If you've ever heard of San Luis Soyatlán in the Mexican state of Jalisco, it probably wasn't because someone told you, "You have to check out San Luis Soyatlán!" Sure, like all the little towns ringing Lake Chapala, Mexico's largest lake, San Luis Soyatlán in the city of Jocotopec is charming – a plaza, a tall white church, mountains visible across the water. It's a place you might stop to stretch your legs if you're driving around the lake, an easy day trip from Guadalajara; your more likely destination, however, would be touristy Mazamitla, the "Jaliscan Alps," a mountain town sprinkled with rustic cabanas. If San Luis Soyatlán rings a bell, it's most likely because someone urged you to go there for one reason only: to line up with hundreds of thirsty Mexican travelers for the town's signature drink: a vampirito.
Thanks to sangrita, a popular tequila chaser native to Jalisco, the drink is blood-red. Hence its name, vampirito: little vampire. Says Dr. Edgar Martin del Campo, expert in Mexican vampire folklore, "Vampires are a fascination in Mexico because of their roots in indigenous culture, clandestine relics from the darker side of native spirituality." Mexico does have some interesting vampires: There's Cihuateteo, the dangerous seductress; Chorti, who's permanently trapped in the past (his feet are screwed on backwards, pointing to where he's been); and Tlahuelpuchi, the shape-shifter who craves blood each month during her period and who, some say, can be repelled with a garlic enchilada. Some scholars believe that Mexican vampire lore originated with the Aztecs, specifically with the Aztec god Tezcatlipoca, "god of the smoking mirror." Jalisco is home to a thriving population of Huicholes, an indigenous group that descended from the Aztecs. So it's fitting that a Jaliscan town is responsible for making the vampirito so famous.
Vampiritos are available in bars throughout Mexico, but you'll never see a bustling scene like the one in San Luis Soyatlán, and the San Luis Soyatlán vampirito is widely known to be the most delicious. Often, several small vampirito operations set up shop outside in San Luis Soyatlán on the weekends, but the biggest, the one that's been around for more than 15 years, is an assembly line arranged on a few folding tables pushed together off the main road. Behind the tables, one person hands you ice inside the kind of plastic bag you might get if you won a goldfish. You hold your bag open and someone else doles out the orange and lime juice, sangrita, salt, and Squirt; a third person is rushing you to choose among four or five tequilas, and then yanking your bag away, jabbing a straw into it, tying up the top, and thrusting the thing at you.