In December I wrote a column about the El Borracho bar and a picture I took of three smiling folks standing outside of it.
El Borracho, formerly, at Lincoln Avenue and 25th Street in Ogden, was a rough bar. Cindy Simone, who owns KoKoMo Club across the street, fondly remembered shooting bottle rockets into El Borracho just to watch the customers “come out with their guns in the air.” Cops remembered they were afraid to go in the bar even though they, too, had guns.
As usual, the column jogged memories and my phone started to ring.
Gyllermo “Willie” Rodriguez left me a tantalizing voice mail, saying “I know who those people are” in the photo. The picture is 34 years old, but Willie had a very good reason for knowing them: He used to run the El Borracho.
He took the bar over when his father-in-law died sometime in the 1960s. Those three were regulars.
“The old guy, they used to call him Wes. He used to deliver milk a lot of years ago, so he used to go to the bar and drink a beer or two and sit and talk to people there. He was welcome there.”
He couldn’t see the two women’s faces well in my picture, but is sure the one on the right was Julia, whose last name he does not remember. He said Julia used to live in rooms above the bar.
Willie said my column painted too ugly a picture of his bar, which did have its issues but, he insists, wasn’t really that bad.
“There was a lot of fighting there, but they (the cops I quoted) put it really bad, but it’s not true. KoKoMo had some shooting and killing, too.
“Pancho’s (across the street on the corner) had the worst. A guy was killed there sitting down. He was picking on a guy, he always picked on this guy, and finally the guy went and got a gun and came back and shot him.”
One thing he said the police I quoted had completely wrong was the chile verde at the El Borracho, which several officers praised.
“We never sold no chile or nothing there.”
Willie was backed up on the chile thing by another caller, Jay Jones, former chairman of the Ogden Street Festival. In the late 1960s, Jay was working for a beer distributor and delivered on 25th Street. He said he installed the beer signs in the picture I took of El Borracho.
He confirmed that the mother of local featherweight boxing champ “Cookie” Valencia cooked chile for Pancho’s. “She made a chile verde that was to die for. I’d order a chile verde burrito and she’d roll it up right in front of you.”
He disagrees with Willie about how peaceful El Borracho was, but his report is mostly based on one experience.
Which doesn’t mean Willie is wrong. We all have bad days, right?
Not this bad. Jay watched a guy die.
Jay was inside the bar delivering a couple cases of beer. There had just been an argument among the patrons, so he was trying to stay out of the way. The bar was dark and “I kept hearing this gurgling noise, and I pointed with my penlight” and saw a guy bleeding on the floor.
“The guy had been cut with a knife. The guy was bleeding out in front of me. I didn’t want to be there, I heard the cops coming, so I just got out of there.”