The South has many themed restaurants that pay homage to the music that defines the region. In Nashville, Tennessee, there are numerous country music themed restaurants and bars. In New Orleans, there are jazz joints that honor musicians like Louis Armstrong, Jelly Roll Morton and Pete Fountain, among others. But New York City, the birthplace of hip-hop — a music genre that has influenced culture well beyond music, — had no eatery to represent and pay homage to the genre. Alfredo Angueira, a Bronxite, changed that when he opened Beatstro.
Angueira grew up with hip-hop as the soundtrack to his life. He was surrounded by the increasingly popular, hypnotic beats as he grew up in the Bronx. He lived on 161 Street, and in his teens moved to Co-Op City. While he now lives in Westchester, New York, the Bronx is where he’s spent the majority of his life. Angueira always wanted to work in the restaurant business. His first venture was Bronx Drafthouse, a craft beer bar and restaurant that remains open today. In 2017, Angueira had the opportunity to open a new spot on Alexander Avenue. Thinking about the importance of hip-hop to his life and the general culture of New York City, he decided to create a restaurant that paid homage to the musical genre.
Hip-hop is a window and a voice into a particular community’s life,” Angueira says. “[And Beatstro] is a holistic picture of hip-hop culture.”
From the food (cornmeal fried oysters, piñon de maduro) to its decor, Beatstro showcases elements of both hip-hop history and the neighborhood it’s located in. In fact, when you walk into Beatstro, you might think you’re in the wrong place. Rather than walking into a restaurant, you walk into a small record shop. Angueira set it up that way to pay tribute to the very beginning of hip-hop.
“When hip-hop was first created, DJs did not work on the digital turntables they have now. Hip-hop was created from taking different beats and working on vinyl,” Angueira says.
On one side of the record shop’s wall there is a replica of DJ Grandmaster Flash’s turntable and mixer. With it, he created a DJ technique called the Quick Mix Theory, which helped mix sounds better and gave birth to the cutting and scratching of the records people often associate with DJs.
In order to get to the actual restaurant you must pass through thick black curtains. Once inside, customers are transported to a completely different place. Beatstro has an urban, speakeasy vibe. It’s peppered with lounge chairs, similar to furniture the styles from the 80s. Crystal chandeliers hang from the ceiling. Multiple art panels portray different elements of hip-hop’s story on the restaurant’s wall. One has the B-Boys, an American old-school hip-hop group, another showcases DJ Kay Slay, at just 16, spinning records in a park — where his musical journey first began. A panel of subway cars tagged with graffiti hangs above Beatstro’s open kitchen showing what trains looked like at the time hip-hop was born.
Pepper J., who visited Beatstro with a friend, was intrigued by the period-relevant art.
“I feel Beatstro represents hip-hop well. When I think about the birth of hip-hop and the Bronx being its home, and the political reasons why hip-hop came to be, the stories it told. I think it’s reflected on the artwork that is here. It shows some of the initial founding people that spoke about change and community and what is going on with folks in communities of color,” she says. “And I love the name Beatstro which reminds me of the word beats.”
Every detail at Beatstro pays tribute to different aspects of hip-hop. The photographs that hang on the walls were taken by famous hip-hop photographers like Joe Conzo and Jonathan Mannion.
“When hip hop was born, it was born out of Black and Latino kids in the South Bronx. What does that mean for the restaurant? What were they eating? I thought about what the traditional African American and Puerto Rican food were at the time,” Angueira says.
Items on Beatstro’s menu include chicken and waffles served with pickled strawberries, scallions and maple syrup. Other customer favorites include the churrasco, a grilled skirt steak with fried yucca, grilled onions and chimichurri; the shrimp and grits, served with smoked pork belly, crushed tomatoes, green onion and buttery shrimp stock; and the ribs.
But it’s Beatstro’s crispy catfish that Angueira feels represents hip-hop the best.
“The catfish [represents it the best] because it comes with locrio which is a traditional Puerto Rican fried rice. Catfish is a traditional African American dish, so I would say those probably represent [hip-hop] because it’s the two cultures combined in one dish,” he says.
Beatstro’s food combined with its great music keeps customers’ spirits up and their bellies full.
Sophie Bedaña and her spouse Ly Bedaña were visiting for the first time and loved the decor and food. Sophie, who is from New Orleans, is used to seeing jazz-themed restaurants and loved the decor of Beatstro.
“I really love the [decor]. I love the representation of hip-hop and the art they decided to go with. The frames, the different photos of the artists mixed with the graffiti on the walls. I also love all the speaker lights on the walls, mixed with the overhead chandeliers. It’s really eclectic,” she says. “Their fried oysters are the best I’ve ever had since being in New Orleans.”
Olivia Colon and her mother Audra Colon have visited Beatstro multiple times and they love it. They get fried oysters and margaritas every time they visit.
“Good food, good music, good drinks, 10s across the board,” says Olivia. “I am a 90s baby so I love all 90s music and hip-hop. I really feel that in the vibe, the artwork and the music and it makes it better that we are in New York City, the home of hip-hop — it feels right.”
Music compliments and enhances the vibe of Beatstro. DJ Ted Smooth spins the tunes most days. Oftentimes, local DJs will pay a visit and fill the restaurant with their creative remixes. When there is no DJ playing, Beatstro will play a mix of old and new hip-hop. On any given evening, there will be a mix of Tupac and Kendrick Lamar and a bevy of other recognizable artists.
“Our playlists will have an old school and contemporary mix. Individuals who are coming to visit us and are a bit younger can hear hip-hop they are accustomed to as well as hip-hop that was the foundation of what they are currently listening to,” he says.
Angueira wants his customers to have a good time, he wants them to feel as if they are at a family member’s house party, most importantly he wants people to leave with a different perception of the Bronx. Jackson Pollard is one of those people who came to Beatstro for the first time and believes it’s a great way to get in touch with the South Bronx community.
“Realistically speaking, someone may think that going downtown is the only place you can hang out. But there is a community here in the South Bronx where you can experience the same vibes that you get downtown,” she says. “If you really want to see what the neighborhood is like, you can come into a spot like this, have a Manhattan-like experience then go out and really be a part of the community, talk to the real people.”
Beatstro is full of surprises, including one coming this summer. To celebrate the 50th anniversary of hip-hop, the restaurant will be hosting a block party outside the restaurant to pay tribute to the genre. The date will be announced in early August.
“Many people have this idea of the Bronx and when you start experiencing it, when you dive into it it’s very different from what you anticipated. It’s the same thing with Beatstro, Angueira says, “We are in the middle of the South Bronx, you enter to see a grungy vinyl record shop and then you come into this totally different space. It’s not what you expect, it’s a celebration.”
Hours of operation:
Monday-Thursday 4 p.m.-midnight
Friday 3 p.m-2:00 a.m.
Saturday 11:30 a.m.-2:00 a.m.
Sunday 11:30 a.m.-11:00 a.m.
Business address: 135 Alexander Avenue, The Bronx, NY, 10454
Phone number: (718) 489-9397
Social media: Instagram, Facebook, Yelp
Most popular item: Chicken & Waffles; Churrasco
Recommended by the owner: Crispy Catfish