It’s great when you’ve got a new favourite isn’t it? That tingle of excitement. That making of a bit more of an effort, showing them off to your friends. Showering cash on them.
We’ve gone a bit like that over Lucha Libre – the new Mexican street food joint anchoring a corner of Ropewalks Square, and its subterranean alter ego, Maya.
Opening a couple of months ago in a handy spot opposite FACT, the bar/cantina is the culmination of another love affair: that of owner/managers Alex Hannah and Dave Roach’s affection for all things Central American. And Mexican in particular.
If you’ve been, you’ll know Lucha dishes up fuss-free, filling and fabulously authentic Mexican street food. The sort you’ll get at any tarpaulin-covered roadside cafe along the road to Guadalajara (or even Tijuana, should your satnav fail you). It’s fresh, zingy, spicy and generous. And it’s a million miles from Chiquitos.
Downstairs, the brick lined cocktail bar, complete with shine-like recesses and snug booths is its civilized subterranean counterpart, serving fine tequilas, Mexican beers and cocktails to an expectant crowd (you’ll wait here with a wooden spoon, should the restaurant be bursting at the seams).
It is, in short, a much welcome addition to the city, to this corner of the Ropewalks, and to any night out in town: whether for a pre-FACT meal, or an extended celebration with friends. But, even if you’re as smitten as we are, you really don’t need to dress up to show Lucha Libre your love. Come as you are.
“The idea began when I was on a tequila tasting trip to Jalisco,” says Alex, who once managed Liverpool’s original Latin stalwart, Alma de Cuba, “We were at a street taco stand in the middle of nowhere. The guy on the stand would make tacos out of anything, and one of the locals brought him a rabbit he’d just shot. He covered in hot sauce and in a fresh warm tortilla by the time the fella had his first beer. It was truly an eye opening experience and more importantly damn good, fresh honest food.”
The boys returned home with a fire in their belly (thankfully not from Montezuma) and began their search for premises. They happened upon a chef ‘crazy Luis Michel’ by chance in a London bar (actually, he was from El Camino’s, London’s buzzing Mexican restaurant on Portobello Road) and ‘got cooking’. At first they peddled their tacos from a van around Liverpool ONE while their premises (the old Above and Below restaurant, gutted by fire) was being fitted out.
“We always wanted to create a place that reflected a more contemporary Mexico than possibly many are aware of. We didn’t want to ram mariachi bands and sombreros down customers’ throats so we kept it simple. We enlisted two local artists to recreate our street scene at the entrance, and we enlisted Luis’ girlfriend back in Guadalajara to take photos of the incredible street art and of the produce at the markets.”
It works well. In the restaurant space it’s clear you’re here for one thing. To eat. This is not a space that’s gone to design hell. It’s a busy, hard-working canteen, with the emphasis on fresh food served fast. Trust us, the boys have their priorities in all the right order.
Which brings us to the food. Yes, SevenStreets has experienced some teething problems – but the place is rammed, and the joint is still finding its feet. But when Lucha Libra gets it right – with plates of sociable snacks, homemade chorizo and marinated belly pork tacos arriving, seemingly at random, to be washed down with a bottle of two of Modelo – you really wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.
“We knew the first the version of the menu would take a little refining,” says Alex, “that’s why the taco van was so useful in getting a little market research before we opened. Our core a la carte menu lets us see what people are going for, and we’ll continually add new specials and try some more contemporary versions of classics,” he says of Lucha Libra’s quixotic blend of tex-mex favourites (quesadilla, burritos, nachos) and curious new combinations. The main thing we definitely underestimated was people’s need for heat in Liverpool – they’ve gone mad for the hot sauces and the hotter dishes.”
Whatever you plump for, one thing is consistent: Lucha Libre’s convivial, non-judgemental atmosphere is a much welcome breath of fresh air (handy after you’ve been a little too macho with the application of ‘The Hottest Fuckin’ Sauce’) and a well timed shot over the bows of a beleaguered Ropewalks.
“We worked very hard to secure our site and give the city something new,” Dave says. “We would like to think we have regenerated what was a pretty moody alleyway running down the side of FACT and we are working with our neighbours to make further improvements. We would have liked a presence on Ropewalks square ourselves but the council quickly ruled that out…”
That’s a shame. Ropewalks square is, lest you can’t place it, that no-man’s land of cubic metal seats, FACT’s spinning gyroscopic news towers, rusting bike racks and drunks.
Talking of drunks, did the Council’s Cumulative Impacts policy have any impact, we wonder?
“I think the Cumulative impact had an impact on all concerned,” says Dave. “As you are well aware there are many dark forces at work on this one and I think there is definitely a better solution for all concerned. I have always lived in the city centre and I am of the opinion you should be more aware of where it is you decide to rest your head each night, if you want peace and quiet common sense says that the city centre may not be the right place. Then again, I believe that certain developers neglected triple glazing their developments around the Seel Street area as required by building regulations.
“Having lived on Rodney St for almost five years I also have to deal with the late night Hardman street crowd but I live here for convenience and its got its ups and downs.
That said, the Lucha Libre boys are nothing if not considerate.
“We tried to design the concept so there was no high volume noise required upstairs and hopefully we could contain the late night noise downstairs in Maya. We did notice a few residents, one in particular from Elysian Fields who spent the first five minutes pacing around and was so wound up she could hardly see straight when we first met her. We were not even open and she was ready for war. Once we talked her through the concept and the place she calmed down. At first she told us she lived ‘upstairs’ – she was right, she was upstairs, just two blocks to right and up the street 500 yards…”
Ironic, really, but if anyone can take the heat out of the Ropewalks melt-down, we’d put our Mexican dollars on Luche Libra. Two months in, and they’re showing that residents, businesses and night time users can co-exist, come together, and enjoy this vital corner of town.
So if you’ve not been, we’ll leave the last words to Alex and Dave…
Why should we come? Give us seven words to tempt us.
Because we care about what we do…..
96 Wood Street, Liverpool