Cocktails & Spirits

Cocktail Cartel Opening Spanglish Craft Cocktail Bar + Kitchen

The vuelta paloma and cafetera old-fashioned cocktails.
The vuelta paloma and cafetera old-fashioned cocktails. Spanglish Craft Cocktail Bar + Kitchen
On the corner of North Miami Avenue and NW 28th Street stands a royal-blue building with doors covered in ashy-white paper. It’s clear something is stirring inside the former Pride & Joy space. The building’s new tenant, beverage and consulting company Cocktail Cartel, is reinventing the space into two unique concepts: one a restaurant with curated food and cocktail menus called Spanglish, and the other, Wynwood’s first sports bar, Grails.

Oscar Ortega, Hector Acevedo, Eddie Fuentes, and Manuel Picon formed their beverage consulting company in 2015. Although the Cocktail Cartel has helped develop the beverage programs at some of Miami’s most notable spots, including Zucca, Byblos, and Finka Table & Tap, Spanglish will be the group’s first official restaurant and bar.

The idea for Spanglish Craft Cocktail Bar + Kitchen has been in the works for more than three years. In 2016, the foursome took the concept to Nicaragua. Because of the political climate at the time, the team had to close up shop shortly after opening.

The momentum they gained during their time in Central America helped propel them to where they stand now: a handful of weeks from their grand opening in Miami.

“We’re Miami through and through,” says Ortega, who was born in Nicaragua but has lived in Miami since he was 7 years old. “Spanglish is a Miami concept, and we’ve always had the intention of opening up here.” He jokes that the official language for the city should be Spanglish.

“The word is very much associated with the Hispanic community in the U.S. in general, and it’s a word that we can all relate to,” he says, referring to his partners and Miami as a whole. “Our Spanglish lifestyle was something that we grew up with, so it’s just natural for us to make Miami the home of this concept.”

Fuentes, a Cuban-American born and raised in Miami, chimes in: “We’re for Miami, by Miami, and giving back to Miami.”

One way they’re giving back is by locally sourcing as many of their ingredients as possible and working with local artist Cushy Gigs for the murals inside and outside the space.

The beverage program will offer ten to 12 unique cocktails, made with a base spirit of gin, tequila, rum, vodka, grappa, bourbon, pisco, or rye. “We’re thinking as much about presentation as much as we are flavor,” Puerto Rican mixologist Acevedo explains.

For example, the tequila-based cocktail the Spanglish and Chill is presented inside a red-and-white-striped popcorn bag adorned with a handful of popcorn. The drink is made with strawberries, tangerine, vermouth, and lime. “It’s a very refreshing cocktail that we then top off with popcorn and chicharrón dust,” Acevedo says. “So you’re having an experience, not only with the way that it looks, but you’re able to drink and eat at the same time.”

Another unique concoction is the vuela paloma (flying paloma), a take on the traditional tequila-based cocktail. “We mixed grapefruit and sage with a ginger reduction, combined with tequila, and added yellow bell peppers. So you have those savory flavors mixed with refreshing tropical flavors and then served in a glass shaped like a bird,” the Puerto Rico native says.
click to enlarge
Rendering of Spanglish's interior.
Spanglish Craft Cocktail Bar + Kitchen
The team’s personal favorite, however, is the cafetera old-fashioned. The drink is poured straight from a fiery-red cafetera into a glass placed inside a cigar box. “Rum, coffee, and cigars,” Acevedo says. “Those are three factors that represent our cultures of Cuba, Puerto Rico, and Nicaragua. It has some homemade cigar bitters, a Dominican-aged rum, and a cold-brew coffee reduction with some citrus notes. It’s delicious.”

Fuentes says the menu is inspired by not just the Magic City. “We’re going to be working with grappa and with different vermouths. There will be influences from all over the world, not just on the beverage side but also the food,” the Miami native says.

In addition to creating the alluring cocktail menu, the Cartel has recruited the chef and owner of Eating House, Giorgio Rapicavoli, to helm the kitchen. Rapicavoli will also be in charge of the kitchen next door at Grails.

“We want Spanglish to reflect what the city embodies, and between the cocktails and the food, the flavors of Latin America are going to shine through,” Rapicavoli says.

The team plans to alternate the menu each season. As for what’s up first, the James Beard Award semifinalist chef says, “We’re going to do an interesting take on arancini, the Italian-style risotto croqueta, but with Latin American flavors.”

Dishes will be served family-style and include offerings such as queso frito, an anticucho, and larger plates such as paella, pork shanks, and plenty of fish options.

“The food and the cocktails are going to very much play off each other because it’ll be a lot of the same ingredients,” Rapicavoli adds. “I know what’s in the bar, they know what’s in the kitchen, and that’s going to allow us to work together and create things that don’t normally happen.”

Spanglish is also working on a brunch menu that will include exclusive brunch-inspired cocktails.

Also in development ahead of the planned early-August opening is an augmented-reality app that guests can download onto their phones and use to play with their food and drinks. The app will offer a custom cocktail experience, unique filters, and the ability to unlock secret menu items.

“Experience is a big factor for us,” Ortega says, “and these days, we know that the cell phone is almost like an extension of our hand. Guests will already be taking pictures of their food, so this app is one way of enhancing their experience at Spanglish.”

Spanglish Craft Cocktail Bar + Kitchen. 2808 N. Miami Ave., Miami; Opening August 2019.
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Carolina del Busto is a freelance writer for Miami New Times. She nurtured her love of words at Boston College before moving back home to Miami and has been covering arts and culture in the Magic City since 2013.