There was a time in Hamilton where there was an abundance of Tacos, long before cool spots like The Mule. Back in the day, before the Cash Money opened up on Dundurn in the golden age of the Hamilton taco scene, the mighty Taco Bell reigned supreme. But it’s been a long time since you could find a Taco Bell in Hamilton outside of the Jackson Square food court. For taco lovers who abandoned the city for greener pastures in taco hot spots like Toronto and Los Angeles, the people of Hamilton patiently waited while our city got its shit together. I feel as if we are living in the era of the great Taco houses, where sub-par meat and a talking Chihuahua are vacant from our millennial minds. The talking dog has been replaced by hip art work, and the fountain pop an array of hand picked Mezcal and Tequilas. There is a place where hip-hop music and spicy food meet for drinks and dancing. Offering an alternative to hot spots such as The Baltimore House or Club Absinthe, there is a new player that accommodates for a chill post work day environment. Enter this new world of The Mule.
I had the chance to speak with one of the founders, Dave and discuss the menu, the revitalization of the downtown core and where he got the crazy idea to start a bar called The Mule. While the food can be a bit pricy, it’s well worth the bill. Some people may be uncomfortable paying around $4.00 a taco, but for people who love tacos this place is a spicy paradise.
The Mule features a DJ every Friday and Saturday night, starting at 10pm. The DJ spins anything from Hip Hop to Classic Rock, aiding in the atmospheric power of The Mule’s unique appeal. It’s the W of restaurants in Hamilton. Small businesses, please take note: When people say food is the new steel, they are talking about the Mule. They just don’t know it yet.
The spirit of the Mule is upbeat. From the graffiti-styled art on the walls to the old school hip hop playing throughout the room, it’s refreshing to say that the Mule was designed with the best of the 90s. Jurassic 5 plays in the background as I speak with Dave and figure out exactly what started this place. We talk culture, food, and unique demographic that this budding restaurant scene is attracting in Hamilton.
Justin: So what makes The Mule so special? Why this location?
Dave: This location kind of fell on our lap. Our original location was James St. North, always after that scene.
They were going to re-purpose a space but it was taking too long. The same property developer had this space sitting empty, and we decided we could move in here quicker. We were basically able to walk into a place with an existing kitchen and open our business.
You know what goes well with rainy Tuesdays? Emotions. And also tacos.
— The Mule (@TheMuleTacos) October 6, 2015
Justin: What about the name, The Mule?
Dave: It’s a really cool animal. Pretty versatile.
Justin: And a pain in the butt! What’s your work background?
Dave: laughs I’ve worked in a lot of bars, so I have a pretty strong background there. The challenging nature of this business attracts loyal hard workers. So I really earned my legs with my experiences in bartending.
Justin: Why Mexican? What was the appeal?
Dave: Our inspiration is based on Big Star in Chicago, a taco place that plays Hip-Hop and has a cool atmosphere.
Justin: And what about all this Mescal?
Dave: Mescals are a funny thing in Ontario. They are very tough to come by. A lot of special ordering. We have a special buyer from the LCBO and get things expedited a lot quicker.
Talking Tequila with Dave
Justin: So tell me a bit about the Mule’s diverse selection of Tequila?
Dave: The tequila I hand picked after I went to Toronto. I made sure we had basic tequila, olmecs, to as high as petrone, planting. A 25 dollar bottle to a 500 dollar bottle. You can try three different flights, one with Blanco, Anjeo, and Respasdo. And then the big daddy, if you’re in the mood to spend some money.
Dave: There are only three names available on the regular list. It goes up to six but it’s not always available. You come across vintages and you have to scoop them up while they are there.
Justin: Can you tell me a bit about the types of tequila?
Dave: Blanco tequilas are where you are going to taste a lot of the tequila elements and the minerals where it was made. People that drink and judge tequila base it off silvers and Blancos. It’s not muted by oak aging or the stuff like that.
Justin: Any upcoming secret menu items we can talk about?
Dave: We’re actually sitting on some cool tequilas, but we’re trying to figure out what to do with it.
