New Oaxaca-Themed Bar Houses Las Vegas' Largest Collection of Tequilas and Mezcals
Nicknamed "the Oaxacan Princess” by Jonathan Gold, Bricia Lopez-Maytorena opens Mama Rabbit at Park MGM this week.
When she was a teen, Bricia Lopez-Maytorena and her family—originally from Oaxaca, Mexico—regularly vacationed in Las Vegas. Being undocumented meant they avoided airports; but they lived in Los Angeles, so they could get to the Strip by way of a far less risky road trip. Once there, Vegas gave them the opportunity to travel the world by visiting properties with international city-themed destinations.
“My dad would tell me, ‘Someday, we'll have a place here to call our own,’” Lopez-Maytorena said. “[His words] gave me the audacity to believe it was possible, and I imagined I could.”
On August 28, her father’s words will become reality with the opening of Mama Rabbit Bar at Park MGM, a mezcal and tequila bar Lopez-Maytorena is opening on the Las Vegas Strip. Mama Rabbit Bar will have the city's largest selection of the Mexican spirits — more than 500, in fact — and Lopez-Maytorena, cultural consultant for the project, said it will be a mash-up of L.A. and Oaxacan culture, where the myths around what a Mexican-inspired bar looks like will be debunked.
“Most people think of mezcal bars as something small, secretive, dark, and speak-easy style — this is the opposite of that,” Lopez-Maytorena said. “Most of the tequila drinkers I see are women, and I’ve created a space where groups of girlfriends can go and have fun. You’ll be able to see this was spearheaded by a female as soon as you walk in. Expect bright colors, flowers, and an elegant vibe that’s fun for everyone.”
The mezcalera takes its name from Mayahuel, the Aztec goddess of agave and the plant from which tequila and mezcal is made. According to myth, Mayahuel’s lover, Ehecatl-Quetzalcoatl, buried her remains after her grandmother had her murdered. The first maguey plant eventually bloomed from her remains and became a symbol representing life. Today, Mayahuel is also known as the mother of Centzon Tōtōchtin, a group of 400 rabbits considered the gods of drunkenness. In honor of that legend, Mama Rabbit will feature a barro negro—black clay—sculpture of 400 rabbits from Oaxaca as the bar’s centerpiece. And because this is Vegas, inside the venue there will be three Blackjack tables, another to play roulette, and three 12-foot-tall slot machines beneath a gigantic, psychedelic mural of Mayahuel giving off pit boss vibes.
If Lopez-Maytorena’s name looks familiar, it’s probably because it has become synonymous with Mexican—specifically Oaxacan—food and culture. In 1994, her parents, Fernando Lopez and Maria Monterrubio, opened Guelaguetza, a matchbox-sized restaurant in L.A.’s Koreatown neighborhood. Shortly after its opening, Jonathan Gold, the late celebrated Los Angeles Times food critic, praised the restaurant for its authenticity—leading to a boom in business. The restaurant went on to earn a permanent spot on Gold’s list of the 101 best restaurants in the city. In 2015, two years after the patriarch retired and transferred the business to his four children, Guelaguetza took home the James Beard Award for the American Classics category.
Lopez-Maytorena said the spirit and work ethic of her California eatery will carry over to the Strip. But the closest thing you’ll find to replicating Guelaguetza in the Nevada desert is a love for the craft—and a cocktail bearing the same name. Food will be secondary to mezcal and tequila—which Lopez-Maytorena said are the stars of her latest project. In fact, dining options such as elotes, quesadilla, and ceviche were chosen to ensure they don’t overpower the cocktails.
"The vision of Mama Rabbit was to create an authentic experience—free from any cliches found in some Americanized Mexican bars," said Sean Christie, international president of events and nightlife for MGM Resorts, via email. "After doing research on Bricia, I knew she would bring authenticity to this venue through her passion, influence, knowledge and personality."
Over the years, Lopez-Maytorena has built a name for herself by working on projects with her family. She runs Guelaguetza with her siblings Paulina Lopez-Velazquez, Fernando Lopez Jr., and Elizabeth Lopez. They launched a michelada mix line; she co-hosts the Super Mamas podcast with her older sister; and later this year, the family will release their first cookbook, “Oaxaca: Home Cooking from the Heart of Mexico.” Mama Rabbit may be Lopez-Maytorena’s first solo project, but taking full credit isn’t her style.
“Every success I have is my family’s,” she said. “It’s not just me.”