Dispatches From the Road: Getting Sloppy at Toms Leather Bar and la Esquina del Chilaquil
My last day in the DF and, like so many mornings in this town, my eyes open to a criminal hangover. This cruda is beyond, and, suddenly, the cantina hopping and hanging in Toms Leather Bar until 4 am seem less legitimate without the strength of Ron Bacardi’s fortified reserve.
A visit here without at least one day devoted to each of these would hardly be one at all. Cantinas are vestiges of classic Mexican social life that, sadly, are in peril of disappearance. Aside from older generations and oddball hangers on, they simply aren’t as popular as mescalerias, regular bars, or even pulquerias for that matter. But more on that in another post.
Likewise, with Toms. Although in no danger of going anywhere, this sleazy mainstay (it just turned 20) remains a standard from my baby queer days sliding from one bed to another in 2005. Granted, it’s not for everyone….literally. Not unlike other bars of its ilk, it had maintained a sort of unspoken only cis male clientele rule, although it would seem this is thankfully changing and long overdue. Apart from that, it’s also a HEAVY cruise bar, so if you prefer more mystery to your sex, this probably isn’t your place. Like a lot of older gay bars here, it has a cuarto oscuro, which is basically a back room or, in this case, a bathroom with all the lights turned off. For the uninitiated it can be overwhelming, especially if you’re from San Francisco where we no longer have these sorts of places. Indeed, when I brought an ex here, himself an extremely vocal advocate of sluttiness, he almost had a panic attack. Granted, I’m not a huge fan of being unable to see the person who’s blowing me, myself. On the other hand, though, I’ve lost friends in there for hours, only to have them blissfully emerge, give me a rather moist peck on the cheek and skip out the door. So, if you go, check it out and you do you…or whoever is closest, I guess.
In the main areas, is where Toms truly shines, however. The bar is a devotion to everything the owner loves: ornate architecture, royalty, gay hardcore and himself. When entering, one feels as though they are in some Tyrolean chalet or perhaps an extra set piece from the final sequence in Bed Knobs and Broomsticks. Rustic woodwork is accented by various royal standards, including the former imperial flag of Mexico, which hangs over the entrance as it did once at Chapultepec (Maxil and Carlota would be so pleased). Also hung along the walls are various reproductions of the works of Dutch masters and the like, with one subtle difference: included among the kings, satyrs and burgermeisters is the owner himself, painted into these great moments of myth and history like the The Shining in oil. If San Simeon had a gay playroom, this would be it.
In addition to all this, about every hour or so, there appears yet another artistic triumph. A hush will spread across the crowd as, suddenly, the attention switches from watching an asshole getting mercilessly reamed by a an impracticably large, engorged penis on the television sets to about twenty or so of the real thing…well, the large, engorged penis part anyway. Almost as if by magic, several men, attired only in jackboots and their Cialis-enhanced vergotas will alight atop all three bars and lock arms. An oddly familiar hook will begin to play, and it is only when you hear, “Let’s go girls!” that you realize that you are now surrounded by a chorus line of cock doing a kick line to Shania Twain’s “(Man) I Feel Like a Woman.” These dancers are almost meditative in their paean to Ms. Twain, staring steely-eyed into the distance where men are macho and salute an American country-western star as only a man can do. And then, just as soon as it has started, the routine is over and they retreat from whence they came, as if we are all just hanging out and drinking beers in one big, homoerotic cuckoo clock. I’m told that these men’s girlfriends are often sitting in cars idling outside waiting for their beaus to finish and whisk them off in a flurry of boner pills to the next sausage factory, but I suppose they could just as easily be getting plowed in the cuarto oscuro- who knows?
At any rate, being that it was a Sunday (unlike San Francisco no one else in the world seems to goes out on a Sunday- weeknights are best, with Tuesday being ridiculously cheap and packed) this trip to Toms wasn’t all that eventful. Well maybe a little eventful, but not on par with other visits- a “light” evening perhaps. Worthy of a debilitating hangover that will undoubtedly sharpen into crushing anxiety on my flight later? Hard to say, but likely not.