The Hamilton Taco Scene
We asked Dave the same follow up questions we ask every business owner— why bring business to Hamilton? As a local resident who has witnessed small businesses like Eh Panini rise and fall, I sympathize as a foodie. There are many challenges and benefits when working in the ambitious city. Dave was great to interview, and the Mule definitely won our hearts. Its new home on King William provides the hip galvanization that has been lacking since the closure of the bingo hall. The Mule is well worth the price of admission for a taco lover such as myself, at a modest hunger for seven tacos and a few shots of mescal, the cost is most welcome.
Justin: Okay, being a fan of hip-hop I have to ask a few more questions.
Justin: What’s your preference? Biggie or Tupac?
Dave: Biggie. Definitely.
Justin: Interesting. I’m a Tupac guy myself…
Justin: What brings you here on King William? Are you from Hamilton?
Dave: No I’m from Victoria. I was born in Ottawa, then lived in BC and moved to Hamilton.
Justin: What’s your favourite city so far?
Dave: Hamilton is my favourite by far.
Dave: It was touch and go at first. The first couple of months were tough, but after six months I was comfortable. It took about a year to really start appreciating the city. Knowing the potential and seeing what the city is turning into. It’s the land of opportunity, it’s great.
Justin: Do you have a menu we could look at? Some recommendations?
Dave: I could name off some Tacos..
Dave’s Taco Recommendations at The Mule:
The Taco Bell, the Fish Taco, and the Chicken Taco is a real crowd pleaser. People really like the chicken wings.
Taco Bell $3.5 “Spiced pork/beef, pico de gallo, lime cream, Mexican hot sauce”
Fish Taco $4.5 “Whitefish, lime cream, chipotle mayo, sweet onion pickle salsa, radish”
Chicken Taco $4.25 “Achiote roast chicken, crispy chicken skin, chipotle mayo, cilantro”
Ox Tongue $5 “Beef tongue, JB sauce, caramelized onion, pickled red cabbage, radish”
Halloumi $4.75 “Fried halloumi cheese, pico de gallo, salsa verde, hot sauce”
Avocado $3.95 “Fried avocado, spice-charred mushrooms, pickled beets, radish, piri piri”
Pork Belly $5.25 “Seared pork belly, chorizo patatas bragas, spicy mayo, picked jalapeño”
Spicy Salmon Ceviche $9 “Chicharron, quick-picked cucumber”
Shrimp Tostada $8 “Peruvian shrimp cocktail, avocado, cucumber”
Whitefish Ceviche $8 “Avocado salsa verde, pickled red onion, cilantro, marinated watermelon”
Salad $9 “Mango, jicama, radish, cucumber, avocado, mint and honey lime vinaigrette”
Baja chicken wings $9 “Lime cream, Mexican hot sauce”
Quest Funded $7 “Queso, pico de gallo, pickled jalapeno, fresh chips”
Lime Curd w/ Rice Krispy Fingers $7
Chocolate pot au creme w/ dulce de leche $7
Drinking at The Mule
Justin: What about the cocktails?
Dave: There are a lot of classic cocktails, like bourbon, but with a tequila twist. A few are ours exclusively. But a lot have a Mescal twist. Great drinks that we were able to put together for everyone’s enjoyment.
Bourbon Flights (3 samples)
Backwoods Stils $15
Kentucky Bluegrass $20
The Derby $25
Tequila flights (3 samples)
Better With Age $30
The Mule is a happening place, and as small as it is, it feels bigger than a side bar. A year ago it would be difficult to imagine anything close to a bar like this across the road from the old Bingo Hall. But here it is, and it’s called The Mule, fostering an atmosphere of hip hop and spicy food, with young professionals networking together in a relaxed environment. Admission is free and the food is delicious, but if cheap is what you’re after, then you’ve got the wrong place.
The Mule has a website here, and some pretty funny social media here. Check out their menu and let us know what you think! Also, please note that The Mule did not pay or endorse this post. All food was paid for by yours truly to ensure the most authentic customer experience. The food we ate is what you will eat too. No bullshit. Bon appetite.