NORTHAMPTON -- I found myself traveling to Northampton twice in the past week, once to celebrate my friend Jill's birthday with a Berkshire County crew and the other time to meet with people who live there.
With the above company, I ventured to various NoHo hangouts, including The Dirty Truth, The Sierra Grille and Tunnel Bar. But the one place that sticks out in my mind to write about is Mama Iguana's on Main Street.
Of the dozen-plus times a year I visit the city, this Mexican-inspired bar and restaurant is on the frequently suggested meeting place list, whether from a friend or my own prompt.
Located on the curve of Main Street before you hit the stretch of shops and eateries, Mama Iguana's is part of the same restaurant group that owns the Italian restaurants Spoleto and Pizzeria Paradiso.
In the summer, it catches your eye because of its outdoor sidewalk seating. In the cooler weather months, its bright neon iguana sign and golden-hue walls seen through the glass storefront are a beacon of warmth.
Decorations include pop art posters, Mexican masks and folk art, tables covered in bold floral prints and custom hanging light fixtures. There's even a taxidermy iguana statue in one of the windows.
On Saturday, my Berkshire friends and I stopped in for a round of drinks at the bar. There was just enough room for the nine of us to sit, closely, but comfortably, as there were a few more patrons at the other end of the bar. Two additional friends came by later, but chose to stand.
Though the bar stocks a decent range of beer and wine, the real reason to go there is for the tequilas and mezcals. The online menu calls its stock "the largest tequila list on the East Coast." If I counted correctly, it has 154 varieties and brands of tequila and 14 different mezcals.
What's the difference between tequila and mezcal you ask? I'm no expert, but according to my research, it has to do with the region of Mexico the liquor is produced in and the way it's produced. Also, tequilas all stem from the blue agave plant, while mezcals can be blended from more varieties of agave plants. Mezcals also have to be 100 percent agave, per production regulation. Though the average tongue may notice a difference in taste -- mezcals are said to be more on the smoky side -- the main difference for consumers is that a serving of mezcal tends to be sold at a higher price point in the U.S. than a shot of tequila.
Depending on which brand and shelf you're drinking at Mama Iguana's, a serving of tequila ranges in price from $5 (Sauza Gold) to $35 (Scorpion's 7-year Añejo).
Our orders included Corona beer, house and specialty margaritas and red sangria. I tried the "El Luchador," a cocktail of Campo Azul Silver tequila, ginger beer and fresh lime juice ($9). It came with the option of a salted rim, but I'm not a fan, so mine just came garnished with a lime wedge. It was tasty and refreshing, less sweet than a traditional margarita, slightly carbonated with a nice ginger kick.
A few of us also imbibed in a round of celebratory shots of Espolon Silver, which was so smooth, you didn't need a chaser. All of us also enjoyed the fresh tortilla chips and house-made salsa that's served to all ordering patrons, on the house.
Kudos to our bartender, who was attentive and really interacted with our group, whether it was talking to the guys about the Notre Dame football game that was playing on a TV screen above the bar, or imparting his knowledge of all the fancy top shelf bottles we had questions about.
He and other staff members (and patrons) sang when they delivered a fried ice cream dessert with a candle in it to Jill for her birthday. He even high-fived some of our happy group members when we headed out to our next destination.
With a lively atmosphere, good friends, great options for food and drink, and awesome service, you know my friends, near and far, and I, will definitely be back.