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Nortico is Helping Shape Tijuana’s Craft Cocktail Scene

Open a year, the speakeasy-style bar has gained a cult following


Inside Nortico | Photo by Kelly Davis

It’s been almost a year since Tijuana got its first speakeasy, Nortico, and though craft cocktails are still new to Baja (at least in this century), the bar’s already developed something of a cult following. On a recent Saturday night, every seat was taken and folks without reservations were being turned away.

In speakeasy style, you have to know Nortico’s there to find it—and text ahead for reservations (+52 664-611-0589). It’s inside the restaurant Oryx Capital (10750 Boulevard Agua Caliente, Colonia Aviación), which has been getting rave reviews of its own.

Nortico’s décor alone makes it an ideal spot to enjoy cocktails. It’s got a mid-century lounge vibe, wood paneling, dim lighting, and comfortable seating. The walls are filled with gold leaf-accented, large-scale reprints of photos of Al Capone, bootleggers, and 1920s Tijuana.

Nortico's El Zaragoza | Photo by Jim Sullivan

The current menu will be around for a couple more weeks, though all the cocktails will still be available. The new menu, a collaboration between Nortico bartenders Fernando Villalobos and Kevin Maldonado, and George’s at the Cove’s Stephen Kurpinsky, will also follow the same format: On the left side are classics and on the right side, riffs on classics.

My favorite among the six classics—and one of my favorite cocktails in general—was the Clover Club (gin, raspberry syrup, lemon, and egg white), though a friend of mine declared the Old Fashioned “perfect.” Among the riffs, the El Zaragoza, my husband’s favorite, is a Baja version of an Old Fashioned, made with mezcal, Ancho Reyes chili liqueur, gomme syrup, bitters, and a little acid phosphate to give it some bite. I really enjoyed the Agua Caliente—a take on a Vieux Carré—made with mezcal, cognac, Madeira wine, chocolate bitters, and fragrant maple smoke that lingers in the glass.

Ruffo Ibarra, Oryx Capital’s chef and owner—who gets behind the bar when things slow down in the kitchen—said the Clover Club and its riff, the Capone 34 (rye whiskey, lemon, housemade praline orgeat, egg white, and coffee bitters) are the most popular. Hopefully on the new menu will be one of Ibarra’s creations, made with Johnnie Walker Double Black whiskey, mescal, white cacao, mole bitters, gomme syrup, and a little Laphroaig. Yet-to-be-named, it’s sweet, smoky, and very smooth.

Also keep an eye out for Nortico’s monthly “guest bartender” takeovers that’s brought in bartenders like David Tye and Stephen Kurpinsky. This month’s happens on March 29 and features Eric “Shrimp Toast” Long (False Idol).

Got an idea for a future post? Email 2kellydavis@gmail.com.

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