Another round: Las Ramblas makes James Beard finals two years running

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From left, Fabian Limas Jr., Chris Galicia and Michael Limas, are shown at Las Ramblas at Market Square, which they opened in 2019 and which is a James Beard Foundation “Outstanding Bar” finalist for the second consecutive year. (Courtesy: Daniel Loera)

The first time Las Ramblas at Market Square made the James Beard Foundation “Outstanding Bar” finals, it felt like a fluke, admitted co-owner Michael Limas.

That happened last year. Now that the upscale cocktail lounge at 1101 E. Washington St. in downtown Brownsville has made the semi-finals a second time this year — one of only five bars nationwide to make the cut — it feels like something else may be going on, he said.

“To go to the finals twice, it feels like there’s something brewing here,” Limas said.

What exactly has gotten the foundation’s attention two years in a row, he’s not quite sure, maintaining “we’re just doing what we’ve been doing from day one.”

A watering hole in Honolulu won Outstanding Bar last year. This time around, Limas, his brother Fabian, and beverage director Chris Galicia, the two guys he launched Ramblas with in 2019, are going up against fellow finalists in New Orleans, San Francisco, Baltimore, and Montpelier, Vt.

“We know what it feels like to lose, and it’s not the end of the world,” Limas said. “But we don’t know what it feels like to win.”

He said he’s very grateful Ramblas made the finals again, something Limas admitted is “mind-boggling.”

This year Ramblas has company in the Rio Grande Valley: Ana Liz Pulido, owner/chef of Ana Liz Taqueria in Mission, was a James Beard “Best Chef” semi-finalist last year and made the finals this year, competing against chefs in San Antonio, Austin, Houston and Dallas. Limas said he’d like to do some type of collaboration with Pulido. At any rate, Both will be headed to Chicago in early June for the glitzy awards ceremony where the 2024 winners will be announced.

Galicia, a 10-year veteran of the hospitality industry, said it’s “the million-dollar question” what exactly it is that Ramblas is doing right to the extent that it keeps landing them in finals, though he has a theory.

“In all those years, the thing that in my experience of visiting other cocktail bars and other restaurants, the thing that stuck out to me was always hospitality,” he said. “I tell the crew all the time we can make the best cocktails in the world, but if we’re less than welcoming people are less likely to come back. So we try to make sure that every single day we give the best style of hospitality we can and make everybody feel welcome, then they’re more than likely going to come back.”

Needless to say, there are plenty of places one can acquire a fancy drink in Texas, not to mention the United States, Galicia said.

“There’s a lot of people doing what we’re doing as far as a product goes,” he said. “The way that we treat everybody who walks through the door is extremely important. That’s the first thing we try to instill in our staff.”

He thinks Ramblas does a good job on that score, and also believes that the company’s community partnerships with nonprofits like the Moody Clinic and United Way of Southern Cameron County may also appeal to the Beard Foundation, demonstrating that Ramblas is “more than just a bar.”

Galicia said making it to the finals again this year was a big surprise, and makes it seem a lot less like dumb luck.

“Now there’s no doubt,” he said. “We’re doing something right, and we need to keep doing this and keep pushing.”

Meanwhile, the employees are stoked — especially those who’ve been there the longest, Galicia said.

“They’re definitely all pumped about it,” he said. “We’re trying to see who’s going to go to Chicago and how that’s going to look. It’s a big ego boost and a reassurance to them that they’re where they need to be and where they should be, with Las Ramblas.”