It sure is hard to miss—a giant totem pole and bas-relief sun exist in stark contrast to the gritty, chain-fenced warehouses nearby, a no-name-necessary marker for this messy, multicultural fantasyland of a bar from the Commodore cohorts Stephen Tanner and Chris Young. Inside, Aztec-temple murals and banana-leaf wallpaper anchor the retro-soundtracked room, where Hawaiian-shirt-clad servers bustle towering hurricane glasses and taco salads to a crush of fringe-booted women and man-bunned guys. And as with the soul food kitsch of the Commodore, El Cortez is best enjoyed when you surrender to its haphazard mélange of influences, precariously straddling the line between loudly garish and really fucking fun.
ORDER THIS: Tiki touchstones flaunting mini-umbrellas and pineapple wedges pad the cocktail list, printed on vintage numbered place mats. The stiffest of the bunch is a rum-soaked zombie ($12), with a knock-you-cold first sip of 151 float, while a similarly sweet yet slightly tamer Flor de Muertos ($11) brightens smoky mescal and woody reposado tequila with splashes of tart velvet falernum. The bar replicates that mall-chain novelty, the Orange Julius, as a frozen, goes-down-easy Orange Julio ($11), sloshing floral gin and elderflower liqueur with fresh OJ.
GOOD FOR: Junk-food evangelist Tanner tenders gluttonous Mexican-ish comfort plates to sop up those saccharine pours. While the Tex-Mex trend earned a resounding thumbs-down across the river (lo siento, El Original), the unfazed toque and his co-chef, Dennis Spina (River Styx), zealously riff on South of the Border staples like tri-salsa, queso-shellacked nachos ($12) and a deep-fried chimichanga ($10) boasting Taco Bell ingenuity (and size) with mountains of ground beef, shredded cheese and avocado. American standards (burgers, shrimp cocktail) also make an appearance, but the star of this sideshow is a quartet of crispy, plump chicken sliders skewered together kebab-style ($11) in an ode to Tanner’s famed fried chicken.
THE CLINCHER: Head upstairs for late-night beats spun by local DJs (Miranda Maxwell, Eli Escobar) blaring Funktion-One–powered tunes that run the gamut from ’90s R&B to Brazilian disco and synth-fueled new wave. Roped off before 10pm, the under-the-radar space touts intimate booths, a second bar and a wood-decked patio for sipping alfresco in between sets. With gut-sticking grub to warm the belly and an after-hours dance floor to work it off, El Cortez festively shuffles between neighborhood dive and full-blown escape.