This radical change started when La Mezcalera opened in January of 2009, followed by many others. Even though business openings are great for Tijuana’s economy, sometimes the new bars can feel weird…like a sterilized prototype designed to satisfy upper-middle-class hipsters, the same people that in other times would have never gone downtown because it was considered a dirty, poor, and dangerous place.
On the other hand, the migration back out into the night is seen as the way new generations of tijuanenses are reclaiming their city and their right to have fun and feel safe, to feel on par with the crowd that traditionally visited the old cantinas, the ones that served a famous writer, a maquiladora worker, a taxi driver, or a Grammy winner. For decades, anyone who walked Avenida Revolución would be harassed and fought over by club workers competing for a commission on the customer’s tab. In fancier antros or discotecas, the bouncers would profile people at the door and leave anyone outside who didn’t meet their standards. These are practices that don’t belong here.
Rafa Saavedra, the most notorious chronicler of Tijuana’s nightlife says: “The rules have changed. No bar with a velvet rope will be successful here, cover charge is gone for good, there’s no special treatment for anyone, none of the bars take reservations or offer full bottles. That’s why it’s very unlikely that malandros move in, since they like to be noticed, to get preferential treatment, and this won’t happen here. The Calle Sexta phenomenon’s secret is simple: celebration. We all like to be a part of it.”
I can’t deny it. I have mixed feelings toward the new popularity of Calle Sexta. I’m sure it will bring a new set of problems or revive some of the old ones, but today the most attractive part of visiting downtown at night is diversity. There’s everything for any taste (except narco-corridos): industrial music, Japanese pop, ’80s new wave, cumbias, norteño love songs, electronic pop from Spain, an occasional tocada of local and foreign indie bands or DJs. And even though the range of options keeps growing, there’s nothing like exploring the old cantinas; when one finds a place with a jukebox full of José José songs, walls of mirrors, red vinyl booths, silk flowers, a little empty dance floor, a clean restroom, and two-dollar beers, one can forget about time, the economy, love, crime, and the fact that the car is at a public parking lot that closes at 1:00 a.m.…well, that can be a problem.
Lorena Mancilla has a degree in philosophy and owned a cigar shop in Rosarito until the local economy tanked. She currently teaches literature and ethics in Tijuana. Her blog is at: lorenamancilla.blogspot.com.
Botanita: Little snack. There is a variety of snacks served in cantinas all over Mexico, most of the time served for free.
Chuj: A rigid, thick, square sweater woven by hand that falls below the hips.
Colonia Condesa: A Mexico City neighborhood that has a high concentration of cafés, bookstores, bars, and restaurants; a lot of artists and intellectuals live there.
Fichera: A woman whose job in a bar consists of drinking with customers or dancing with them; the bar pays her a commission (not to be mistaken with a stripper or sex worker).
Fresa: A person who belongs (or pretends to belong) to the upper–middle class.
Malandro: Delinquent, criminal.
Manguera: One who thinks it is glamorous to act, look, talk, like a drug trafficker, even when he only aspires to be one.
Narco-Corridos: Songs that pay homage to Narcos and their accomplishments, deaths, cars, guns, stories, codes, lifestyle.
Pulque: Fermented sap of the agave plant (very sour), served in many flavors, such as pineapple, mango, and strawberry.
Tocada: A small rock concert.
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