My first experience at Club Rio was a disaster. After waiting in line for more than an hour, a huge crowd was let in to see Guadalajara-based synth-pop band Belanova play a “private concert.” I still don’t understand what was private about it: The tickets were free. The band was scheduled to go on at 8 p.m., but they let everyone in around 9:30 p.m., and the massive, sweating audience waited on the dance floor for hours while outdated house music played. At that point in time, Club Rio connected to the trendy patio bar Maroc by a narrow hallway, so my friend and I spent $40 there drinking beer by the pool. When nothing had happened by midnight, we left. (The next day I heard from a friend that we hadn’t missed much — the concert was short-lived and lead singer Denisse Guerrero’s voice sounded “fatal.”)
But when I heard that Grammy-winning Tijuana native Julieta Venegas was scheduled to play Club Rio, I decided to give the place another chance. It wasn’t hard to convince my pal Celeste to come along (she’s a diehard Julieta fanatic), but our friend Emma was a hard sell. “You guys can go without me, I can’t stand her,” she said, imitating Julieta’s “whiney” voice and pretending to play the accordion. “What if I buy your ticket?” I sneakily offered (the concert was free, thanks to a sponsorship by Jack Daniel’s Studio No. 7 Latino). Emma finally agreed to join us, but warned that she’d making fun of “Julieta la fea” and her Frida Kahlo-esque eyebrows all night.
We showed up at 9 p.m. (one hour after the concert was supposed to start). A bouncer checked our IDs, and some girls dressed in tight Jack Daniel’s T-shirts gave us wristbands and drink tickets. While there was a decent crowd, the place was by no means packed: Most people, it seemed, were on the second-floor balcony, a V.I.P. area. I gave the bartender my drink ticket and asked for a Corona.
“Oh, I’m sorry, sir, we’re not serving beer tonight. Only what you see here behind the bar.” Other than Jack Daniel’s, there was vodka and a few tequilas that must be close friends or relatives of Jack’s. Walking away from the bar, I realized Emma and Celeste were nowhere in sight. After about half an hour, I started receiving texts: “We’re upstairs in the V.I.P. area.” “Sorry, we can’t get you up here.” “OMG we just met Julieta!”
By this time, I’d finished my sorry excuse for a drink and found myself paying $5.50 for a second one, which wasn’t any better. After firing off a few threatening texts to Celeste, I managed to borrow her V.I.P. pass long enough to slip backstage and sneak a quick photo of Julieta and her crew before they went onstage.
An announcement was made stating that Julieta wouldn’t start playing until everyone extinguished their cigarettes. The crowd quickly complied, and once the smoke cleared, the band appeared. I met an adorable pair of sisters who were not native Spanish speakers, but still knew all the words to the songs. The crowd was refreshingly grown-up, with a high concentration of well-dressed Mexican nationals and a scattering of cool kids from Southtown. Celeste, who was on the verge of losing her voice from shouting along with the music, reappeared several times with free drinks from upstairs. About halfway through the performance, the club turned on a fog machine (yes, I know it’s not laced with nicotine, but it still seemed ironic).
When it was all over, we tried going through the doorway that used to lead to Maroc, but were told that we’d have to leave Club Rio and enter Maroc through the side entrance (this is their way of keeping minors out of Maroc). Emma had grown tired of taunting Julieta from the V.I.P. area and gone home, so Celeste and I focused on where we could get a stiff adult beverage in the vicinity. We settled on Waldo’s, which Bar Tab alum Mark Jones described as “Coyote Ugly meets the Regal Beagle.” The place is delightfully suspended in time, with furniture and fixtures that have, fortunately, never been revamped.
That night a Doobie Brothers cover band was playing to an older, but incredibly spry, crowd. Celeste tried to make me dance, but I refused, reminding her that since I was a non-V.I.P., I’d been standing for hours (there’s nowhere to sit in Club Rio, unless you’re willing to pay for bottle service, or happen to be very important). Reflecting on the concert, it was clear that Celeste was truly moved by the performance. Having seen Julieta years ago at the Lila Cockrell Theatre (where the sound quality was terrible, apparently), she confirmed that Club Rio had done an excellent job. And — possibly due to the fact that Julieta’s expecting — the whole thing was over by midnight. — Bryan Rindfuss