Monday, March 1, 2010

A Visit to Cantina La Estrella de Oro

Personal Mission One on a recent trip to Mexico was to visit as many true cantinas as possible. I knew I'd find plenty of the old bars in Mexico City. I did not expect to encounter a peerless example of the breed in Coatapec, a small city of 50,000 in the heart of coffee-growing county in the Vera Cruz province.

I was in Mexico to tour the coffee fields and plant of Kahlua, and it was our guide Pablo Zacarias that led us to the cantina. If I hadn't been in Pablo's company, I probably would have been too intimidated to enter La Estrella de Oro, which is obviously the province of the locals, and, more specifically, old male locals. The broad front room seems to be put to little purpose other than silent domino games. The bar proper is in back and all of its 100 years tell on it. The plaster walls are faded and peeling, the wooden bar battered, the mirror behind it dirty and scratched, the various bottles of booze layered with dust. A half dozen Mexican men in jeans and cowboy hats sat hunched at the torquoise-and-cream-tiles bar, their routine disturbed by the intrusion of a dozen Americans.

But we stood our ground and quietly asserted our right to enter. (Or, rather, Pablo secured approval for our presence.) We took up residence in old white plastic chairs around a couple round tables and ordered a round of beers. I took an Indio, a local dark beer I was not familiar with; nothing special, just OK. I would have gone for a tequila or mezcal, but the dust on the bottles didn't flood me with confidence in their contents. Nonetheless, a bottle of mezcal, decent but not great, made its way to us, the label suspiciously modern. (Some more adventurous members of our party swigged from a local liquor infused with "donkey herb.")

Old pictures and newspaper clippings paper the walls. Pablo, translating for another guide who spoke only Spanish, gave me the joint's history. La Estrella de Oro dates back a century and was once a celebrated cantina. The train tracks used to run on the street right outside, and the bar was a regular stop for politicians and the stars of Mexican cinema who were en route to Mexico City from the coast. Old pictures show it to have been much more spruce back then. It was founded by a Spaniard, who, having no children, left it to an employee. That employee's son now runs it. It is a treasured local landmark. You'd never know it to look at the place. But it does reek or authenticity and true Mexican culture.

Few wanted to leave the cantina, but we had dinner reservations. The dinner that followed was fine, but we probably should have stayed put and bought some freshly made tamales offered by the old woman who made the round of the cantina tables.

I walked by the place the following morning around 8:30 AM. There were just opening for business.

(Thanks to Lew Bryson for the middle photo.)

1 comment:

Melesio said...

hola buen dia. quiera hacerte un comentario realista sobre tu visita a la cantina estrella de oro...a lo mejor no te contaron la historia real de esa cantina y ahi te va algo de lo mucho que es la estrella de oro....respecto a las paredes y cristales sucios..los cristales tiene cerca de 100 años de antiguedad y estan protegidos por el INAH(instituto nacional de antropologia e historia) la madera de igual forma no las pueden cambiar y mucho menos limpiar puesto que todas ellas estan ya por caerse....en cuanto a las botellas mi estimado solo son muestrario y algunas ya caducas...jeje lo que ahi se vende es actual y claramente comprado en establecimientos establecidos por la secretaria de un museo de lo que fue en Mèxico una cantina... ahhh y ahi en esa cantina a toda la gente se le respeta y cuida de la misma manera que a los lugareños. esta prohibido molestar alz gente que este junto y mucho mas a los visitantes... un saludo DE UN HUMILDE COATEPECANO... ENRIQUE LUNA.