MEXICO CITY — In the neighborhood of Colonia Guerrero, there’s an old saying, “If you don’t know Los Angeles, you don’t know Mexico."
Residents aren’t talking about Hollywood, rather Salón Los Ángeles, an emblematic nightclub that for many decades hosted Mexico's zoot-suit clad pachucos (an old school Hispanic subculture associated with street gangs and nightlife), as well as intellectuals, revolutionaries, and movie stars.
Salón Los Ángeles is an old jewel buried deep in a run-down neighborhood. But that level of abandonment has allowed the joint to remain faithful to its origins and aesthetics — uncorrupted by Mexico City's trendy evolution led by fresas and hipsters.
Salón Los Ángeles first and foremost pays homage to pachuco subculture, popularized in the 1930s and 1950s by young chicanos living in the Hispanic neighborhoods of Los Angeles, California.
In 1937 a former warehouse was transformed into a dance salon for locals who wanted to dress funky and get loose. The dancehall was named after a nearby church, Our Lady of Los Angeles.
For a time, the club was considered one of the hottest in Latin America. World renowned comedians such as Mario Moreno, better known as “Cantinflas,” would drink and dance to the rhythm of mambo and tango.
Other famous personalities also popped in, including muralist Diego Rivera, painter Frida Kahlo, Cuba’s Castro brothers along with revolutionary icon “Ché” Guevara, as well as writers Carlos Fuentes, Gabriel García Márquez, and José Saramago.
Latin American music giants also performed here —Celia Cruz, La Sonora Santanera, and Willie Colón, to name a few.
Numerous movie scenes have been filmed here; and theater performed in its hall.
Now Salón Los Ángeles is known as the oldest dance salon in Mexico City —78 years old and going strong. There's no techno music or Katy Perry. This is where old men go to feel like teens again, as they dress in nice threads and nod at the ladies.
For most, this old club is viewed as cultural patrimony, rather than a party venue. And though its golden epoch has passed, the salon survives on nostalgia and the curiosity of younger generations who want to check out this legendary spot.
The club is also kept alive on tradition, going against the mainstream of Friday and Saturday nights. On Tuesdays there's danzón and big band music; cha cha cha, mambo and swing. Sundays offer a mix of cumbia and salsa.
Some say the joint's beloved dulcería or candy shop pulls more cash than the bar.
By remaining old school, Salón Los Ángeles is schooling the young hipsters on what it really means to be cool.
Emilio Espejel is a photographer based in Mexico City.
Rafa Fernandez De Castro is a Fusion consultant for Mexico and Latin America. He covers Mexican youth, politics, culture, narcos and funny stuff once in a while.