With a special credit to photographer Yannis Jan Dettingmeijer for capturing Santos so well in black and white. And an apology to W.C. Fields who I stole the headline from.
It was a woman who led me astray. Again.
But not with the usual wiles.
No, this time it was different. Very different.
Wine, women, song. They’d all woven their magic spells. And seduced me into watering holes. Like a camel to an oasis.
But this time it was something completely different. Something even Nostradamus couldn’t have predicted.
It was art.
But it wasn’t fine art. It was what they called commercial art, in the sixties, when I first discovered it. It’s what they now usually call graphic design. But what made it so influential…on me at least…was it paid homage to graphic design in the days when it was still called commercial art.
It was almost two years ago when I first noticed the art. On hoardings around 18th century homes that were being introduced to the 21st century. On crumbling walls of pastel pink and orange and brown. And wrapped around poles supporting an afro of wires.
I had to check out this Santos Crudeteca. If for no other reason than to see more of this art. To find out who was creating it.
I like the name of the street Santos is located on. Callejon de Los Suspiros. The little street of sighs.
I used to imagine that those sighs were the sighs of lovers. Perhaps one lived on one side of the street. One lived on the other. And they would gaze longingly at each other from their balconies across the lane. But would never hold each other because of race, religion, or some other foolishly created wall.
And then I thought about the meaning again and the history of this town and how Lord Byron’s bridge of sighs was the path from the inquisitor’s office to the prison and the sighs came from those being led to their execution.
I also thought that Santos, or saints in English, may have some historical relevance. But then I knew that its predecessor was Diablitos, the place that used to open its doors across from Hank’s, right about the time that Hank’s closed theirs.
Diablitos was and Santos is owned by Polo Aguilero. He’s a guy with a face that sometimes says devil, sometimes says angel. A face that sometimes says saint, sometimes says sinner.
Polo’s fiancé is Paulina Cadena Gallardo. And she’s the woman that led me astray. And the woman who made me walk into Santos that very first time. And the woman who helps to convince me to come back over and over again. Every time I see her art.
Paulina or Pauk as she prefers to be called had an old fashioned start to her career when someone cared enough to send the very best.
“I was seventeen. And a friend of mine worked in greeting cards. They saw my work and said I’ll give you $100 pesos for each design you do for me. I thought it was amazing getting paid for something I enjoyed doing so much,” said Pauk.
Pauk enrolled in a four year communications program at a Guadalajara college and began developing her skills in Photoshop and Illustrator. She completed the course in two years.
“I wanted to go to work”, Pauk said. “I wanted to create real things.”
Pauk found a marketing position with an advertising agency. Did some work for state governments, including Chiapas and Guanajuato. But soon found herself in conflict with the company’s designer.
“I didn’t want to sell the art. I wanted to create the art”, she told me.
Soon she developed a style. A homage to the forties, fifties and sixties. I asked her where it came from.
“In the beginning it was to make people laugh”, said the woman with the almost perpetual smile, even when she takes a turn behind Santos bar on their busiest nights. “It was simply a humorous way to communicate while still getting the facts through.”
“I loved that fifties look. I love movies. I love music. I’m always happiest when I’m dancing. All of those came together with the posters.”
Pauk has done work for a number of bars and restaurants in San Miguel including Pescau and The Restaurant but it’s her work for Santos that wows me most.
I love dive bars. I feel comfortable in dive bars. And Santos is the best dive bar in San Miguel. Pauk captures that atmosphere in her posters.
I love music. I love rock and roll music. And Santos is the best rock and roll bar in San Miguel. I can almost hear the music in Pauk’s posters.
Writing this blog is about searching for the best food and drink in San Miguel de Allende. And the accent is almost always on the food.
I don’t go to Santos for the food. Even though they have a tasty and tender grilled octopus. I go for the drink. After I’ve already dined and drank somewhere else.
I’m almost always there on Friday nights at about 9:30 when Kike Cornero tucks his guitar onto his lap and tucks his cigarette behind one of the strings. When Polo Aguilero plugs in his bass and plucks the first backbeat. When Miguel Favero magically makes a wooden box and two cymbals sound better than most full drum kits.
I hear Chuck Berry. The Kinks. Stevie Ray Vaughan. Dire Straits. Then a very familiar riff.
Doom Doom. Doodoodoodoodoodoo. Doom Doom. Doodoodoodoodoodoo. Doom doom.
I can’t help it. I’ve got to get up and dance. And sing along on “Sweet Home Alabama. Where the skies are blue…”
I look at Pauk’s posters on the walls. I look at her bopping solo behind the bar. I’m thinking I’ve never really thanked her for bringing me to sweet home Santos. Until today.
Santos Crudeteca is located at Callejon de Los Suspiros #7 in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. Telephone 415 121 2880. Website: www.santoscrudoteca.com.mx