A night partying at the Maybe Group’s El Primo Sanchez typically involves free-flowing Margaritas, impassioned karaoke-room ballads and rounds of winning tacos. The ’80s-inspired space delivers the bright colours, flavourful drinks and dance-ready music of Mexico City. But Mr Sanchez is harbouring a secret: a candlelit room stocked with mezcals, Mexican records spinning behind a bar, and one central table big enough for 10. La Prima.
“When you enter La Prima, we want you passing a time portal,” Stefano Catino, co-owner of the Maybe Group, tells Broadsheet. “You’re going from Mexico City to Oaxaca by just passing a door.”
You won’t spot her unless you know where to look – the door handle to the sultry space is hidden behind an inconspicuous shelf of Mexican pantry items. “[On a trip to Mexico] I ended up in Oaxaca, a part of Mexico known for mezcal,” Catino says. “One night we end up in this super small room with a lonely man with a guitar and a bar full of mezcal and beer. You have 20 to 30 people, everyone is half sitting down, half standing up, and this man was singing and there’s lit candles. I was like ‘Wow!’”
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And so Catino’s cogs started turning. In a backroom at El Primo, a magical Oaxacan mezcal den was created. “You walk in and it’s old-school Mexican music, one female bartender controlling the drinks – ‘la prima’ is the female cousin – and a record player. To start, we set the music very Mexican and low, and then we start to play Latino party music. Nothing modern – just ’80s and ’90s. We want to keep it in the tone, we don’t want to play Bad Bunny in there, you know? People get in there and lose their brain, it’s impossible to hold people down in their chair.”
If you think you’ve found La Prima, signal to the staff and cross your fingers that you’re let in. Though you may well be invited in. “Some people, you can see they’re having a good night, so we say, ‘You want to see something cool?’” If no invitation arrives and the woman of mystery is eluding you, find someone in the know and ask: who is La Prima? Chances are you’ll be shown the way.
“I don’t want to bring anyone in before they see Sanchez,” Catino says. “They’re like, ‘Okay, this place is cool. There’s a karaoke room, tacos, cocktails’. Then I want to slap their brain again.”
La Prima’s menu brings the same rotation of tacos as Sanchez, and a concise quartet of cocktails. There’s Sanchez’s perfected Margarita plus three exclusives: the Matatlan, a play on a Manhattan that brings Patron, Talisker, Agua de Jamaica and Oaxacan coffee to the table, and two fizzy Highballs. There are rare bottles of mezcal and traditional cups fashioned from both wood and clay, encouraging drinkers to taste their drop rather than shooting them back.
Above all else, La Prima is there to delight, transporting you to a place fuelled by good music, good vibes and excellent drinks. “Every night is like a ritual. We go in there, light up the candle and she’s ready.”