Tuesday, November 9, 2010



The Kentucky Club in Juarez, Mexico
first opened its doors in 1920. Over the years
that followed it became one of the most famous
watering holes along that hot and dry Mexican border.
Jack Dempsey drank a few here, so did John Wayne,
and Jack Kerouac. Marilyn Monroe bought the
house a round of drinks the night she celebrated
her Juarez "quickie" divorce from playwright
Arthur Miller. Richard Burton and Liz Taylor
"celebrated" a divorce here, and in more recent
times Bob Dylan and friends put a few down.
The walls are loaded up with photos of stars
and the legendary - politicians, boxers, artists -
that have sat right there, in that booth,
or on that barstool. It's a museum of sorts.
It's said that the drink -the Margarita - was
invented here by a house bartender in 1946.
It was traditionally interesting, fun, and safe.
Today, business is off 75% or better.
The drug wars. The incredible carnage.
Over 8,000 killed here the last few years.
Eight to nine a day average over recent months.
It's considered to be the most violent city in
the world not in an actual combat war zone.
The fatalities now include lots of "civilians,"
people in no way connected to either gangs or
drugs. Adolescent birthday parties have been a
favorite target lately, and a dozen or more kids get
mowed down at a time. Decapitations are on the
increase, and one unlucky soul had their face
cut away from their head and stitched on to a
football. A couple of American college kids
with some youthful bravado got shot down
last week, just two blocks from the bridge
they were heading to cross, on their way home.
This is seriously evil stuff.
When I was a kid growing up in El Paso, Texas,
Juarez's neighbor across the Rio Grande River , we
often came to Juarez for haircuts on Sunday mornings
after Mass. Afterward, on occasion, my dad would take
my brother and I a block up the street to the
Kentucky Club, where he'd have a morning highball
while looking over the Sunday Sports page
in The El Paso Times, and treat us to Coke's -
crushed ice in a tall glass with lime and a cherry.
It was a class act. The bartenders
always outfitted in starched white shirts and ties,
every hair in place, hands and nails immaculate,
gold fillings gleaming. Sunday mornings they
restocked the coolers and shelves, murmuring in
low tones to each other. An occasional laugh.
But very quietly, very low key.
A janitor slowly swept between the tables.
Glasses were polished to a glimmering shine.
But it seems now like it was all in slow motion.
This was like a church too, in some ways.
The place was almost always empty at this hour,
just an occasional elderly gent, or two, from the
neighborhood, or unusual anglos, like ourselves.
The Mexican Catholics were
mostly in church, or bed. The turistas were just
getting up in their motels on Mesa Street,
across the river.
I loved the joint, and in later years always tried
to find time for a visit when I had the opportunity
to be in the area, even if for just an hour or two
on a hot afternoon.
It's one of those memories that "fits" well for me,
and makes the absolute obliteration of the old
Juarez hard to take. The Juarez of clubs and restaurants,
the vendors along Juarez Avenue, the photographers,
shoe shine boys, cigarette sales kids, whorehouse
hawkers, taxi drivers, and hustlers of every
type imaginable, hustling almost every thing
imaginable, and some things that went
beyond imagination. Past beyond.
But music, lots of music. In a visit
to the city market and a couple of clubs,
you could easily have heard a half-dozen
mariachi bands and combos of various stripes.
The music was always there.
I doubt that it is now.
It was poor, but the tourists came
and ate, and drank, and spread some dough.
Anyway, that's pretty much over now.
It's very apocalyptic, the way it's all going down.
The Kentucky Club, however, at last report,
still had its doors open.
And so we pray:
God in heaven, protect this old place we beg you.
Keep the guns far, far away, and allow those
who are brave enough to come to work here,
or enter in to share a cold one and camaraderie,
do so in peace and safety.
Though the "good times" are over in Juarez,
let them be remembered and talked about
as long as the doors of this old bar remain open.
Because once they're closed, it's all over and out.
Keep the darkness out there, O God, and spare
el propietario, su empleados y su clientes,
(the owner, his employees and his customers).
O Dear Virgin of Guadalupe,
Mystical Rose,
give to us sweet hope in the midst of the
bitterness of this life.
Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe,
ora por nosotros.
Our Lady of Guadalupe,
pray for us.
For more info on the mess go here:

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