Chattanooga's newest restaurant looks for all intents and purposes like a Cuban bodega at first blush, which is appropriate since its owners say their goal is to bring a taste of Cuba to the Scenic City -- complete with the Caribbean nation's traditional pork sandwiches and more than 70 rums from around the world.
The owners have dubbed it Embargo 62, a nod to ex-President John F. Kennedy's trade ban, which has been ongoing for 53 years at this point. But with relations now on the mend between the ailing Castro regime and the United States, it's as good a time as any for the cantina and rum bar to open Monday in the space at 301 Cherokee Bvld. formerly home to wine bar Brix Nouveau.
"Everything here is to replicate the nostalgia of what Cuba looks like," said Brittany Alcala, who co-owns Embargo 62 with her husband, Danny Alcala. "We want to bring Cuba to Chattanoga."
She's a Tennessee native, but he's a Cuban-American whose parents emigrated to Chicago before moving down to Miami, which has a large Cuban-American community.
The Alcalas have collected a bevy of old furniture, tin cups and mementos from the sea, stripping down and then rebuilding the space in John Wise's Mary Locke building to more closely resemble a cafe in Havana among the brick edifices of Chattanooga's upscale North Shore. They've paid attention to the details, down to the freshly weathered paint.
This isn't the Alcalas' first restaurant, and technically, it isn't even their first establishment in Chattanooga.
The pair operate the Foxhole, a lounge in the South Beach district of Miami, and also have announced plans for an upscale cigar and spirits lounge that will open in the fall at Ooltewah's Cambridge Square. Before that, they had worked to bring a Cuban restaurant named Oye to the 800 block of Market Street, though that deal fell through.
But Embargo 62 is different, said Brittany Alcala. Open for lunch and dinner, and open until 3 a.m. on the weekend, the restaurant will introduce fresh Cuban bread shipped up from Miami, properly marinaded pork, and professionally mixed drinks courtesy of mixologist Danny Valdez.
"He basically has a Ph.d in the bar scene," Alcala said of Valdez.
A large case just inside the entrance holds stacks of Cigars — all legal, of course — and the bathroom hallway is covered in Cuban travel posters from the 1950s, spray painted with a message that will be familiar to fans of the Cuba Libre.
Better yet for diners watching their wallets, Alcala said the average ticket should total somewhere between $8 and $12. And the Alcalas also intend to emphasize good service, a punch-list item that is sometimes forgotten by restaurateurs in a hurry to open their new restaurant. The Foxhole has won service awards in South Beach for several years running, Brittany Alcala said, and the idea is to do the same thing here.
On Thursday, servers worked to learn the drink menu and prepare for the rush of customers come Monday. They created and tasted Embargo 62's Pina Coladas to make them well-balanced: not too sweet, not too strong. They worked on the restaurant's homemade Cuba Libre, which uses Coca-Cola from Mexico for authenticity. Some drinks are poured into a tin cup, as a nod to the Cuban workers who worked long hours on sugar plantations and used the tin cups to keep their drinks cool in the tropical heat.
"Everything is going to be fresh-squeezed, every day," Alcala said. "We believe in details."
Contact staff writer Ellis Smith at 423-757-6315 or firstname.lastname@example.org.