Since the start of the pandemic, the word "pivot" has been tossed about like pizza dough; a nod to quick improvisation or adaptation by a business to survive the tsunami of change that Covid has brought upon us. Restaurants, in particular, have had no choice but to take evasive action just to stay open, first with carry-out and delivery-only models, then navigating a safety minefield to reopen dining rooms. Some have rolled with the changes, others have closed up shop for good.
But some have used the moment for a more dramatic transformation. One of the most aggressive pivots comes from a guy who built a restaurant empire inspired by the Italian boot, even constructing a small neighborhood in midtown west named for the peninsula. But where Giovani DiPalma made his pre-covid mark with Little Italia, Antico Pizza, and Gio's Chicken, this summer he turns his creative vision to a Caribbean concept for a party like it's 2019.
Welcome to Tropicale, an immersive voyage to a tropical island's urban cafe; an escape accented with palm trees, umbrellas, fans and ceramic pink flamingos. DiPalma's former Bar Amalfi now is an ode to the scene in The Godfather 2 where Michael and Fredo Corleone drank banana daiquiris (for the record, Michael actually only drank club soda). Tropicale struts an old school, pre-Castro vibe but also adds a large dollop of sexy South Beach energy. The bar opens at 5 pm where imported coconuts (branded stylishly with the Tropicale logo, perfect for Instagram) are cut open and then filled with freshly-made Pina Coladas and Coco Locos. Cuba Libres, Mojitos, Margaritas are some of the other libations that almost make you believe your US Passport works again. Food comes out at 8 pm with seafood cooking over burning wood and jerk chicken smoking in a portable smoker. Other plates like king crab salad, lobster ravioli, and grilled lobster are done with the same obsessive nature as DiPalma does his legendary Italian dishes: rich, hearty and made with the best available ingredients.
It's been months since "see-and-be-seen" meant something and with Tropicale, it's back. The music plays loud, the beats run fast and the liquor flows freely. For those of you who crave a glimpse into the recent past (and hopefully not too distant future) looking for a reason to get reacquainted with something besides your quarantine uniform (that sweatpants and t-shirt combo you love so much), throw on some decent threads, get your Ray-Bans out of hibernation and head to a tiny Oasis over off of Hemphill. Reserve a table through their Instagram direct message link (while you can). REPEAT: I DO NOT handle their reservations. You have to DM them.