Mezcalito is a unique restaurant bar that opened on Russian Hill in San Francisco late last summer. The mural and expansive windows on the facade caught our attention one recent evening while passing by.
The mural seemed to have a familiar style. No wonder when we contacted the owners they were pleased to inform us Brian Barneclo is the artist and invited us to meet with them and Brian over dinner to learn about the mural and experience the bar, both of which totally sparked our anticipation.
The restaurant owners are San Francisco residents who have seen Brian’s iconic San Francisco murals around San Francisco. They asked him to create a mural reflecting the story of Mezcal, the alcoholic beverage that is the unique focus of their restaurant bar and namesake. The task was to capture the tradition, culture and process of making Mezcal.
While Brian has a fine arts background tucked, amongst his talents is knowledge of creating signage. He says that you only have about 3 seconds to tell a story that should hit the audience all at once. In a manner of speaking the mural has to behave like signage or a billboard and say we are a Mezcal bar. He felt it was very important to keep it simple and distill the imagery so it reads like sign language. For him this project was a visual problem to solve.
The mural is comprised of three distinct images that pop on four-color blocks of slightly different shapes. Going from right to left is a farmer known as the Mezcalero harvesting an agave plant at the end of his extended leg followed by three oversized agave piñas (the heart of the plant) and a decanter. Upon closer examination there are hidden elements for the mezcal or tequila aficionado to pick up. In the white space leading down to the agave is a lightening bolt. One of the teal blocks is shaped like a Mayan pyramid that is found around Oaxaca and the entire white boarder crumbles into small fragments like Sal de Gusano (worm salt) which famously accompanies mezcal.
Like many process the design time was the most consuming coming up with the right message after several iterations and discussions. That is where 90% of the design time is spent with 10% during execution. There is always improvisation while painting, discovering some ideas work while others need to be tweaked as the creative juices flow and obstacles are encountered. Brian paints his murals with house paint that holds up with the weather, rolling out the broad spaces and refining with brushes. The brick facade formed a natural grid where Brian roughly sketched out the design in chalk. He used colors that you might notice are ones he likes to use.
So what is Mezcal and what is all the hoopla? Mezcal originated in Mexico. It is made from agave. Each varietal is made from a different agave. There are 150. Only one, the blue agave is used to make tequila. Mezcal is made from all the others giving it a much wider breath of flavors and experiences. Legend has it that a lightening bolt came down and split the piña (pineapple) of the agave in half exposing the fruit. The fruit is harvested by the Mezcaleros who cook it in earthenware pots in underground pits giving it a smoky flavor. Mezcal used to be the drink of the common man. It has gained popularity throughout Mexico and found its’ way to the United States.
The Mezcal experience is as carefully executed inside as out. The interior has an inviting decor that makes great use of wood and mirrors. The staff is very knowledgeable and passionate about the process of distilling Mezcal and explaining the differences between the many varieties and brands they serve. One can enjoy a flight to compare the flavors or order a cocktail. You can even buy a bottle of your favorite brand for them to store and bring out every time you pop in. An extra visual bonus is the terrific art on the Mezcal bottles. The menu has many enticing choices that are based on traditional Oaxaca dishes with a twist. The owners promote the restaurant as a great first date. Indeed it is. I am ready to return for a first date of the year with my significant other.
As we were leaving the restaurant Brian said he loved the projects where you learn something about the company and product and even more so when you get to sample. He enjoys mural projects that require problem solving. If you have one, he possibly is your solution waiting for your problem to happen.
About Brian Barneclo
Brian is from Indiana and has been in California since he hightailed it out of there in the 1990’s. His art is influenced by American counter culture traditions such as early jazz, Beat Generation, Hip Hop and Rock ‘n’ Roll. It has elements of cubism, woodcut and paper cut art. He has shown in art galleries and been commissioned murals at Facebook, Oracle, Spotify and other clients. His largest and most recognized mural is “Systems” by the Caltrain railroad tracks on Townsend He is on most social media. You can find his links on his website contact page.
Mezcalito is located on 2323 Polk St by Union St on the western slope of Russian Hill in San Francisco, Ca. Check their website for hours and Facebook for events.