2018 Primetime Emmy
& James Beard Award Winner

Once Upon a Time in a Bar in Mexico

Once Upon a Time in a Bar in Mexico

Beer in Tecate

At the end of the bar, two men sit and talk while popping peanuts into their mouths. A pinch of salt gets sprinkled over slices of lime. One of them picks up a wedge and sucks on it. He then takes a swig from his bottle of beer.

The bartender has the look of a musician, the kind that would play in a loud rock group. I’m curious, so I ask: Toca música, Usted?


I ask what instrument he plays, learning that every day he plugs in his amp and practices bass and electric guitar. He tells me that he likes 1970s music along the lines of Deep Purple and Alice Cooper, but also that he really enjoys listening to Roy Orbison and The Everly Brothers.

“How old are you?”

“Twenty-one,” he says.

When I ask where he learned of those bands, that many people his age have no idea of that musical era, he tells me: radio, internet, friends. He adds that when he was five years old he saw a VHS of Glen Danzig and he knew in that moment that he wanted to be a musician.

I order another beer.

A man walks in and greets everyone with a “Buena Tardes” as he passes each of us. He makes a beeline to the bathroom. A minute or so later, he walks back out of the bar, giving a head nod to us, his cowboy hat dipping.

“That’s nice that you allow people to come in and use the bathroom.”
“We know them all,” the bartender responds. “He’ll be in later for a beer.”

It is midweek. The dusty, little border town is quiet, as is the bar. On the weekends, this place can be packed, with mariachis singing while travelers, local ranchers, and townspeople share the tiny space that’s been around since 1957.

Finishing up my beer, I encourage him to keep practicing and playing guitar, that someday maybe he will make a little money as a musician.

“I don’t want it to ever be about business,” he states, adding that he is enrolled at university so he hopefully will have a steady job in the future. For him, he says, playing guitar makes him feel good and he does not need other people to like how he plays for him to be satisfied. I suggest that he is an artist. He smiles.

I pay my tab, take the last swallow, and exit. Strolling through Parque Hidalgo, I see men sitting on park benches reading newspapers and carrying on conversations. Children sit with grandparents eating some kind of pastry. Mariachi musicians clean their instruments. Some strum strings, tuning the sound.

A beer buzz in my head, I walk down to El Mejor Pan de Tecate, the famous 24-hour bakery that many consider the best on the entire peninsula. The sun sinks. I have empanadas on my mind.

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