BIT Blog

Nights at La Cucaracha, Episode One: The Dave Chappell of Sinaloa

Tequila Stories: A Unique Tequila Tale to Be Read in One-Sitting with a Sip!

We met The Dave Chappell of Sinaloa at La Cucaracha in San Miguel deep into the late night, several weeks back.  He had volunteered his birthplace.  We came up with the nickname, in appreciation of his highly-entertaining rap and general way of moving.  Plus, he kind of looks like Dave Chappell.   After telling us where he was from that first night, he was quick to add “but I’m not that kind of Sinaloan…..I’m a lover, not a fighter.”  He then initiated some tequila shot rounds, and a fine time was had by all (until the piper was paid next day, anyway).  

When we walked in the door on this night, there he was again, down at the far end of the bar by the jukebox, where Jonathan, my Aussie friend, and I like to hang out.  With him were four large, stern-looking dudes who looked enough alike to be brothers.  Turns out they were.

“Hey, man, I want you to meet my cousins!  They’re visiting from Sinaloa.”  Firm, solemn handshakes were exchanged.

“They don’t speak any English, but there’s great guys.”

Now, Jonathan speaks Spanish fluently, albeit with the same thick Antipodean accent that makes his English hard for me to understand in loud barroom situations (which is where we tend to congregate).  My brain, however, has demonstrated a lifelong resistance to representational systems like other languages.  I berate it for this, but so far it remains resistant and unrepentant.  And so I struggle.

Cucaracha was hopping on this night as the clocked danced heedlessly past midnight, and things were loud enough where even Jonathan was having a hard time trying to communicate with the taciturn (and still large) cousins.  

And then Dave Chappell started The Shot Buying.  

I had an immediate flash of how this was going to go:  seven guys taking turns buying rounds of shots for each other.  Rinse and repeat.  I felt my skull get an anticipatory jump on things by starting to throb, pulsing in and out and putting a rhythmic pressure on my brainpan.

Disclaimer: This is not Walter! It's another tequila lover, Kevin Holloran, hanging out in La Cucaracha taking cheap tequila shots.

Disclaimer: This is not Walter! It's another tequila lover, Kevin Holloran, hanging out in La Cucaracha taking cheap tequila shots.

And so it went.  I’ve always been deeply impressed by the Mexican ability to consume tequila throughout a night without making faces, hopping about, cursing or otherwise showing any effects from the ingestion.  Whereas growing up in Texas in my day, we were the subject of a ruthless, comprehensive and effective advertising campaign that created the pervasive false impression not only that gold tequila was GOOD, but that Jose Cuervo Gold was the only tequila anyone should buy.  And so, as you might imagine, much sputtering and hopping about was always involved, accompanied by some truly creative expletives.  And this in turn produced “tequila stories” (eg. waking up in the back of a pickup truck as it sped down the road, driven by people you didn’t know) as well as a Pavlovian response to further tequila drinking (which of course was not a deterrent).      

So after a round or so on this night at Cucaracha, I realized that my only hope was to introduce a different kind of shot into the rotation.  I needed some relief from the not-Cuervo-Gold-But-Still-Not-That-Great-Quality blanco tequila shots.  So when my turn to buy came around again, I asked our friend Herman, the bartender, for “siete kamikazes, por favor.”  Herman was not familiar with this one, and so Jonathan helpfully pulled out his phone and the recipe was quickly pulled up and passed behind the bar.  Herman read it, nodded once, and soon we had a long line of cloudy little shot glasses lined up for us.  The four cousins looked a little dubious at this break from tradition, but without objection they each grabbed a shot glass and we all tossed ‘em back.  I waited with some trepidation for their reaction. 

They loved it!  Turns out none of our group but myself had ever had a kamikaze before.  One of the cousins even ordered more as the shot buying rotation came his way.  I started to feel better about maintaining a bit of dignity and poise for the rest of the night.  But then more low-grade tequila shots were ordered, and I began to feel a certain uncertainty in the rigidity of my legs.  Nothing too serious yet, but let’s just call it an increased potentiality of toppling.  

So as my round-buying turn approached, I began to consider something truly desperate……something I had not done in a very long time……something that might not even be possible (or legal) in a Central Mexican cantina.   I scrolled through my besieged and sputtering mental Roladex, trying to remember how one might make the damn thing.

And then it was my turn.  “Herman,” I asked with some hesitation, “can you make a Flaming Dr. Pepper?”  One furrowed brow and recipe look-up on the phone later, Herman got down to some serious alchemy.  He seemed deep in thought……a true craftsman, enjoying a new challenge.  It took several trips for him to ferry all the parts of these shots over to us, and when lined up it covered the entire length of the bar.

As you may know, a Flaming Dr. Pepper is a combination shot whereby a large shot glass is filled with Amaretto and topped off with Bacardi 151, which is then lit on fire and dropped in a full mug of beer, which is itself then immediately chugged in its entirety.  Against all odds and reason, it tastes exactly like a Dr. Pepper.  No one knows why.

To say that the Sinaloans appeared dubious of my new order would be a bit of an understatement, but they did enjoy the fire display (Herman had been so enthusiastic with the lighter, and the bar so saturated by booze from its venerable 69-year history, that our entire end of the bar caught on fire for a bit).  And so all seven of us stepped up in a complicated ballet, since the timing of the lighting of the shots, the deposits in the mugs of beer, and the beer chugging itself, was crucial for the Right Effect to be delivered.  

It was brutal, as I knew it would be, but it did provide that diversity so craved by my palate and soggy brain stem.  But how would the Sinaloans react?

They loved it!  They all slapped me on the back, smiles and handshakes all around, and two of the cousins ordered the same thing when their turn next came around.  Everyone in the bar seemed to enjoy the fire spectacle, and Herman seemed well-pleased with this new mixology arrow added to his quiver.  It was Good.

Sure, it took 2-3 days to feel human again (with my skull on Day One feeling as if it were cracking open a’la Zeus birthing Athena), but in the end it was a small price to pay for the whole hands-across-the-sea brotherhood and libationary solidarity that our diverse little group shared that night in the same little Mexican cantina where Kerouac and Ginsberg where drinking when Cassady got hit by the train on the outskirts of town.

Rather than drinking ANY of what we drank that night, try this much more sensible and tasty alternative:
Prickly Pear Margarita
--4 oz. Blue Iguana Silver Tequila
--2 oz. prickly pear cactus syrup
--2 oz. Cointreau, Mathilde Orange XO Liqueur, or Triple Sec
--1 oz. orange juice
--4 oz. lime juice
On the rocks:  Mix ingredients, pour over ice.
Frozen:  Put 4 cups of ice in the blender with ingredients.
(serves four, or two with large tiki mugs)