When it comes to hangovers, few cultures have gotten the curative process down to a science like the Mexicans. There are various regional and familial routes, but you can generally narrow it down to three popular combinations. The first step is always a suero (basically Pedialyte)- this is essential. Then something involving meat and chile. So:
- Suero + Chilaquiles (tortilla chips drenched in whatever salsa you fancy, often combined with eggs, meat or crema Mexicana)
- Suero + Pozole/ Menudo (Both of a pork and variety parts base, both soups are often the triage for hangovers on par with death. Chicken and veg versions exist too.)
- Suero + Vuelve a la Vida (a seafood cocktail, generally about the size of your head that includes just about every sea creature you can imagine in a lagoon of tomato)
My first inclination in these circumstances is generally door number three. When I’m hung-over I generally feel like a languishing hot water bottle and therefore cold food always seems far more healing if not simply more physically pleasant. Plus, fish is easy on the stomach? I dunno. On this day, however, I was thwarted in my usual regimen as that there has been a rash of bacterial related shellfish poisonings up and down the Pacific coast and being done in by an oyster isn’t really the way I want to go, vomiting my life into the nearest IMSS hospital kidney pan.
Luckily, there is a purely Condechi phenomenon for just such a situation: la Esquina del Chilaquil, or Chilaquil Corner. With a name like some divine early morning children’s program that was never produced, there has been a stand on the corner of Tamaulipas and Alfonso Reyes in the hipper-than-thou Colonia Condesa for decades selling tortas de chilaquiles. Yes, these literal angels of the morning devised this caloric bomb for the harried commuter, sleepy-eyed cleaning lady and bloodshot tipsy tecolote alike and still dish them out with rapid-fire deftness as lines blocks long start when they do at around 4 :00 a.m. and don’t let up until a little after noon.
This sonnet of carbohydrates consists of your standard torta bolillo slathered with refried beans, sour cream and chilaquiles verdes or rojos. From there you can stay in vegetariano territory or add pollo milanesa, cochinita pibil, or both. Actually you can have every item above and the gastrointestinal consequences that may ensue, but even as you’re cramping and sweating, you’ll be whispering tear-soaked thanks to the immortal Doña Rosario and her fine progeny for their delicious contribution to your day, nay existence.
On this particular walk of shame, the pantheon of the Méxica had been even more forgiving of my slatternly warpath and granted that the legendary line would only be twenty deep, which was time enough to run and grab sueros from the 7-Eleven for my comrade Tanya and myself while she held the line. As I got back and was cramming a Carlos V in my maw, the chilaquilera shouted to the balcony above and down rained bolillos like the manna of Moses. In mere minutes we wore both holding our very own tortas, profanely pulling back the wrapping of our girthy milanesa verdes, as mine’s life-giving, chartreuse juices ran down my encrusted moustache on to the steps of the Iglesia Santa Rosa de Lima.
A note here, on milanesa- Odd as it may seem, it is one of the menu items by which I assess certain establishments. If said establishment cannot produce a satisfactory milanesa, it is forever tainted in my mind. It is for this reason that I cannot produce the glowing endorsement of (and I know that I will piss people off here) the insanely popular El Metate in SF. Grant you, they ain’t bad and the place is well run, but their milanesa is like eating cured suede. Dry and with mouth wound-inducing edges, it only dreams about being the meat I am currently wrapping my lips around. Rich and silky, every loaded mouthful slides in with generous unctuousness. My head suddenly is exploding in endorphins and pinprick droplets of rum, cigarette smoke, and myriad other remnants of last night’s itinerary start to slowly accumulate on my forehead and under my arms. It’s going to be a long flight for the unfortunate soul who seated next to me for the five hours to New York, but I, I will be floating on a cloud of pollo and bliss.
I am a renewed, if slightly shaky man and rejoining the human race no longer seems a trial. The women of la esquina del chilaquil have pardoned me and as I spread my wings and soar skyward like some grotesque, malodorous bird, I bid you good-bye and until next time, my constant lover, DF.
Toms Leather Bar
Insurgentes Sur 357 (@ Michoacán)
[Colonia La Condesa]
La Esquina del Chilaquil
Alfonso Reyes (@ Tamaulipas; in front of El Zorzal)
[Colonia El Hipodromo de la Condesa]
7 Days a Week; 4:30 a.m.- 12:00 p.m.