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Pop-Up Mexican Restaurant Caters to Hungry Columbia Students

By Emily Frost | January 23, 2013 12:38pm

UPPER WEST SIDE — In just five days, restaurateur Jeremy Wladis and his partner Spencer Rothschild have transformed the Italian restaurant Il Cebreo into an eatery from south of the border.

Amigos, on 112th Street and Broadway — just blocks from the ravenous hordes at Columbia University is a pop-up restaurant expected to last through the summer. It will feature a rotation of well-known chefs, beginning with Alex Garcia,  West Side Rag first reported.

Wladis describes Garcia's cooking style as "authentic, fun, flavorful and bold." Garcia is overseeing the kitchen staff, in between running his own Upper West Side restaurant, AG Kitchen, which opened this fall.

Though he's known for his Cuban roots, he's going for authentic Mexican cuisine at Amigos.

In the following months, chefs Adrian Leon from Agua Fresca in Harlem, Aaron Sanchez of Tacombia Tacqueria in Soho and Roberto Santibanez of Fonda in Brooklyn will rotate through the kitchen, revising the menu, teaching the cooking staff and stopping by once a week to check-in and visit with guests. 

"Pop-ups are hot" and they allow for flexibility, said Rothschild. "When you do something new and different, you get to test things...You get a little more forgiveness."

Wladis said that Il Cebreo, which "looked like an Italian trattoria" with a beige and gold color scheme, was a "modest success," but that "it was never fun or exciting."

So Wladis called up his North Carolina-based design crew and had the restaurant repainted, redecorated and ready for new business in under a week.

Multi-colored lights hang from the ceiling, doors are hand-painted with Dia de los Muertos-inspired skeletons, wire frame roosters perch from counters and more than a dozen tequilas are listed on a chalkboard. 

Though Wladis said on Sunday night the staff had to throw about 80 college students out at 4 a.m., the neighborhood's approval is very important to Amigos' success. 

Cheap alcoholic beverages, like $5 sangria, beer and margaritas, are a draw for college crowds, as are the specialty drinks like the Fish Bowl, which has dark rum, light rum, fruit punch, pineapple juice and schnapps. 

"We've been selling the Fish Bowl like it's going out of style," said Wladis. 

SInce opening Friday, Wladis said he's also seen plenty of families and residents who he said have implored him, "'I hope you're not really thinking about flipping this place."

As part of the plan to appeal to families too, Wladis and Rothschild have planted a cup of crayons and a white paper table runner on each table. Waiters are assigned to encourage diners to draw.