Tropical Vibe

The new Cuban-inspired bar and restaurant Cayo Coco brings rum and fun to First Avenue North downtown.

Written by Joe O’Donnell / Photography by Beau Gustafson

When you walk off First Avenue into the new Cuban-influenced rum bar and restaurant, Cayo Coco, the first thing you feel is tropical. Named for an island off the coast of Central Cuba, this is a transformational space with bright colors and a Caribbean vibe.

The crowd spills out onto an outdoor verandah, which you walk through to enter the main bar.

The bar is crowded and fun with seating areas throughout and a sound-mix of music and conversation. The design and aesthetic harkens back to pre-revolutionary Cuba and its famed glamorous and exciting nightlife.

Up a ramp from the main bar is the entrance to the restaurant dining room. The colors are bright and the tables and chairs arranged comfortably with a nod to interaction and conversation. The walls are covered with cut brass overlays that lend a classy feel to the room. The entrance to the dining room is dominated by a large black and white image of a man and woman on the steps in front of a large building. That image shows the parents of owner Andrew Collins photographed on their honeymoon decades ago in Havana.

The opening of this new restaurant and bar in the Founders Station development on First Avenue has been much anticipated. The new place is an extension for Collins, who is also proprietor of The Collins Bar on Second Avenue North. Josh Schaff is the general manager of Cayo Coco.

The rum bar concept is new for Birmingham. With a focus on rum-based craft cocktails, crystal cocktail glasses and a brass-topped bar, the feeling of the space transforms this part of First Avenue into an upscale hideaway in old Havana.

Collins is often credited with expanding the craft cocktail culture in Birmingham. At Cayo Coco, they have really expanded the notion of what you can do with rum. You can enjoy Ernest Hemingway’s favorite daiquiri, El Floridita with  Cuban-style white rum, fresh lime, maraschino (served shaken or frozen). The Canchanchara is made from Spanish white rum, Eastaboga Bee Company honey, and lemon black tea. The El Presidente has white rum, Dolin Vermouth Blanc, Curacao and a hint of pomegranate.

The kitchen, which is run by well-known chef Haller McGee, continues the transformative Cuban vibe with an exciting menu that blends Latin flavors with clear Southern influences. The Adobo pork chop with sweet potato chili relleno, mole, avocado-corn salsa, and chili oil is full of flavor and beautifully presented. Another of the entreé choices is a Snake River Farms flank steak with papas rellenas, green beans, and a mojo verde. To round out the entrees, there are also a chicken dish and a roasted Gulf fish entree with coconut flavors.

On the menu, you will also find three sandwiches served with yucca fries and plantain chips (a Cuban, grilled chicken breast, and braised beef).

The plates for sharing are a combination of salads, ham and cheese croquettes, and Mofongo Balls, which are made from braised pork belly, spicy sofrito, and avocado puree.

The dessert menu represents an excellent ending. Three choices include rum cake with coconut chocolate chunk ice cream and rum-poached pineapple; flan with rum-macerated berries and toasted coconut; and churros with spiced hot chocolate.

With rum craft cocktails and a carefully curated menu of Southern-influenced, Latin-infused food, an evening at Cayo Coco can be one flavor-filled experience.

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