Mexico City (AFP) – Mexico City’s famous “Los Angeles” dance hall was once frequented by Soviet revolutionary Leon Trotsky and Mexican artist Diego Rivera.
It’s an emblematic establishment where intellectuals rubbed shoulders with guerrillas, but now its future has been left hanging in the balance by the coronavirus pandemic.
Los Angeles, in the Guerrero neighborhood of central Mexico City, turned off its neon lights on March 22 and is showing no sign of reopening.
It’s an iconic place where Mexican writers sought inspiration and Zapatista rebels discussed laying down their arms.
It’s also here, amongst the red and fuchsia decor, that Mexican actor Cantinflas — celebrated throughout Latin America — met his wife, Valentina Ivanova.
But despite its 83-year history, Los Angeles is teetering on the brink of permanent closure, and its owner has launched an appeal for funds.
Miguel Nieto, grandson of the dance hall’s founder, told AFP the club’s financial situation was “already difficult,” even before the pandemic.
Nieto has run the dance hall for 48 years and employs 25 people, although for special events that number can rise to 100.
What complicates matters even more for the club is that many of its clientele are pensioners, amongst the most at-risk group from the coronavirus, who used to come to dance the mambo, danzon or chachacha.
It’s not the only night club to be on the brink: some 2,600 establishments and their 380,000 employees are at risk, according to their union, Anidice.
– ‘Still alive’ –
The importance of this bohemian corner of the capital city cannot be understated: it’s said that “those who don’t know the Los Angeles salon, don’t know Mexico.”
Nieto proudly lists the celebrities who have frequented the dance hall, including the actor German Valdes, known as Tin Tan, and painter Rivera, husband of the equally renowned artist Frida Kahlo.
In 1998, it was where Carlos Fuentes celebrated the 40th anniversary of his first novel, “Where the Air is Clear”, alongside Nobel Prize winners Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Jose Saramago.
The hall has been used to film countless movie scenes and was the theater for a 1997 meeting between Subcomandante Marcos and fellow Zapatista insurgents.
“So many things have happened here over so many years,” sighed Nieto.
Mexico’s culture secretary, Jose Alfonso Suarez del Real, says Los Angeles is “the only historic salon still alive in this country.”
“It represents the Mexico of the 1940s and 1950s,” he added.
– ‘As long as the soul dances’ –
The salon is a place where older people can roll back the years and bask in nostalgia as they while away the hours dancing.
They’re known as “Pachucos,” referring to the Mexicans that lived in the southern United States in the 1930s and who, seeking social acceptance, would dress up in an extravagant manner.
Carlos Bueno, a retired doctor and proud Pachuco since 1977, left his coronavirus-imposed home isolation when he discovered his “second home” was at risk of closing for good.
“I felt a moral obligation to support a place where I met my wife, where I fell in love,” said the 65-year-old, wearing a white suit complete with a wide-brimmed lowrider hat and feather.
Patricia Rivera, his wife of 50 years, was dressed in a blue evening gown. She said it would be a “tragedy” if the salon closed.
“On Tuesdays, when we came to the salon, I wouldn’t do the cooking or washing up,” she said.
“I just got dolled up to come and dance,” she added before the couple went through some steps on the deserted dance floor.
Lovers of the iconic dance hall are just hoping that the homage left by Fuentes on that night in March 1998 proves prophetic: “Los Angeles was here 40 years ago and it will remain as long as there’s a future and the soul dances.”