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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) 

Iguanas in San Miguel de Allende

While our tequila (and women) come from Jalisco, our office is located in the colonial city and UNESCO world heritage site San Miguel de Allende. Wikitravel says, “San Miguel is, first and foremost, a city built for relaxing.” While this may be true for some, I must disagree. Small towns often lend themselves for unwinding, and certainly there is enough new-agey yoga, meditation, energy work and the like to go around, but beneath this tranquil surface churns the never-ending current of local celebrations.

I’m not trying to back-talk Wikitravel, mind you. It’s just that all those Americans, Canadians, and Europeans who've been swindled by San Miguel’s charm and “bought a house in the first few days” have also created a subculture, somewhat akin to the outsiders. Asking around many ex-pats (or semi-ex-pats) say that to them San Miguel is a place to “discover themselves” or “take time for themselves;” it’s “downtime,” “magical,” and “full of interesting people.” 

Mittie iguana, with one clawed foot on each side of the cultural line, can’t fault them. It’s always easier to congregate with people from similar backgrounds or experiences, especially if they speak your native tongue. In every big city in the world you can find neighborhoods like Little Italy or Chinatown (a personal favorite of mine, just east of New Orleans, is Little Vietnam. Yummy Pho soup!) 

However, behind the uni-cultural, modern façade of what my Mexican friends call “the relax,” there are a plethora of festivals based in indigenous customs that rock pretty hard. To me, these fiestas (nearly every weekend) are the heart of San Miguel - like the Alborada that starts at 4 in the morning or the parade of Los Locos in which costumed demons, ghouls and animals dance down the streets all day. These are people who revere their traditions and know how to throw a serious party to celebrate them (drinking tequila, of course.)  


Iguanas at the Alborada

The Alborada is one of the many amazing parties of San Miguel de Allende, where our office is located. San Miguel is famous for their fiestas and this is one of the biggies. First of all, it starts at 4 in the morning. Yeah, that’s right. Starts. Second, it boasts of one night with the largest quantity of fireworks in the whole year. And folks, we are in Mexico where fireworks are an art form. Sleep? Pointless. Might as well sign on for a wicked party.

San Miguel is named after St. Mike making him the patron saint of the city. The day of celebration is the feast of St. Mike, however these are party people, so the festivities may last for a week or more (my kind of people.) So when is this rocking event so you can run out and buy a plane ticket? Whammy! It was last weekend. But in honor of all you fabulous readers out there I rallied for the cause and drank enough tequila for all of us.

Saint Mike, the Archangel, is pretty much the meanest, leather-clad biker of the angel world. God picked this tough as nails angel to fight Lucifer (AKA El Diablo) and exile him to hell. Just as a side note, the next time you want to tell someone to go to hell you can just call in St. Mike, the first Hell’s Angel. Processions carry the image of St. Mike to various churches to bless them and music and dance follows from place to place.

The culmination of this enormous party is the fireworks show that represents the aforementioned battle. It happens at dawn (el alborada in Spanish), at the moment when the light overtakes the darkness. Man, do they know how to light some fireworks in this place! It never ceases to amaze me. They don’t even need the sun to win the fight. Just an ample supply of tequila.