[Editor's Note: We all know local music and dive bars go hand-in-hand. So in the interest of merging the two together on Heard Mentality, we bring you our nightlife column Dive, Dive, My Darling. Read this week as our bold editor-in-chief, Gustavo Arellano takes over for web editor Taylor "Hellcat" Hamby and stumbles into the dive bar scene to find crazy stories, meet random weirdos and guzzle good booze.]
For almost 15 years now, I've howled in laughter every time an out-of-town reporter filed a dispatch that mentions El Fracaso in SanTana. Dozens of local and national papers have given the bar a shout-out in that time--but only as an aside, and only to elevate their cheap prose. See, most of these stories usually focus on Lupe Gomez Income Tax two doors down, home to a Mexican immigrant who pioneered a remittance program that pushed Mexico from Third World status into First. And to show from what a bad stretch of Harbor Boulevard Lopez's little miracle originates, the reporter inevitably drops this literary bomb: El Fracaso translates as "The Failure" in Spanish. DEEP . . .
Not once have any of those scribes ever bothered to actually step into El Fracaso to see if it lives up to its fatalistic name. Why should they? Mexicans are naturally failures, after all, according to the Associated Press Stylebook. Who cares if El Fracaso is actually one of the cleanest-kept paisa bars in OC, with restrooms that don't smell like stale piss, crisp flat-screen TVs tuned in to soccer or boxing, and a gorgeous long bar with "Bienvenidos al Fracaso" lit above it? Or that the women lord over the room on an elevated walkway behind the bar, the easier to fetch beers from the multiple coolers and titillate the clientele with their chichis and nalgas à la Coyote Ugly?
Fact is, El Fracaso is a legendary bar in Mexican OC--for that name, right, but also because it's a no-drama type of place, where working men can unwind without having to worry about narcos or mayhem. The typical uniform here is a grease-, paint- or concrete-flecked T-shirt emblazoned with a company name. The cars out front in the tiny parking lot don't stray far from a pickup truck outfitted with racks that contain the tools of their owner's trade: gardening tools, wooden planks, rebar. If this is failure, then we should all be so lucky.
"Failure? Me? ¿Que chingada me dices?" snarled 37-year-old Enrique Vásquez of SanTana, when I asked him if he thought he lived up to El Fracaso's name. The michoacano was four-deep into his cubeta (bucket) of Coronas. He laughed--he was only kidding when he asked, "What the fuck are you saying?" in Spanish. Vásquez trims trees for a living. "Look, people are always going to think bad things about Mexicans," he said when I explained the gabacho media's obsession with his local. "But me, a failure? Nah . . . maybe Paco over there." "No mames, cabrón," Paco shot back, sipping on a Negra Modelo. He works as an apprentice at a body shop. "I come here to relax after work. I've tried taking gabachos here--they think they're going to die. ¡Pinches mamones! (Fucking cocksuckers!). They think we're pendejos--but we work harder than them all the time."
Paco would've spoken more, but he began chatting up the stunning blond bartender with double-Ds and a skin-tight dress that ended just below her ass cheeks. And then "Somos Más Americanos" by Los Tigres del Norte came on the jukebox. "Somos mas americanos Que todititos los gringos" ("We're more American/Than all of the gabachos") the Mexican supergroup taunted. More men sweaty from another day at the jale came in. Two exchanged business cards. El Fracaso seemed more union hall than cantina.
Here were working-class Mexicans living the American male dream: a cold one in front of them, a cute girl before them and camaraderie all around, all in a bar with a name that now seemed more ironic than destiny. The whole scene wrote itself--with nary a parachuting hack in sight.
FAVORITE PIECE OF FLAIR: The three portraits of Marilyn Monroe on the wall.
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BEST QUOTE OF THE NIGHT: "Hay tengo cuerno de chivo/Con ancia de disparar." ("I have an AK-47/With the itch to fire it.") Narcocorrido blasted from the jukebox, and shouted by a wab. It happens.
El Fracaso, 701 N. Harbor Blvd., Santa Ana, (714) 554-6361.