Julia Nagel/Sun Photography Editor

From the outside, Dos Amigos may seem like a typical Mexican restaurant — but beneath the Collegetown classic's floor lies the latest arrival to Cornell's nightlife scene — Tres Leches.

November 20, 2023

New Underground Bar Tres Leches Spices Up Collegetown’s Nightlife Scene

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Dos Amigos owner Jorge Bouras ’17 has seen what Collegetown looked like back when he was a student at Cornell in 2013. According to Bouras, it was shabbier then, but still the same old grungy Collegetown with limited nightlife options. Eager to bring another bar to a scene dominated by Level B and Hideaway, Bouras opened Tres Leches at 403 College Ave., bringing speakeasy vibes to the center of Collegetown. 

As a sophomore at Cornell, Bouras opened up Dos Amigos in 2015 with the vision to bring Mexican-style dishes to Ithaca. Dos Amigos began as a food truck before becoming a brick-and-mortar restaurant in 2019. After graduating from the School of Hotel Administration, Bouras moved back to Ithaca in 2019 to move forward with the restaurant and bar, but opening the bar took longer than expected due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We had intended to open Dos Amigos with a bar in the basement in 2019, [but] the pandemic had more or less eliminated that possibility,” Bouras said.

Through all the obstacles that Bouras experienced trying to open this bar, the plan to use the space beneath Dos Amigos eventually materialized in mid-October. Bouras said he aimed to pull off this project without settling for anything less than what he imagined it could be. He wanted the bar to stand out to Dos Amigos upstairs.  

Collegetown is not known for its classy, lounge-like bars — according to Bouras, that is what makes Tres Leches unique. Bouras noticed monotony in Cornell’s nightlife scene, so he wanted to introduce something new. 

“We [tried] to prove that you could take a community like Collegetown and bring it to the next generation by executing a bar-restaurant to a high level — that has always been the mission,” Bouras said. “And Sammi certainly helped us accomplish that.”

Sammi Katz, a bartender and cocktail writer, was the missing piece of the puzzle that Bouras was looking for to elevate his bar and successfully launch it without any setbacks. Katz not only designed the menu for Tres Leches, but she also helped design the underground bar’s interior and ambience. 

Aside from being a restaurant owner, Bouras had never worked in a bar space before. He had the space below Dos Amigos renovated by April 2023, but was not able to do anything with it at first. Soon after, through a stroke of luck and family-friend connections, Bouras met Katz at a wedding, where she was bartending. They hit it off instantly, and Bouras gave Katz full creative control over the space and menu.

“I wanted to focus on Latin American spirits to pay homage to Dos Amigos and what they’re doing up there, but also to celebrate the other spirits of that region of the world that are not necessarily tequila,” Katz said.

The bar at Tres Leches showcases a menu of signature cocktails that are creative and unique. Expertly crafted by Katz, these concoctions range from classic favorites with a twist to inventive creations inspired by the cultural diversity found within Latin America. 

“We wanted to keep the menu pretty small,” Katz said. “Which is why I wanted to keep it to six classics and six originals — making sure you have the things people know and want to go to.”

Katz said that the drinks and flavors highlighted on the menu introduce people to a fun way of trying new products. With her background as a bartender and mixology writer, Katz discovered flavor combinations that highlighted Tres Leches. 

Bouras emphasized how much Katz helped the team at Tres Leches create a unique experience for Cornell’s Collegetown. Their main goal was to create an elevated space that was both comfortable and classy in not only its appearance but also its menu. 

Bouras said Katz’s expertise in mixology and creative services has paved the way for the Tres Leches concept and exceeded Bouras’ vision. 

“We wanted [Tres Leches] to feel like you’d entered into a different world,” Bouras said. “Something that people wouldn’t expect to come from the umbrella of Dos Amigos.”