Feb 12, 2015: El Rancho

There’s a little bar across the street from our flat. From the outside, it looks like a rusty coloured log cabin has been embedded into a modern apartment building. It doesn’t seem to keep regular hours.

If you come by when it is open, you’ll find behind an older man, head covered with a pristine black felt fedora, either at the bar or sitting at one of the repurposed wrought iron sewing tables near the door. His name is Jorge, and he opened El Rancho 50 years ago.

Today, El Rancho was open at 6pm and the regulars weren’t in yet, so we sat at the bar. As far as I’m concerned, the bar is the only place to sit if you want to learn something. Adam ordered the ubiquitous Tropical brand beer and I asked for a mojito. After Jorge brought Adam his beer, he stepped out the front door. A minute later, he returned, mint in hand. Jorge moved in an unhurried way, muddling sugar and mint and lemons (there are no limes here).

After handing me my drink, he leaned on the bar.

“Are you American?” he said.

“No, Canadian.” Adam and I said, simultaneously.

After a bit of chatting it came out that Jorge, aside from running El Rancho, is a poet. Some of his work is inlayed into the bar top on green 5” by 5” paper squares under plexiglass. Our Spanish is miniscule, though Adam understood a few words. Only one of his works is translated into English, and it hangs on a large poster outside the front door. It’s a poem mourning the deaths of JFK and Martin Luther King.

He says, in heavily accented English, that his bar is Western themed. And it it, sort of. The interior has plenty of varnished wood and nick nacks. Wagon wheels divide the sitting areas, brass belt buckles and at least a dozen portraits of Native Americans on the walls. But there are also pictures of James Dean and Marilyn Monroe. A tea towel is draped on the wall featuring a leprechaun riding a donkey features recipes for irish coffee and guinness bread. And a carved wooden hippo stands on the bar, about the size of an English bulldog. Its inauthentic, but endearing.

The evening rolls on and the bar slowly fills up. Regulars with leashed dogs, a few hippies take over the back of the bar and make use of its singular bongo drum, and occasional tourists.

Jorge gets busier as we finish our drinks. We pay our tab and weave our way out through the crowd with a wave to the owner and a promise to return soon.