LITTLE VILLAGE — Walking down 26th Street, Moreno's Liquors looks like little more than a corner store, hidden among the myriad storefronts of the Mexican Magnificent Mile.
But inside the store, it's a tequila wonderland.
The shop at 3724 W. 26th St. in Little Village has 650 different types of tequila, believed to the most ample selection in the entire Midwest.
The lineup includes tequilas from 100 different distilleries.
Each is store-owner tasted and must be store-owner approved.
"Every week we're sent new varieties of tequila from different places, and either I or my son personally tastes each one to see if we want to carry it," owner Michael Moreno Sr. said. "There are plenty that we have to turn down, because they don't pass. ... They have to be something we really enjoy drinking."
Alex Nitkin says all the tequila varieties have a story:
Scanning his massive collection, built bottle-by-bottle over 38 years, Moreno has a description and an anecdote ready for every single tequila.
And thanks to a burgeoning social media campaign helmed by his son, Michael Jr., the store is slowly breaking out of its "hidden treasure" status and reaching connoisseurs all over the country.
"We're starting to see people taking trips here from pretty far away, and once they see that tequila shelf they just look like a kid in a candy store," Michael Sr. laughed. "That's the moment they realize they've found something really special."
Michael Sr. can count on one hand the number of stores in the entire country with a larger tequila selection.
His lives in a store that, despite outside appearances, has more than 14,000 square feet of space, including a massive and growing collection of craft beers.
For Moreno, the trick to success was to get an early head start. His father moved to Little Village in the 1940s, when the neighborhood was still dominated by Czech and Ukrainian immigrants. When Moreno opened his shop in 1977, it was still one of only a few outposts in the area for Mexican products.
"We really stayed ahead of the market, bringing in a lot of Mexican brands that most other places just didn't have," Moreno said. "The more Mexicans moved to the neighborhood, the more people we drew, and the more we expanded."
Michael Moreno Sr. and son, Michael Jr. and their huge selection of tequila. [DNAinfo/Alex Nitkin]
Moreno ordered "entire trailers full" of beers like Corona and Tecate at a time when they were still considered exotic Mexican curiosities, decades before they were the supermarket staples they are today. He kept the same forward-looking strategy when it came to Mexican brandies, whiskies and of course, tequilas.
Nowadays, though he's branched out, Moreno's Liquors still fills a uniquely Mexican niche. Shelves are packed with chicharrones (fried pig skins) and colorful Mexican candies.
And under the supervision of Moreno's son, the store has begun cultivating a craft beer section serious enough to rival any Wicker Park brewpub. Thanks in part to the new crop of Southwest Side brewers like Slapshot and Mikerphone, Moreno's now boasts more than 500 craft beer varieties, quadruple the number it carried a year ago.
In December the store held its first-ever beer festival, called "Brewrachos" (a play on "borrachos," the Spanish word for "drunks"), and the owners are planning to make it an annual event.
"I don't know anyone else on the South Side doing what we're doing when it comes to craft beer, and it seems like people are really starting to notice," Michael Jr. said. "And everything on these shelves is hand-selected, too. There's nothing in here I don't personally like to drink."
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