When Alfredo Climaco, the owner of the new cocktail bar Tropicale, was a teenager, he had his first drink at “la Curva de las Piñas,” an attraction in his hometown of Puebla, Mexico. Back then, the area was something like a food cart pod, but every cart served the same thing: carnitas and piña coladas served in hollowed-out pineapples.
Now, Climaco has developed a reputation for a similar drink: For years, he served non-alcoholic, blended piña coladas in hollowed-out pineapples at open-air events like Portland’s Cinco de Mayo or the Cathedral Park Jazz Festival. Now, the bartender has opened his own bar on NE Glisan serving the same drink — this time, however, it can come with some rum, like the version he had as a teenager.
At the moment, Tropicale is something similar to the original carts in his hometown: Bartenders serve drinks out of a stationary cart parked in front of the bar space NE Glisan, where customers can sip piña coladas (as well as margaritas and a few other drinks) on the patio. Within a few weeks, however, Climaco will move the cart and open up the bar and kitchen behind it, serving cochinita pibil, Peruvian ceviche, and an expanded menu of cocktails he says represent his personal history throughout the Americas.
When Climaco was six, he began working for his mother at the family market. Each morning, he and his mother would go to the farmers market and pick out the fruit they’d sell that day. By the time he was nine, he was also working his own job in the same market, assisting a butcher at the carnitas stand. At 17, he finagled his way into a job at a nightclub, and began his career mixing drinks. “In high school, I was the coolest kid — not because I was actually popular, but because I could get into the nightclub,” he says, with a laugh. “I fell in love with certain aspects of the service industry... I like how rewarding it is to make people feel happy.” He moved to the United States at 21, starting a 10-year career in the local food industry, putting himself through business classes and workshops and absorbing the advice of mentors and business advisors. “As an immigrant, I didn’t have the resources; I didn’t have access to financial aid,” Climaco says. “I didn’t have the chance to take a risk; I had to educate myself.” He started thinking seriously about what kind of business he wanted to run, and he thought back on his trips to Puerto Rico and those first piña coladas he drank as a teenager. So he founded MexiRican, a piña colada pop-up that, eventually, became Tropicale.
Once the bar is fully open, later this month, Climaco plans to serve piña coladas and customizable margaritas year-round, with various syrups, infused triple-secs, and tequilas. However, the rest of the menu will rotate seasonally, using Oregon products as well as Latin American fruit; for instance, Climaco uses Salem-area cherries for his garnishes, and the triple sec comes from an Oregon-area distiller. He’s currently working on a cocktail version of a classic Puebla dish, chile en nogada: a chile stuffed with nuts and fruit, topped with a cream sauce and pomegranate seeds. The foundation of Climaco’s drink is Ancho Reyes Verde, a poblano liqueur made in Puebla. He’s also making a version of an Old Fashioned with mezcal, Ancho Reyes, and chipotle bitters.
On the food side of things, Tropicale will incorporate dishes from throughout Latin America, including Peruvian ceviche, tostones with guacamole, and fish tacos on Three Sisters Nixtamal tortillas. Climaco is particularly into the bar’s version of a cemita, a Pueblan sandwich, which he plans to fill with Yucatanean cochinita pibil — a nod to the hometown of his brother-in-law. Climaco says Tropicale will begin serving food this weekend, but the bar won’t fully open until later this month. Until then, customers can order piña coladas and drink them in the sun, just like Climaco did himself years ago.
Tropicale is located at 2337 NE Glisan Street.