Since 2016, Alfredo Climaco’s mobile bar business, MexiRican, has thrived, popping up at events and festivals throughout Portland, Oregon. His signature piña colada, served in a hollowed-out pineapple shell, has become a local fixture. Early on in the pandemic, when Climaco was forced to shut down his business, the Mexican native turned his attention to another longtime dream and opened a brick-and-mortar bar, Tropicale.
SevenFifty Daily: Tropicale is a walk-up cocktail window you opened, with partner Matt Lynch, during a terrible time for bars. What motivated you to forge ahead?
Alfredo Climaco: With 45 events canceled, it was hard to survive the pandemic with MexiRican. I didn’t have a business anymore. But I had been thinking of opening this bar for five years. Tropicale has a big patio and all summer we complied with the city requirements, and now for the winter it’s nice and heated with a fire pit.
What do you want guests to feel and take away from a night at Tropicale?
My commitment now is to share my Latin traditions—the colors and the flavors— through food and drink in a contemporary way. I want to express the beauty of my Mexican heritage. Last weekend we had a socially distanced event with a DJ and salsa dancing. Being an immigrant is part of me and inspired my businesses.
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After moving to Portland from Pueblo, Mexico 10 years ago, how did your career in hospitality evolve?
I didn’t know anything about the food and drink culture of this city. I didn’t even speak English until I learned it in business classes. I started working in a Mexican restaurant and the language barrier was the primary challenge, but I became the manager and then went to Little Big Burger, where I also became the manager and met my future partner, Matt.
How did Mexico first foster your love of the industry?
My parents ran a pushcart, a farmers’ market on wheels, and a little store selling fruit, snacks, and carnitas. From the time I was nine years old, my brother and I worked there on Saturdays and Sundays from 7am to 10pm and I learned so much. Some people think that young age is surprising, but for us it was normal to help the family.
More from Climaco:
- His Signature Piña Colada: Made with organic coconut cream and garnished with fresh grapefruit and Salem cherries.
- On His Nightclub Gig: “I was 17 and cleaned and handled the trash. A few months later I was a busser, then a waiter and bartender.”
- The Tropicale Menu: Alfredo’s sister, Viviana Reyes-Climaco, oversees a selection of pan-Latin small plates.
- On Introducing a New Bar in A Pandemic: “We had to readjust and be real. It was a little risky, but we thought about it and rolled the dice.”
Alia Akkam is a writer who covers food, drink, travel, and design. She is the author of Behind the Bar: 50 Cocktails from the World’s Most Iconic Hotels (Hardie Grant) and her work has appeared in Architecturaldigest.com, Dwell.com, Penta, Vogue.com, BBC, Playboy, and Taste, among others, and she is a former editor at Edible Queens, Hospitality Design, and Beverage Media. A native New Yorker, Alia now calls Budapest home. Follow Alia @behdria.