The Cortez

Tiki with a twist

The Cortez Seafood + Cocktail mixes an unexpected pair

by Catherine Currin

photographs by Keith Isaacs

The Cortez exudes sophisticated beach vibes, from the bright blue benches and white-washed walls evoking sand and sea to the menu of fresh seafood. The restaurant opened on Glenwood South last summer and has already found a dedicated customer base, thanks in part to weekly one-dollar oyster happy hours. Its drink menu adds a carefree element: from rosé meant to pair with oysters on the half-shell to a spirit-forward cocktail meant to balance lobster mac and cheese, many cocktails are aquatic themed and have a decidedly tiki bar bent.

“We created a menu with what we thought was a new and fun direction for Raleigh,” says bar director Cary Walters. Walters previously worked at Jose + Sons, Cortez’s sister restaurant in downtown Raleigh. There, he created the Mexican restaurant’s signature bloody mary, mixed with Sangrita, a tomato palette cleanser, over-the-top garnishes, and a beer back.

Walters has brought the same spunk to The Cortez, where the fun is in merging classic bar cocktails with tiki beverages. The tiki-inspired mixes are housemade, keeping any artificial syrupy-sweetness to a minimum. Walters jokes that when he gets requests for a “skinny margarita,” he can’t help but explain that these freshly made mixes are, in his opinion, “naturally skinny.”

This month, Walters mixed the winteriest tiki drink he could manage: The Tiki Old Fashioned is a nautical nod to the classic Old Fashioned: brandy mixed with a refreshing crushed ice orangeade. The tiki flavor comes from Caribbean-spiced Falernum syrup; The Cortez makes a version in-house, but you can find it at specialty grocers and beverage stores, too. “People view tiki drinks as typically too sweet, too sugary. We like to blend the intimidating liquor cocktails with the tiki to make it approachable. It’s enlightening to get people to embrace certain cocktails again.”


Tiki Old Fashioned


2 ounces Copper & Kings American brandy

¼ ounce Falernum syrup

3 dashes bitters

½ orange slice

brandied cherry

splash of soda water

mint, for garnish

Add bitters, orange, and brandied cherry to cocktail shaker and muddle. Add brandy and Falernum and shake with ice. Strain over crushed ice in a tulip glass. Add splash of soda, and garnish with mint and an orange twist.