murals and the impressive Church of Santiago Apostol. You’ll also want to take a picture near the giant Tequila lettering in the center of town.
Admittedly, within the town limits you’re probably going to be done with sightseeing pretty quickly. There are plenty of tiny restaurants and watering holes around — ask the hotel for recommendations (we tried La Cocina de Evalia Rivera and loved it; it looks like an actual hole in the wall but the traditional food here is outstanding and inexpensive) — but you’ll definitely want to stop in La Capilla (“the chapel”), which from the outside appears to be a small and rather nondescript cantina. But it’s the oldest bar in town, and it was named one of the World’s 50 Best Bars from 2011 to 2014 for a very specific reason; they make one fantastic cocktail. As in one: The batanga, a mix of Coke (the good stuff, in bottles from Mexico), tequila, lime and salt that you’ll down in seconds.
And the tequila they use? A usually maligned mixto, courtesy of El Tequileño, which will make you rethink your tequila snobbishness.
Otherwise, there are plenty of places on the street to buy cantaritos in clay pots; yes, you can drink and walk here. In the evening around 10 p.m, an area called “Taco Alley” comes to life, and local taco stands take their place next to the main church. And in the same location during the day, there is a famous churros lady who arrives at 10 a.m. to make some delicious fried dough.
As we noted, it’s not a late-night town, and a few of my fellow travelers, when hunting down souvenirs on a late Wednesday afternoon, mentioned they “walked down some very sketchy roads.” No one felt unsafe, but your best bet is to go out during the day.
Get out of town
Seriously. Since you’re flying into Guadalajara, you’ll want to spend a couple of nights there and experience the art and ambitious food scene in that city (we stayed at Hotel Demetria and had a great experience, and while we missed it this time, you’ll want to eat at Hueso, a restaurant with 10,000 bones embedded in the walls). The town even has a hipster district (Avenida Chapultepec and its surrounding streets) and plenty of evening activities.
But once you’re at Casa Salles and you’ve seen Tequila and had a few drinks, spend another day or two outside the town limits. After all, you’re in a World UNESCO heritage site surrounded by a volcano and a waterfall (which you can hike to). While we were there, we were able to horseback ride through some agave fields about a 15-minute ride from the hotel. Plus, you’re near the Guachimontonies, which are circular pyramids that are only forty minutes away.
Finally, there are a few places to drink outside of town, most particularly Cantaritos El Guero in Amatitan, an outdoor venue with music and drinks that arrive in giant clay jugs bigger than your head (those are to share).
I would consider Casa Salles an ideal visit for serious fans of tequila (the spirit) who don’t want to feel rushed during their visit to Tequila (the town). Two nights should be ideal.
You can book a room here; rates right now range from about $166-$558 per night. And based on our experience, we’ll have more to say on El Tequileño tequila itself before year’s end.
The Secret to Great Cocktails? Find Out in The Spill.
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