Wednesday, November 4, 2015

For Authenticity, Check It Out

DJ Disco at El Palacio during a break.
Sometimes, ya just gotta go there.

Fearing that my memory might be a little fuzzy, I had an opportunity recently to refresh it. Because I had set a scene at the popular Mesilla watering trough, El Palacio, I was gratified when I ended up there recently to see friends of friends who had frequented the bar while they were students at nearby New Mexico State University.

This bar advertises itself as "respectful." There's a dress code disallowing lowcut tops for women and wife-beaters (undershirts) for men. It has the standard wooden bar backed by mirrors, which multiply the bottles of various types of spirits on offer. It has a pressed-tin ceiling, a jukebox, a tiled floor, and tile on the walls.

The noise level the night I was there was considerable, so it was difficult to hear one's companions over the DJ disco in the room next to the main bar and in the back room, where a live band was playing for those who prefer more traditional Mexican music.

The bar, a fixture in Mesilla for more than seventy years, seems to be a favored hangout for area Latinos of a variety of age groups and philosophies. One often sees motorcycles lined up out front; you might see cowboy hats on the two-steppers and their partners in the disco and elderly folks who want to polka in the back room. I saw tattooed homies in athletic shorts and t-shirts, some older folks gathered at the bar, and my friends, so white they looked pasty in contrast to the majority of the patrons, who by that hour, were so numerous it was practically standing room only.

Frisky liquor advertising "art."
Velia Chavez, owner, says her dad, Pablo Salcido, originally opened the place as a blacksmith's shop. However, one night, her mother decided to have a dance there. "The place got packed," she says. People were asking for more dances, and after another couple of successes, "she told my dad, 'forget about the blacksmith's shop. This is gonna be a dance hall.'" 

Women were not allowed in the bar (except for dances?) until after her father's death in 1991, Velia says, shortly after the main part of the building had burned. After the fire, they had to do something within ten days to avoid losing their nearly sixty-year-old liquor license. The community was on the job to save the bar. It was rebuilt with lots of help from the local folks, and the pressed-tin ceiling puts the new building in synch with its' historical past.

The bar at El Palacio on a busy Saturday night.
My point in giving you this description? I've set a scene in my mystery novel in El Palacio. I wanted to be certain that what I remembered was authentic. It was. When my character encounters "Chuy" there, he is definitely in his element. But if you want to be sure, read my book. Then go to El Palacio and have a few cold ones.


My thanks to Bucket List Bars' July 30, 2011, YouTube video. Additionally, my apologies to those with Spanish surnames who may prefer Mexican-American, Chicano, or Hispanic as descriptions of their ethnicity.