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Tijuana Gets a 21st-Century Speakeasy

Nortico hopes to transform the city’s craft cocktail scene


Inside Nortico | Photo by Kelly Davis

The interior of Tijuana restaurant Oryx Capital is light, spacious, and warm—it has big windows, a high ceiling and caramel-colored wood accents. The hallway to the bathroom is lined with a windowed wall that looks into the kitchen, but as you continue walking, the windows get smaller and smaller, the squares slowly filled in by black. Keep going, turn left, and look for the hidden door in the all-black wall. Welcome to Nortico, Tijuana’s first speakeasy

Nortico hopes to do for Tijuana what Noble Experiment did for San Diego: ignite the city’s craft cocktail scene. (Like Noble Experiment, you’ll need to text ahead of time to reserve your seats and, also like Noble Experiment, there will be a few chairs at the bar available for walk-ins.)

Nortico’s decor is part mid-century, part rustic space-age lounge. Gold leaf is pressed onto the wood-paneled ceiling and used as an accent in large-scale reprints of photos of Al Capone, bootleggers, and 1920s Tijuana—“the golden era of Tijuana,” says Oryx Capital’s chef, Ruffo Ibarra—when folks headed to spots like the Agua Caliente casino for gambling, horse racing, and booze.

For Nortico’s cocktail menu, Ibarra brought on Snake Oil Cocktail Co., who tapped Stephen Kurpinsky, bar chef at George’s at the Cove. Working with Ibarra and Oryx Capital’s head bartender, Fernando Villalobos, Kurpinsky came up with a menu of classics (Ramos Gin Fizz, Clover Club, Brandy Crusta) and modern takes on classics, like the Room with a Vieux (blanco tequila, Mandarin Napoleon cognac, lime, agave, and absinthe) and the Calle Canal (rye whiskey, allspice dram, lemon, praline orgeat, egg white, and coffee bitters). When you arrive, you’ll get a complimentary housemade milk punch as an amuse bouche.

The Del Huerto

If you go, don’t skip Oryx Capital. For the front of the house, Snake Oil Cocktail Co.’s Frankie Thaheld came up with an approachable drink menu that pairs well with Ibarra’s Baja Med cuisine (the food is pretty great—try the octopus torta and the blackened fish taco). The drinks lean sweet as opposed to boozy, but the sweetness comes from fresh fruits and vegetables. Try the Del Huerto, made with Old Harbor gin; strawberry, beet, and lime juices; and a bit of pepper sprinkled on top. Also good is the Flora Y Fauna, made with a blonde ale from Mexicali brewer Cerveza Fauna, bourbon, apricot marmalade, and garnished with a basil leaf.

Thaheld says he hopes Oryx Capital and Nortico will be considered cocktail vanguards. “I’ve been involved in a few projects [in Tijuana],” he said, “and this, I think, is the best one.”

Nortico will open the first week of April. Call +52 664-611-0589 for reservations.

Got suggestions for a future column? Write to 2kellydavis@gmail.com.

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