Sunday, December 05, 2004


I had one of my more surreal experiences last night.

I hoofed it over to the Famous Bar to meet up with Chad Garrison. It was a good bracing walk, and I took the shortcut through the pedestrian walk between Macklind and Brannon, my favorite neighborhood pathway. Chad really wanted to go to La Onda. And I certainly had no objections, for they have the most delicious tacos out front and Chad said he was paying. Of course Chad didn't know that it cost 15 bucks for fellas to get in. So we bellied up to get some of the El Torito tacos. I ordered one steak and he ordered to el pastors, for he is allergic to beef. There is a list of about ten different meats available.

I asked the guy in the trailer what kind of meat Cesos was and he pointed to front of his head, with a bit of a chuckle.

"Brain?" I said as I pointed toward my temple.

"Si, cesos."

Uh. I looked back at the line of fellas eating tacos and pointed to my head and they smiled and laughed.

"Is good. Is good. Si."

"Um, okay."

I then asked about the next kind of meat. He then pointed to the back of his head, with another laugh. Another type of brain. I went down the list and had him point on his body what part of the animal it was. I knew what lengua was and I pointed to my tongue and everyone laughed. I asked to see the cesos and they served me up one. I just wanted to look at it, but they put a taco together. I wasn't hungry, nor was I hungry for cow brains. However, it was rude for me to hold it and not eat it. Now I don't want to get more disgusting and descriptive than I already have, but it looked like a fatty meat. The guys smiled as I looked at it quizzically. They motioned for me to eat it. I took a bite. It wasn't bad. Not at all. I wasn't hungry so I didn't finish it. Better than lengua and certainly better than raccoon. But not as good as the steak.

Chad had better bad Spanish than myself, so we started to chat up the fellas. We made fast friends, too fast of friends with this one fella, Rodrigo. Rodrigo wanted to buy our way in. I found this more than a bit suspicious, but we went along with it. The fella was drunk. I surveyed the situation. I knew the guy, sorta, at the taco stand. I buy groceries at his store El Torito. I asked him if the guy was okay. He nodded an affirmed yes. Granted the communication was a bit of a barrier. There were a lot of people going in and out of the club, and I saw two STL police at the door and many goonish American born bouncers. That didn't put me more at ease, but I at least knew that I could communicate with someone in the place.

The guy was friendly. Very machismo and talking a lot in Spanish. I figure at best he was just being a friendly drunk guy making friends in this new country, at worst trying to rush me and at weirdest trying to pick me up. Any of these scenarios I would certainly be able to handle just fine, besides, Chad was running with me and we could play off each other to get out of a jam or awkward situation.

And the situation took the direction of weird awkward. Hey, weird is interesting. I noticed the clampdown security at the door with the goons sweeping in and out of the crowd. The crowd itself was very country. They were dancing, not really salsa, but more country dancing. They would stand a bit apart, almost square dancing. The men all wore big cowboy hats, jeans, nice button down shirts and big belt buckles. It was very quaint. There was a lot of strutting around. There were Mexican women dressed nicely, but there were a crew of, to be candid, rough looking large hooched out southside born and bred hoosier chics. They looked like out of work hookers. They were having fun and were generally harmless, but were obnoxious. Really obnoxious. The men seemed to find these women amusing, but didn't really pay that much attention to them. These women were doing everything they could to get attention. Then they started to mouth off at us, sort of befriending us but trying to mack on us. We sort of ignored them, and I noticed a lot of the guys were kind of laughing at them.

The bar was littered with spent limes and spilt beer. We bought the guy Rodrigo and his friends some beers. Now his buddies were pretty much cool, and we spoke in broken English and Spanish trying to talk. One of the fellas was from Honduras. We spoke a bit for his English was a bit better.

Now it was getting a bit weird for the drunk Rodrigo kept putting his arms around us, especially me. Now this was sort of a camaraderie situation, but it was going toward kind of a queer sort of direction. I shook hands with his friends and he put his arms around everyone's shoulders, but it kept slipping down towards my waist. I kept walking around to try to politely get away from him. It would work. For a while. I really just wanted to check out the scene, but now I was obligated to talk to him and his buds. It never got really really weird, but enough to make it uncomfortable for sure.

