A Taste of Cuba in Portland
Originally written for Chilled Magazine, November 2018
Portland, OR has no shortage of cool craft cocktail bars. However, this new spot that’s slinging frozen daiquiris and Cuban bar food has been a packed house ever since opening their doors in April 2018. Initially it might sound a bit out of place for the rainy, Pacific Northwest but Palomar could be just what the Portland bar scene has been missing.
The space itself is light and bright, with midcentury tropical styling. There’s palm tree wallpaper, bright red fans mounted above the bar, and beautifully designed teal menu booklets, decorated with vintage drawings of pineapples, coconuts and other tropical elements to compliment the menu options themselves. The owner and operator of this casual and fun Cuban-inspired bar, is none other than Ricky Gomez, award-winning bartender with roots in both the Portland and New Orleans bar scene.
Gomez, who is also a first generation Cuban American, says that his family was the inspiration behind Palomar. “I'm born and raised in New Orleans, but I would travel every summer to Miami to visit my relatives,” Gomez explains, “From the decor to the food, Cuba (and Miami more specifically) is where I drew a lot of inspiration from.”
As far as cocktails go, daiquiris are definitely the main focus at Palomar, many of them with the option to be made shaken or blended. But if you think a blended strawberry daiquiri is just a syrupy, overpriced boat drink… think again. Similarly, a lot of people actually enjoy a Pina Colada, but would never actually order one at a cool bar in the city for fear of ridicule. Well then, welcome to Palomar, where Gomez and his staff take these tropical beverages that have been previously bastardized by cruise lines and neon syrups, and craft them as well-made, balanced drinks with quality ingredients. If rum isn’t your thing there are plenty of other options for you. Try out their pineapple gin and tonic or their Old Fashioned, which incorporates coconut masala.
From the food menu, there are plenty of Cuban bar snacks to choose from: empanadas, croquetas and various Cuban sandwiches to name just a few. One of Gomez’s personal favorites is the Frita Cubana, which he classifies as a Cuban hamburger. The patties are a mix of beef and chorizo with onion, american cheese, and fried julienne potatoes on top, served with special frita sauce.
Gomez is no stranger to the bar world but Palomar is the first time he’s opened his own place. “It definitely has been a learning experience,” says Gomez, “You can open as many restaurants and bars for other people as you want, but until you do it for yourself, you don't realize the amount of work it really is.”
Even while being relatively new, Palomar is clearly a huge hit and a welcome addition to the Portland bar scene. Running Palomar is his current priority for now but Gomez says he does have other bar concepts he’d love to execute in the future. “New Orleans will always be a part of me,” Gomez says of his home town, “and opening a Palomar there isn't out the question either.”