[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 weekly nightlife column Dive, Dive, My Darling. Read as our bold web editor, Taylor "Hellcat" Hamby, stumbles into the dive bar scene every week to find crazy stories, meet random weirdos and guzzle good booze.]
Azteca is the type of Mexican restaurant you'd expect to find in the shadow of Graceland in Memphis, not on Garden Grove's quiet, quaint Main Street. But it has been there since the early 1990s, in all its Elvis-loving glory. It's hard to exaggerate the amount of Pres-ley memorabilia that lines the walls, shelves, ceilings and showcases here, though a friend of mine once swore it's the second-largest public collection outside of Graceland.
After the kitchen closes and the dining room clears out, the party keeps going, hidden behind a pair of saloon-style swinging doors. The Crooners Lounge, attached to the restaurant but almost its own entity, is every bit as decked out in tributes to the King. In fact, the owner's first piece of Elvis memorabilia was a framed picture of the singer from The National Enquirer, which hangs over Booth 1 in the lounge. It's a small L-shaped room, with most of the real estate taken up by the bar and booths along the wall. No room for pool tables here, though there is a broken video poker game turned to face the wall and an Internet jukebox (you'd think they'd opt for an old-fashioned juke in a place like this).
The fact that it's secluded from the restaurant is great for sneaking away for a quick shot, away from family outings to see the monthly Elvis impersonator perform at the restaurant, as I've done–and have caught members of my family doing the same. I've also visited the Crooners Lounge as a destination, and the place was busy both times. On my nighttime visit, I sat at the end of the bar, near three men of various ages. I picked up a menu and perused the Elvis-inspired cocktail list.
I wondered, is there a peanut butter and banana cocktail here? You bet there is: a shot made of Frangelico and DeKuyper's bana-na-flavored liqueur. Sounded horrible, but I knew I had to try it for you readers. You're welcome. The young bartender, Omar, shook me up (yes, they have a cocktail called All Shook Up, too) a Peanut Butter and Banana shooter. Now, I know this won't be everyone's reaction, but at the first taste, the biggest smile spread across my face. It reminded me of my favorite childhood treat: banana Nesquik (so I was a weird kid). Other than the floating ice shards at the top, I was pleasantly surprised with the savory shot.
Even though this place is a shrine to the King, I didn't hear one Elvis song. In fact, there was quite a Lionel Ritchie block going on. A young guy with a baby-blue hoodie, the youngest of the three men to my right, put his head down on the bartop. "Wake me up when Lionel Ritchie is over, man," he said to his companions.
The larger man responded, "I have five more songs, so you're going to be here for two more hours."
My guy asked the man farthest from us, Louie, what he was drinking. "A michelada," he said. "You ever had one?"
"I have from the can," Wes responded. They all laughed at him.
"That shit is nasty," Louie said. "You have to have the real deal. Omar, give him a michelada. When you have a hangover, these are the best." He then spouted off his own recipe for the beer cocktail, adding, "And if you want to get really crazy, put a raw egg in it."
Wes took a drink. "It's good!" he says.
"It's not too spicy for the gringo?" Louie asks.
"No, not at all."
We continued drinking and talking Mexican food and dive bars until about midnight. Elvis and Mexican food: an unlikely yet satisfying combination. Too bad he supposedly said he'd rather kiss a dog than a chica.
BE SURE TO CHECK OUT: The bathroom, covered with tongue-in-cheek dick jokes.
FAVORITE PIECE OF FLAIR: The drawing of Homer Simpson dressed in the manner of Vegas-era Elvis.
at Azteca Mexican Restaurant, 12911 Main St., Garden Grove, (714) 638-3790;