Right off the Jefferson L Stop sits Calabrije’s, a colorful Mexican bar dedicated to sharing joy through art, music, and most importantly, margaritas.
Calabrije’s team met a while ago and have spent time enjoying the night life and bar scene in New York, and they saw a gap.
There were Mexican restaurants, many with elaborate cocktail menus, and there were bars, but no true Mexican bars. Calabrije’s is casual – you order at the counter and quality is the priority. They know a good drink doesn’t need to be complicated or fussy, it needs to be well made, delicious and fun.
The 21 margarita flavors, crowned best in the city by New York Magazine’s GrubStreet are made to order with fresh fruit purees, no syrups allowed. This means, as the owner put it, ‘If you like the fruit, you’ll like the margarita.” There are more flavors than the rainbow has colors, as they say. All flavors can be served spicy, with jalapeño infused tequila, on the rocks, or frozen. Guests also combine flavors, like coconut and raspberry or mango and japaleño.
We tried several rounds and there are no duds. Certain regulars even make it their mission to try them all. If you can’t choose, the pineapple, made with spicy tequila, stands out. It tastes like the first drink you’d have when you get off the plane someplace warm and is exactly what you want after a day of hearing “train traffic ahead.” The passion fruit is another tropical standout and the spicy jalapeño is a hot sauce lover’s dream. The margaritas aren’t too sweet or too strong; they’re perfectly made and you’ll most definitely want a second one.
Alongside the margaritas, Calabrije aims to share the spirit of Mexico. As the owners explain, “even with hardship, there’s this desire to be happy in Mexican culture.” The food, the art, which reflects “Mexicans’ love for bright, fluorescent colors”, the menu, and the drinks are all there to make people happy and spread joy. The playlist, full of Spanish and English punk, rock, and pop songs, is inspired by the team’s favorite bars in Mexico City and all the tacos are made to order. Like at a taco stand, they’re served on with only cilantro, onion, and a lime squeeze on colorful plastic plates.
The bacon taco is based on a childhood dish from the owner’s childhood, combining bacon, mushrooms and avocado. Unlike the other tacos, it’s served on a flour tortilla because that’s how his mom used to make it. It’s impossible not to like. Another excellent choice is the chorizo, available in a taco or quesadilla, is crumbly and spicy, a perfect contrast to the refreshing drinks.
For vegetarians, the veggie tacos don’t disappoint with strips of cactus and mushrooms. Add both of the housemade salsas. After a drink or two, the bean and cheese stuffed gordita, with masa made in house, is oh so satisfying. And you must order the esquites, Mexican corn off the cob with poblano peppers, served in a shallow bowl and topped with the a pickled jalapeño. They use fresh corn and the perfect amount of mayo and cheese.
If you’ve seen Coco (now on Netflix), you’ll recognize Calaveras and Alebrijes (the new name is a hybrid of these two words, changed to convey the quirkiness of the place), the skulls and folk art used to represent the mythical creatures and the souls of the dead. This type of art is little known and hard to find in the US. To bring it to Bushwick, the team has spent some time in different traditional markets all around Mexico. Now there are skulls by the beer taps and whimsical lizards and other figures climbing the walls. The team also features a painting of the month from different – and mostly Mexican – artists. This month features work by Rosa Rolanda, a dancer, photographer, painter and contemporary of Frida Kahlo’s.
The Calabrije’s team found Bushwick by chance while they were living in Manhattan and looking to open a space of their own. They got off the subway one day, and noticing the street art, thought the neighborhood would appreciate the space they aimed to create. The bar attracts a diverse crowd, from neighborhood regulars to couples on dates, to families hanging out on weekend afternoons.
These margaritas and the alegria, or excitement inside Calabrije’s is worth a trip. As locals, it’s a treat to have the city’s best margaritas so close by, the atmosphere of a vacation right in Bushwick.
Calabrije’s Margaritas and Tacos
234 Starr St. #3
Near the Jefferson L Stop
(718) 484 2110
Sunday and Monday 5:00-11:00 PM
Tuesday-Thursday 5:00 PM –12:00 AM
Friday and Saturday 5:00 PM–1:00 AM