In '93-94, Tory and I ran a Cantina in the barrio of South Tucson. I was Robert Weaver then. Roberto. As unlikely as it seems that a couple of blond kids from Indiana would be fronting a joint like that, it gets crazier. The bar was called Flannigan's.
It was owned by a family of that name from Evansville. South Tucson is a LONG way from Evansville. First of all, if you haven't been there, South Tucson isn't just a geographic reference to the southern portion of Tucson. Its a city all of it's self right in the middle of Tucson, surrounded by Tucson.
South Tucson is a 1.2 square mile city with a population of almost 6,000 people. It exceeds the national average of theft and violent crimes by a factor of 4X. Its a Hispanic community, boasting a Latino population of more than 80%. That heritage is reflected in the many murals and authentic Mexican restaurants. I have not found better Mexican food anywhere, including Mexico. In spite of the cultural amenities, its a fucking rough town.
The Long-Arm-of-the-Law claims to have cleaned up the area somewhat, in large part due to “vigorous enforcement of liquor laws”. According to that standard, Flannigan's is no more. Tory and I were the last proprietors. Truth be told, the cops wouldn't set foot in the place for fear of their lives. At best, they would sit across the street and watch, after being called, to see how we handled things; ready to zoom in and lay cover for emergency services should there be any shooting.
One Friday night, a thirteen year old Mexican kid came in and demanded I serve him a shot and a beer. When I refused, he produced a gold plated .32 caliber revolver and placed it on the bar. He repeated his request. I picked up the gun and put it under the counter and told him to get the fuck out. Tory called the cops from the kitchen. They pulled in to the gas station across the street and watched from a safe distance.
An hour later, a woman in her fifties came in and told me her son had been there earlier and she had come to claim his pistol. I laughed at her and sent her away. She seemed to not understand, and threatened to have me arrested for theft. Right, like SHE could get the cops to cross the street or get out of their safe, air conditioned cars.
Tory and I, and the Flannigans, were the only English speakers and the Flannigans were never there after dark. We did a lot of business by pointing and pantomime. Most of our service, outside of the food, was Budweiser, Bud Light, and Margaritas. We had an old guy named Elio who came in during the day and made our Asada and Rojo Pork and such. We just served it up. It was awesome. The clientele was 75% Mexican, 20% Native American, and 5% old guys from the V.A. down the street (and THEY never stayed past 4pm).
Ever try and take a beer from a drunk Indian? Yeah, I know, its not terribly PC to say such a thing, but FUCK! Shit gets ugly quick. Indians can take a head shot like nothing and then what do you do? We learned quick to have Tory cut them off while I stayed behind the bar. They're less likely to come up swinging on a pretty girl. “Are you going to hide behind your woman?” they would yell. Hell yeah. I'm not stupid. Not anymore. Not after the first time.
There was a guy named Geronimo who shot pool in there on weekends. One night he saw how Tory and I struggled to maintain order with the Apache and Tohono O'odam, and offered his assistance. He told us if we would look the other way while he sold grass in the pool room, then whenever we needed to cut one of his brothers off he would handle it for us and have his people get them safely home. I was good with that. I told him not to let me see anything change hands and we had a deal.It worked beautifully.
The Jukebox was all in Spanish. I could sing along with most of the songs, but knew the meaning of few of the lyrics. There was one song, “Corazon Bandito” that usually brought everybody to their feet or voice. I loved the music.
This wasn't a typical group of Latinos and Native Americans. I love the Mexican people and the semi-indigenous folk of the Southwest. I'm not making a generalization here. I've been to white bread and mayonnaise places just as scary in Dayton, Ohio. But this was South Fucking Tucson and I was out of my element. It was a rough crowd. When it got really rowdy, I would pull the plug on the jukebox, crank up the lights, throw everybody out and lock the doors. We would take a break and I would pull a few bongs. Then we'd clean up a little and reopen an hour later to a new crowd. They called me Loco Puta and Opie. I never had to shut down twice in one night.
I still wonder how we survived that shit. I was young and had balls like steel goose eggs and pushed back just as hard as I was pushed. We tolerated no bullshit, and never backed down no matter how bad it got. The Flannigans backed me up and supported me, no matter how adverse the situation got or how threatening things became. Even with the uncooperative police. I would have stuck around and been playing roadhouse to this day, but the Feds got on my trail and we had to split.