At the corner of 27, Alberta, a tall concrete and stucco building has been standing for over 90 years and once home to an electrical substation; Throughout the pandemic, it has remained vacant, a quiet landmark on a busy street. Today, it looks a lot different than it did a few months ago: its walls now have a lovely shade of bright pink, and its tall, Florida teal wood doors. Palm trees – a rarity in Portland – surround the sides of their concrete steps. Above the door, in connected neon font, is a sign that reads “Kala Bar”.
There are a few bars with a similar aesthetic to the Calla Bar in Portland. Its millennial pink walls, blush rounded white stucco banquettes, and wood-concrete floors are offset. Cacti and palm trees give the space a tropical desert feel, in contrast to the darker greens spotted in the plant-filled bars around town. Light shades of rattan hang over the tape, and built-in lighting from the arched back tape flows through the gaps in the fabric. And in the backyard, string lights illuminate tables shaded by umbrellas. With a fresh, cool aesthetic, a kitchen and bar full of talent, Bar Cala is set to be a hot spot in Portland’s summertime Northeast.
Cala Bar, which opened in late June, comes from Victor Daniel Cerda Zamorano, an Alberta resident and Sheb Me Miro Mall. For years, Zamorano walked past the building, when it was still the station bar, and felt a twinge of doing something with it. Overwhelmed in the restaurant industry during the pandemic, he told himself he wouldn’t return to food service unless he had a place of his own. So when his college friend Fernando Damas – of Damas Paint and Build – offered to go somewhere with him, they jumped into the Alberta building. And when they tried to figure out a concept for a bar, Zamorano wanted to do something that would honor his Chilean heritage and offer something somewhat special to the area.
“There are Latin American and Mexican restaurants in Portland, of course, but I wanted a really cool Latin bar,” Zamorano says.
Here’s what they did: Zamorano took advantage of Autentica alum Mauricio Dimas to cover the menu, which includes hot-weather Mexican dishes like potatoes and carrot dorados, prickly pear with seafood swirl and fish taco with salsa green. While the menu features Mexican, the broader Latin American influence is seen in the restaurant’s steak with chimichurri and grilled octopus with a burnt habanero marinade.
At the bar, Brian Lucas and Oswaldo Nino Medrano use fresh, pressed juices for a number of cocktails using Latin American spirits, including tequila and pisco. Zamorano is particularly happy with Sandia Es Vida, a blend of Cappelletti, prosecco, watermelon, and grapefruit—a loose play on the Aperol spritz, one of his favorite drinks. One of the bar’s most popular cocktails, La Toxica, was almost not on the menu; A blend of serrano-infused tequila, watermelon juice, aperol, and vermouth, it became a cult favorite on the bar’s few open weeks.
While the food and drink at the bar draws most inspiration from Latin American countries and their cuisine, the design of the space aims to mimic the interior and landscape of Palm Springs: desert plants, modern lighting fixtures in the middle of the Golden Horn, a mix of indoor and outdoor. Outdoor aesthetics. Zamorano enlisted the help of his wife Jimmy Libra and Damas’ wife, Judy Taylor, to help with the color scheme and furniture. Arium botanicals dealt with plant life. “I love that classic mid-century vibe, but also something from the ’70s and ’80s,” Zamorano says. “Most people think we’re going to Miami, in pink, but it’s inspired by Palm Springs.”
Overall, Zamorano wants Cala Bar to feel accessible and relaxed, but it’s also stylish and fun – a place with good food and drink in the neighborhood he loves. “We don’t want to be too proud, a Michelin star, but we don’t want to be a hole in the wall either,” Zamorano says. “We want anyone to be able to hang out here.”
Bar Cala is located at 2703 NE Alberta Street.