A new Revolución envisioned at the former Cafe La Especial
About a year and a half ago, Jaime Brambila and five associates began transforming the 1800-square-foot curio stall above his family’s former restaurant, Café La Especial (1952–2008), into a contemporary gastro bar. La Justina — named after Jaime’s grandmother — opened doors in early February, touting an inventive selection of cocktails (co-owners Donato Perez and Christopher Caro recently closed their Hipódromo speakeasy, Bar Jinx, to focus on the restaurant) and locally sourced cuisine.
“We went treasure-hunting for everything here,” says Donato, who constructed the bar with the help of his associates, local craftsman Seth Sullivan (aka Art Pusher), contractor Eduardo Guerrero (brother of foundational Baja-Med chef Miguel Angel Guerrero Yagües), and architect Ignacio Lopez de Maturana.
Now, La Justina’s repurposed, rustic-industrial aesthetic is evinced by rope chandeliers, Edison bulbs, chairs fashioned out of wood reclaimed from the ocean, and a bar top of 10,000 individually placed pennies — all illuminated by the Café’s original neon yellow sign.
“I envision a new Revolución with quality offerings,” Jaime says. “I see locals and tourists wanting to come to El Centro [downtown] to have a good time, eat at quality restaurants, admire some art, and drink beer and wine from Baja. Bottom line, I want to inspire more people to believe in La Revu.”
Chef Chad White (Sea Rocket Bistro) certainly believes in Revolución’s, uh, revolution. He teamed up with executive chef Iker Castillo to formulate a seasonal menu that highlights Baja’s natural bounties in unorthodox combinations. But we’re here to talk drinks, so a relevant starting point is the Revu. Conceived by La Jolla–based consultants Snake Oil Cocktail Company, the concoction pulls the margarita away from the bedlam of balcony bars and reinvents it in a next-generation cantina. The deconstructed marg matches tequila with lime, agave nectar, a slice of cactus paddle, and a black ash–salt rim. It’s complex, invigorating, and effective.
However, the secret thriller is the Clandestino, created by house mezclalogist Fernando Villalobos, a former cocktailero at Tijuana’s renowned Bar 20. Recently added to the menu, the chili-infused Alipús mezcal, orange juice, and St. Germain cocktail is the best in the house. The liqueur’s flowery notes lilt over the mezcal’s wisp of smoke. The chili, meanwhile, is just barely detectable, despite the whole chile de arbol garnish, which is coated in powdered maguey worm.
- La Justina, between Third and Fourth on Revolución, Tijuana, 664-229-4205. facebook.com/lajustinatj
- Attire: Classy casual
- Prices: Cocktails, $5; beer, $2–10; wine $25–45/bottle.
- Hours: Wednesday and Thursday, 5 p.m.–midnight; Friday and Saturday, 5 p.m.–1:30 a.m.
- Capacity: about 75
- Food: Seasonal, affordable Baja-Med cuisine
- Cards: Yes