A new restaurant on the Mexicali Rose site will honor the cultural history of the place

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A dozen local muralists including Dillion Keene, Bay Area Mural Program, Natalie Gabriel and Kiss My Black Arts gathered this weekend to paint murals on the pink exterior of the former Mexicali Rose restaurant in the downtown area. Oakland. Recently bought by Chris Rachal, owner of Liège, which closed last year, and M2 cigar bar, the building that housed the historic Mexican restaurant will soon be home to For The Culture, a restaurant and a community meeting space.

Saturday’s mural event gave artists a platform to bring the community together while paying homage to the culture of Oakland, which Rachal says will be at the heart of everything For the Culture does during its opening early next year.

Collaborative muralist Matthew Hurd said it was the first time he’s collaborated with so many artists on an entire building. “It’s a traditional monument and one of the oldest buildings in Oakland,” said Hurd. “Definitely a cool project to be a part of. ”

The vision for the building will be to fill Mexicali Rose’s legacy with something new. “This is an example of an Oakland native not allowing myself or the culture to be kicked out,” Rachal said.

MexiCali Rose was in the same family for 91 years and closed in June 2018, three years after the closure of neighboring Mexicatessen La Borinqueña, 71. They were considered the last two Latin American companies of what was once a tight-knit Mexican-American community. Mexicali Rose was known for its enchiladas, strong Cadillac Margaritas and the souvenirs created by its customers. On the last day of the restaurant, people lined up for several hours to say goodbye and share a final meal of beans and rice or chili rellenos.

The Gonzalez family owned the property at 701 Clay Street for four generations and were selective about who to sell it to. Rachal said it took three years of negotiations to buy the building because the family didn’t want it to go to the developers who would tear it down. Instead, they wanted a buyer who would use it for the benefit of the community.

Rachal said he plans to keep the building’s pink color and that the new exterior murals will be painted in various shades of pink and purple, reflecting how the old blends with the new. Mexicali Rose’s neon sign will be repaired and will remain on the building in recognition of the Mexican restaurant that has been remembered by many Oakland residents.

A new Aerosol mural inside For the Culture, which takes over the former space of the Mexicali Rose restaurant in downtown Oakland. Credit: Brandy collins

“We’re not just destroying history. We’re all the product of some sort of story, ”Rachal said. “And I think Oakland needs it.”

Rachal said that in his 30 years of cultivating the nightlife, he has learned that having a firm but unique perspective helps create an environment where people want to be. “I travel to many tasteful cities and see trends that others don’t,” Rachal said.

He opened Liège in 2010. The nightclub was very successful but closed in May 2021. He opened M2 (Mimosas sur Grand) – aesthetically designed for “an easy state of mind” – quietly in August 2021. Rachal said he wishes each of his businesses felt different to them.

The Bay Area, according to Rachal, is not a leader in nightlife and entertainment innovation, something he wants to change. “Unfortunately Northern California is one of the lower trending markets. I don’t know why we can’t set trends instead of following them.

For the old Mexicali Rose building, Rachal said his focus “is for the culture” of Oakland. Oakland culture is on the run, he said, not only because of gentrification, but also because there needs to be more effort to preserve Oakland’s rich history. Buying Mexicali Rose is how Rachal puts his money where it is. “We need to be more creative, have a more forward-looking vision and be diligent,” he said. “I can’t tell someone else to do it, if I don’t.”

A now closed Liège sign hangs inside the restaurant, a nod to the history of the nightclub. But Rachal said the customer experience at his new location won’t be the same. For The Culture will be about creating more space for artists.

Chris Rachal said he plans to keep the interior murals depicting Aztec life that were painted by “Ricardo” in 1977 and 1981. Credit: Brandy collins

The floor space is brighter and more open than the original. The mustard-colored walls and rose stained glass behind the bar have been removed to make room for more seating. There is also a large Black Panther mural painted by Aerosoul, with the words “We want freedom. We want power to determine the fate of our black community.

The large interior murals covering two walls, depicting Aztec life, painted by “Ricardo” in 1977 and 1981 remain intact.

“You don’t get rid of something like that because it means something. It’s so well done and detailed, ”Rachal said. “It’s part of the arts community and culture. “

Rachal said he plans to build a bar, stage and seats in the parking lot, and house food trucks. There are still a few small details to be completed before the restaurant is ready to receive the public, but the wait will not be too long. For The Culture is slated to open in January 2022.

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