January 28, 2021 update: Please join us in remembering Portland, Oregon’s “Piña Colada King,” Alfredo Climaco, who recently died of complications from Covid-19.
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.
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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.
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.