But this is when it went another direction. One of the towering American goons grabbed some little guy and was booting him out of the place. No big deal, but enough of a scuffle to cause a look. Funny, for I had a conversation earlier in the evening with Sandy over at Sandrina's about how to kick someone out. Lets say this was not the best method. Then they started kicking out another guy. It reminded me of a few different places methods. Pop's. Brooklyn east side clubs. The old Galaxy crew of goons. B&D. Mississippi Nights back in the day. Not good. We used to use a method of throwing out people at the Side Door which would lead to a minimum disturbance and risk of injury. It was nearly always verbal, sometimes it would be physical, but always with a strategy. Quick, quiet, out and done. And we would get the same crowds that would go to the other joints. We established the order.

This second guy who was being tossed out, got literally tossed against the wall. He wasn't obviously resisting, but he got bounced off the wall. It was hard to tell from my angle, but I believe he got kicked. More than once.

This was my cue that it was time to plan an exit strategy. I could care less about this weird Mexican guy hitting on me at this point. I had maybe two or three drinks the whole night, so I was sober. Chad gave me a look of concern. I told him to wait before we rush out. I wanted to make sure the exit would be clean. Then I noticed one of the door guys had his shirt above his face. At first I thought he was being funny, but then I caught a whiff. Someone sprayed pepper spray. Probably the bouncer. They use this as a technique to take down someone unruly. The only thing is that this is dangerous when you are in a populated enclosed area. And this was one of those situations. The club was packed. I started to think of what happened in Chicago. At this point Chad told me he wanted to go. I wanted to leave too, but I told him to sit tight and to wait for a good moment and not to rush. The pepper spray was affecting most of the front part of the club near the entrance. The entrance was a narrow hallway, which made it more difficult. I knew if we played it cool we would be safer, besides I wanted to see what else would unfold inside. I scanned the place for the other exits, for if it got ugly I needed a backup plan. People were relatively calm, which was good. We were lucky. But there was a rush to the door. I nodded to Chad and we made a calm line to the door and exited. No goodbyes, just a departure.

We were outside and in the clear. Around us were people gasping for fresh air. People were vomiting. Throwing water in their face. This was ugly.

This is where we have problems which we can address, but will likely do it in the wrong way. We need a club like La Onda. In fact we need more of them. We have a lot of Mexicans in this city and we should have plenty of social outlets for the diversity of people in our city.

But bars really can't be owned by Mexicans- non US citizens- by law. If a place has a liquor license, they need to have a citizen on the board of officers. This means US citizens get payoffs to sign off and be on the board. Often they do nothing for a payoff. Sometimes it works out okay. But sometimes it does not. This brings in people who really just want to make money. They are not working there for fun and to make money. They are there to make money only. They have less concern for the patrons. There is not as much of a connection between the employees and the customers. There is not as much of a concern for their welfare. These problems are universal, but they are particularly acute in too many of these types of situations where immigrants are restricted from true ownership and management.

I still will go back to La Onda. I didn't mind the weird, funny, awkward but I didn't dig the dangerous. I am more likely to stick to the steak tacos and I will probably not let anyone buy my way in. I might go in again, but if I do go I am going to try to go early. I am also going to try to talk to the door and management. I want to figure out what is going on.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

been dying to check out La Onda. Last time I drove by I thought, "well, I'll probably never see the inside of that place," and I was kinda sad, b/c my bar exploring has been toned down as of late, but after reading your posting... I'm okay with the fact that La Onda is one joint I've missed.


3:07 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I forgot to mention that we stopped at a hole in the wall the other day on Cherokee and had some Mexican. There were maybe 6 kinds of tacos listed and I could only identify one, maybe two types. I think "Lengua" was one. The rest were mystery meats of some sort.


10:39 AM  
Blogger Steven Fitzpatrick Smith said...

I just remembered that La Onda is owned by a cat named Matt Mulcahy. He owns Viva and that hole down by Union Station that I think used to be the Rail. I went to a Cory Spinks party there. He is an odd fella. He is half Irish half something and goes by Matteo. Viva was always a bit calm, but that Rail joint was something else.

3:45 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was recently telling someone with some pride (not that I had much to do with it) that there were only two scuffles at the Side Door that I can think of. Unless you count Doug trying to wrestle Freedom Rock away from the sound board.

One fight I remember was with a very big college wrestler who didn't want to go when it was time. Even the kitchen staff had to help get this 21 year old Greco-Roman heavy weight out of the joint. The other fight involved skinhead Chris(RIP)and his (unfortunately) racist crew. It was a good place and people didn't want to cause trouble there I think. How cheesy of me to say this: it was about the music.


3:10 PM  
Blogger Eric said...

The time I went to La Onda, I dug the place. Security seemed sedate enough to me. That stand out front was great - I was full and I couldn't resist a carne asada taco...

12:13 AM  

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