The security guard at Dandy del Sur, a cantina on Calle Sexta, told me they were at capacity and didn’t let me in.
“I don’t think we’ll be opening the bar until September or until there is a vaccine,” says Dany aka ‘Drago,’ founder of Dragon Rojo Rockbar and a hospital worker by trade. “I keep the bar as my side gig, for the love of rock music. I worry about my employees, but health is my main concern. I get daily messages asking me when the bar will open. We won’t until it’s safe. All the other bars jumped the gun. They weren’t counting on the enormous public backlash.”
Dragon Rojo is one of the first bars at the entrance to Tijuana’s “tolerance zone,” Zona Norte. In all my years in Tijuana, I have never seen the 24-hour bars in the area closed.
Only two people per elevator
I took a stroll in Zona Norte with my friend Juan in the early afternoon of March 25. Juan, a seasonal fisherman in Alaska, flies frequently between his home state of Guanajuato and his job. His route takes him through Tijuana. Days before his arrival, I promised him that despite the virus, Tijuana was not going to shut down. The day he landed was the day the bars shut down. Still, we went to investigate.
The cops detained us immediately after turning the corner on Callejón Coahuila, a street famous for its sex workers who solicit customers from doorways and corners day and night. They asked us our reasons for being there and said my friend Juan was “Poncho,” a famous drug dealer in the area. We were released minutes after proving that he was not Poncho. We walked around the area and noticed girls offering their services with provocative clothes and protective facemasks on. We did not find any bars open.
Norte Brewery. All the beertenders wore plastic faceguards, cloth masks, and plastic gloves.
79 days later, on June 12, Miguel Ángel Badiola, the secretary-general of the restaurant association, announced that restaurants can re-open as long as they adhere to the safe-distance rules. Businesses rushed to open their doors, including bars and strip clubs, on the premise that food is served inside the clubs. Bouncers at the door wore protective plastic faceguards, squirted sanitizing gel in the hands of patrons, checked temperatures, and made sure people kept six feet apart while waiting in line. Once inside the club, the safe-distance guidelines were nowhere to be found.
On re-opening day, a Friday, I went to Norte Brewery for a pint of craft beer and to enjoy the sunset. At the entrance, they checked my temperature, my vitals, and gave me sanitizing gel. All the beertenders wore plastic faceguards, cloth masks, and plastic gloves. There were only five tables available and there was no seating at the bar. Employees sanitized and wiped the tables and chairs as soon as a patron left their seats.
After Norte, I headed down to Dandy del Sur, a cantina on Calle Sexta. The security guard told me they were at capacity and didn’t let me in. He did, however, let me go into the bathroom. The bar was at around a third of their usual capacity. I tried to go to the bar El Copeo nearby, but they said they were opening on Saturday and suggested the bar across the street. The bouncer at YouRevolution bar told me there was a 50-peso (about $2.50) cover charge to enter the empty bar. I refused and went home.
On Saturday, El Copeo had a long line around the corner and Dandy del Sur had double the number of people from Friday. After a public backlash the governor of Baja, Jaime Bonilla, said that bars are not authorized to open and called citizens to report the ones that do. By Sunday, all bars and strip clubs were shut down again. Breweries and restaurants remain open with safe distance guidelines in place.
Essentials are ill-defined. Businesses like barbershops, nail salons, shoe shiners, maquilas (factories), and many others remained open during the quarantine. Schools, parks, beaches, and other public spaces remain closed. Parque Teniente Guerrero, downtown Tijuana’s park, closed down to the public. Yellow tape was placed at the entrances. Police were sent to kick people out of the park, including the many homeless that spend the night there. Minutes after being kicked out, they returned.
Hotel Cascadas, the hotel above the strip clubs, never closed. Internet reports indicate that the penthouse bar never stopped serving and that you could find sex workers. Hotel Ticuan also didn’t close during quarantine and their restaurant remained operational.
The border has been shut down for tourists since the beginning of the quarantine. The opening date for tourists keeps getting extended with the latest announcement setting the reopening to July 21.
As a dual citizen, I’ve crossed the border a handful of times during quarantine. Border lanes have been heavily reduced. At the beginning of the quarantine, the waiting time to cross was minimal. As the days go by, more people started crossing again, yet the U.S. border patrol has not opened any more lanes, making border waits chaotic as usual. Mexican border patrol has not stopped me on my way back.