When you first open the door at 135 Alexander Ave., you seemingly find yourself in a vinyl record shop. Filled with posters of Bob Marley, LL Cool J and Wu Tang Clan as well as a Casio keyboard with a missing key, it’s not unlike other record stores. But when you get to the tall red velvet curtain directly across the entrance, the muffled music playing behind it invites you to cross the threshold.
Four MTV Cribs-esque chandeliers shed light on the scene: A crowd forms as the DJ dances to a Migos song. Beside them, a group of friends laughs hysterically as they pour a glass of mouth-watering sangria, reminiscing about the good old days while sharing plates of crispy chicken, perfectly melted mac ‘n’ cheese, locrio and tres golpes.
This is Beatstro – the Bronx’s first hip-hop restaurant.
Businessmen Alfredo Angueira and Junior Martinez launched Beatstro in June 2018. The two met several years ago at a launch party for Loft 142, the now-defunct pub that Martinez owned. At the time, Martinez signed a lease for another bar near Yankee Stadium and was looking for investors. Angueira took a leap of faith and cut a check two days later.
In 2016, the duo opened the Bronx Drafthouse, located on 884 Gerard Ave. Shortly after, they tried to open another restaurant on Bruckner Boulevard; however, it didn’t come to fruition because the building was sold to someone else.
This setback gave them a chance to take stock of what they wanted in a restaurant. They knew one thing: They wanted a space that embodied the Bronx spirit. Looking across the United States, they began to feel inspired.
“Look at other cities or [look] at other countries that have something that originated there,” Angueira tells me. “New Orleans [is] one of the homes of jazz and blues. You go to the French Quarter, that’s everything. Everything revolves around music. You go to Memphis, everything revolves around music. You come here to the Bronx, which was the birthplace of hip-hop, and what is there?”
The Bronx is credited as the birthplace of hip-hop. What started as an afterschool party hosted by DJ Kool Herc gave way to a style of music that has become more than a genre; it’s a movement and a way of life. For many growing up in the Bronx, especially in the ‘70s and ‘80s, the music was ever-present.
“It is the soundtrack to most people’s lives,” Angueira says. “There isn’t anything more Bronx than hip-hop… But there is no place to celebrate it.”
Coming up with the concept of the restaurant came naturally after that. They decided to set their focus on a hip-hop restaurant but not just any hip-hop restaurant. They wanted something that would also challenge the negative reputation that unfairly defined the borough. So they modeled Beatstro after the illicit nightclubs that popped up during Prohibition.
“The whole concept of a speakeasy speaks to this borough,” he adds. “I don’t know about now, but when I was growing up, [you’d] tell people, ‘I’m from the Bronx.’ They’re like, ‘Ugh, that’s all the way out there? I’ve never even been there, I’m not gonna go.’ But when people come out here, they’re pleasantly surprised.”
Once they knew what direction they were going, they moved quickly on opening the doors. After eight months of construction, they made their grand debut last year.
With so much thought put into the identity of the restaurant, it’s no surprise that they were so purposeful about the decor. Decked out with mirrors and a giant golden wall made out of speakers, the elevated seating area doubles as a stage for DJs and local performers. Despite all the reflective surfaces in the space, it’s hard not to notice the vivid graffiti mural – courtesy of Andre Trenier – and quintessential Bronx imagery. No corner is left untouched.
Beatstro sheds light on the Bronx’s beauty – the parts that the media didn’t (and still doesn’t) show. The walls feature black-and-white photos of MCs performing, B-boys battling and children playing in the streets, all shot by legendary Bronx photographer Joe Conzo. It’s an ode to the community and those who shaped hip-hop.
“Hip-hop was created by Black and Latino kids,” Angueira says. “It was important that if we were going to tell this story like a museum, we have to tell this story not just through the decor and the art, but through the food and cocktails.”
Reflecting on his childhood, Angueira remembers b-boying and ending the day at his friends’s houses.
The Latinx kids grabbed their plates of arroz con pollo and gandules; the Black kids had catfish, baked mac ‘n’ cheese and collard greens.
Beatstro fuses both worlds with a menu packed with favorites like chicken and waffles, jambalaya, fried plantains, shrimp-fried locrio and juicy churrasco. With new plates added every few months, you’ll always be in for a seasoned surprise.
But if you’re looking for something to sip, then Beatstro also has you covered with its signature drinks, such as the Red Top. The name might go over a few heads, but for those raised in the Bronx in the late ’80s, it rings a bell.
“Red Top was the top of the crack [vial],” Angueira says. “I grew up through that – it’s real. I remember seeing them littered on the floor. I used to pick them up and put them in the head of my bike in different colors.”
This crack epidemic plagued the streets of the Bronx, threatening to wipe out everything in sight. Yet, the borough prevailed. Packed with flavor, the Red Top – a mix of tropical punch Kool-Aid, cognac and lemon – is a sweet reminder that the Bronx always bounces back from adversity.
“This is a call back to this era that we had passed and come through,” Angueira says. “This is the Bronx, period.”