The bartender at the Latin American Club was in the process of making a long line of nearly 10 margaritas when I stepped up to the bar to order a drink. She flashed me a sympathetic look. “I’ll be right with you,” she said, even though we both knew it wasn’t true.
Fortunately, the Latin American Club is a pleasant place to hang around and wait. It’s not a big bar by any means, but it’s a nicely sized single room with high ceilings. It’s wooden, warm and just the right kind of dark, with lights coming indirectly from behind the bar and from a series of Christmas lights draped in strategic locations.
There is a lot to look at in this bar — enough that if they were to call it “the Latin American Club and Museum,” it would fit well into our local art scene. Piñatas dangle from the ceiling, mostly in modern shapes: I counted a truck and two Power Rangers among them. (So … “Contemporary Piñata Folk Art?”). Bar knick-knacks of all kinds decorate the walls: dark and artsy photos, cuckoo clocks, skulls, giant fish, nets … a full-size door actually hangs on the wall behind the bar, which is just fascinating to look at and wonder. The whole place comes together into a perpetual “Halloween” aesthetic that feels completely natural rather than forced. Also, the word “sin” is spelled in glowing red block letters by the windows above the front door.
For all the decorations, the vibe is very casual. It simultaneously feels like a place where you can put your feet up, and that something might happen any minute. A nice trick.
It seems appropriate that this is a cash-only bar, without much of a drink selection. Beers on tap run $6; beers in cans $4. Wines run from $8 to $11. Cocktails will cost you anywhere from $8 (for half a margarita) to $14 (for a full margarita), with most settling in at $12. Their house special cocktails run on the cheaper side, but basically look to be variants of the “one liqueur, one mixer, and a garnish” variety.
I’m always skeptical when people tell me they go to bars for the drinks – most people don’t – but this is definitely a place you should not go if you’re looking for primo booze. You’d be missing the point entirely.
Although, okay, I admit it, I would love to sit in this space and sip a fine madeira for hours … but that’s on me, that’s me, missing the point entirely, unless I could be completely chill about it … look, we’ve all got dreams that miss the point, all right? …
The bartender finished her epic line of drinks, and stepped over to me. “What’ll you have?” she asked.
I grimaced. “Well … I hate to ask after what you’ve just done, but … Can I have a margarita?”
She laughed. “Oh, don’t worry! Don’t feel embarrassed! I couldn’t live my life if I couldn’t make margaritas. I can do ’em in my sleep. Small or large?”
“I don’t understand the question.”
I nodded, and she got to work. To her credit, it was a damn quick process. I took my glass, paid, tipped, and picked a small table up against the wall to wait for “Flitter.” I sat down and inhaled, willing the stress of the day to leave my body. The Latin American Club is a place where it seems like that might be possible.
Eventually, Flitter would come and tell me all about her recent trip to Japan, with an emphasis on the sushi. Eventually, we would talk about her parents, who were forced to evacuate their homes in this year’s round of California fires while she was in Japan, and how she’d needed to reach out to friends in the States to reach them to make sure they were okay. Eventually, we would talk about the world in all its glory and stupidity. But in the moment, sitting and breathing and looking around at the piñatas and the sign that said “Sin” … in that moment I had a new favorite chill bar.
The only thing I remember about the margarita, though, is that it was strong. Damn.
“Small or large” turns out to be a pretty understandable question. You can trust the people who can make these things in their sleep.