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Cuervo Releases Its Inner Lizard

One thing comes to mind when you hear the name Jose Cuervo - tequila! Now authentic food and a great gathering place will accompany the former.

Bethesda, Md.-based HMSHost, formerly Host Marriott, approached the Mexico-based tequila giant in hopes of tying its brand name and reputation in an airport-based venue. Due to the popularity of tequila and the consumer trend toward Mexican food, the Tequileria was born.

After working closely with the Jose Cuervo brand owners, HMSHost discovered two distinct elements to the Cuervo image, says Stan Novak, HMSHost vice president of concept development. On one hand is the irreverent, fun element that everyone associates with tequila; on the other hand is Mexican history, heritage, culture and tradition.

"Those two brand elements are diametrically opposed," Novack says. "Trying to capture both into one environment is extremely difficult."

HMSHost enlisted Scottsdale, Ariz.-based AAD to capture these two distinct themes in a 2,800 sq. ft. Jose Cuervo Tequileria at Arizona's Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport. AAD divided the facility into two sections. The first thing travelers see when they pass by the Tequileria on their way to their boarding area is the fun bar area. Set apart from the bar is a room designed to look like a traditional Mexican living room encompassing the her itage side.

"The fun side portrays margaritas and Cuervo Gold, which is Jose Cuervo's main brand," says Carl Schaffer, AAD principal. "The other side is more sippy tequila, the high-end brand called Jose Cuervo Reserva De La Familia, which is served in snifters that you sip and enjoy."

The bar area reflects the festive world of Cuervo. A colorful illuminated mosaic lizard crafted from broken ceramic tiles greets guests to the Tequileria. As visitors enter, they pass over a glass mosaic tile rosette, a Cuervo trademark. Chairs are multi-colored with zigzag backs. AAD designers created custom tabletops sporting sayings such as "Did I hear someone say Congo line?" and "Lick, shoot, suck," as well as Cuervo trivia.

"We also have four 'snake tables,' which are communal, stand up tables," Schaffer says. "People belly up to these tables and start doing toasts with perfect strangers."

The 12-foot high back bar is a shrine to tequila, with the motto "Release Your Inner Lizard" prominently displayed above the bar. Glass shelving that incorporates more rosettes houses magnum-sized bottles of tequila. The bar top consists of resin embedded with the complete line of Cuervo brands. Authentic Mexican tin starlights hang overhead.

Colors on the heritage side are toned-down golds, washed burgundies and rich blues, while the bar area is what Schaffer calls "gratuitous Mexican": bright green, blue and yellow.

The dining room is divided into three themed bays reflecting the Mexican tradition and history of Jose Cuervo tequila. The first bay, based on the Gran Centario brand, features a hand-painted mural of an angel and wooden cherub masks talso reflect the angel theme. The focal point of the second area, the Agavero Room, is a large sun mask reflecting the Agavero liqueur symbol of the sun. This room also depicts the "stairs to nowhere," a Mexican tradition symbolizing the ascent to heaven. The third area, known as the 1800 Room, houses a working gas fireplace.

In order to keep the decor authentic, AAD design director Jennifer Reynolds made several trips to artisan communities in Guadalajara, Mexico, to purchase genuine artwork. Cuervo also was adamant that HMSHost serve authentic Mexican cuisine instead of the type of food that many U.S.-based Mexican restaurants serve.

HMSHost opened the first Tequileria in 1998 in Detroit's Metropolitan Airport and is working on a smaller 800 sq. ft. location in Cleveland's Hopkins International Airport.

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