Plan Tijuana: The Interrupted Renaissance of Avenida Revolución

Categories: Tijuana Sí!
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Bill Esparza
Caesar's Hotel during Prohibition


Oh to have been in Tijuana during prohibition, to have seen the shows, the glamour, and style at the Agua Caliente casino; to have bellied up to the Long Bar for a beer after having dined at Caesar's or Victor's on their famous table side salads. Back then Tijuana was a much different destination than it is today, I mean, you had a young Margarita Carmen Casino--later known as Rita Hayworth--dancing at the Caliente Club, and there were the horse races and gambling.


Tijuana was an adult playground and an escape from the irrationality of prohibition for Angelenos, just as was Havana for Miamians, until the U.S. repealed the Volstead Act and much of the action moved to Las Vegas. Today Tijuana is a Mexican food and wine lovers paradise, but there aren't enough attractions to warrant more than a weekend stay unless you hit Ensenada and the Valle de Guadalupe, and the vital culinary forces of region are sectarian. For us regulars, we've everything we need, and can go on exploring food and drink for years, but in order for Tijuana to return to its glory days it must become more than just a great place for food--Av. Revolución must rise from the ashes, and the rest of Baja will come along for the ride.  


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Bill Esparza
Caesar's Restaurant, Tijuana, B.C.


The first thing that needs to happen is for Av. Revolución to have a makeover and return to the spirit of 1929 with bars, clubs featuring live music and shows, classic restaurants, and a loosening of the gambling laws. Chef Javier Plascencia already broke ground when he brought back Caesar's restaurant from the dead, and Chefs Miguel Angel Guerrero (El Colegio Baja Med) and Chad White ( La Justina Gastro Bar) have also set up on La Revu. These restaurants reflect the new tourism that will increase in the coming years as U.S. citizens gradually gain confidence crossing the border, but the old college drinking crowd and day time curios shoppers are not coming back. 

La Revu's stubborn merchants have failed to acknowledge this change, sitting on dusty stocks of stuffed rottweilers, Scarface silkscreens, and twisted Corona bottles is unkempt shops that only turn on the lights when a customer walks in. If these guys won't sell their properties at a fair market value, then they must be relocated by the local government. One of the world's most famous strips can't afford to have buildings and lots lie fallow for much longer. It hurts the handful of viable businesses that have erected in the past years.


While Tijuana's hipsters would say that La Sexta is where it's at now, and the city has reinvented itself--that is true--but La Sexta is not what many of us are looking for. I enjoy walking through and taking in the action but it's for a very specific audience--it's no substitute for a revitalized Av. Revolución.

  
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Bill Esparza
Tijuana during Prohibition


The city needs to set aside La Revu as a prohibition era landmark and clear out all the struggling curios shops, crappy cubeta (bucket of beers) bars, and tacky strip clubs. This calls for real city planning and cooperation among the various interests--difficult, but not impossible. 


Tijuana can become a New York City, or Los Angeles when it can consolidate the regional talent--if you want to experience the best cooking in the region you must split your time between Tijuana, Ensenada, and the Valle de Guadalupe. Chef Jair Téllez finally opened in Tijuana--smart move--but the rest of the great Baja chefs should also consider opening something in Tijuana to make Baja a scene--it would also be a great promotion for their restaurants in Ensenada and the Valle. 


New York City, Chicago, Paris, London, Los Angeles and Tokyo are destinations because the best chefs flock to their respective urban centers. L.A. wouldn't be the same if our Cimarusti Dotolo and Shook, Sedlar, Voltaggio and Ludo were based in Santa Barbara. Yes, Keller did it, and so did Adria, but we can agree there are exceptions.  


With Plascencia, Tellez, Guerrero, Hernandez, Molina and more all in the same town with bars serving craft beers and Mexican wine to have a memorable meal before catching a show on Revolución, then hitting the slot machines. You're in town for a stretch so you catch Julieta Venegas at the Jai Alai Palace after tacos at the the new Tacos Kokopelli brick and mortar then head out to the new Av. Revolución. The next day you'll take in a Xolo's game--that would be a real vacation. 


Vegas has the Strip, Memphis has Beale Street, and New Orleans has Bourbon Street--Tijuana needs Av. Revolución to be vital again and packed with the new tourists, who want to explore the high and low cuisines of Baja California, drink all the wines and craft beers, but also would like to enjoy a broader experience. 


I first witnessed the Tijuana nightlife back in 1987, when lines snaked all over La Revu filled with alcohol-poisoned San Diegans that would wait for a half hour just to get into El Torito--where dollar beers kept you going 'til the sun came up and 2 Live Crew, the Beastie Boys, and Tone Loc filled the night air. Tijuana was full of tourists back then, but they were cheap, crass, philistine thrill seekers--these weren't the lady and gentlemen rounders of the '30's.


That could be Tijuana once more--a classy den of iniquity for a food and wine crowd. Av. Revolución's Renaissance began with Caesar's restaurant and idealist Baja chefs, but the time has come for the powers that be to embrace what is self evident--if they build it--we will come.

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37 comments
SofiaSchel
SofiaSchel

Educating the locals is half the battle! Mexicans are a stubborn breed,) As a gringa living in TJ for the past 16 years! I've seen it all! I share your passion and dreams for Tijuana! I refuse to give up hope!

xoxo Sofia

Jason Willard
Jason Willard

A whores morning, noon, and afternoon delight

Caitlin Buehler
Caitlin Buehler

If they advertised donkey shows, things would be a lot better

Will Webb
Will Webb

La Tijuana de Hank Rhon, es verdaderamente como el WC de America Latina... Y la 'Revo', como se le conoce localmente, un verdadero muladar.

Bernie Covarrubias
Bernie Covarrubias

Still is! Just ask all the old mexican men who travel south to "Adelitas"! ;0)

Brainwashed_in_church
Brainwashed_in_church topcommenter

Still haven't read one thing that Tijuana has and OC/LA doesn't. Cheap prices  doesn't justify the gas to drive there. OK fireworks.

George Apostolatos
George Apostolatos

I think the radio station 91x had a lot to do with the good old days of Tijuana

Kirk Burris
Kirk Burris

Saw that Nivana show too. lol. June 1991. They opened up for Dinosaur Jr. Saw Many shows there was fun..

mendoza1h
mendoza1h

Don't step foot in Caesars if you are Mexican.. Assholes were very rude to us... It seems only the Americans were getting good service....

George Apostolatos
George Apostolatos

I remember seeing Nirvana and the Ramones at Iguanas in the early 90s..it was Great place to visit.

Fallen Angels Evnts
Fallen Angels Evnts

actually it was thriving until the dumass drug cartels , effed up everybody's party get away ! aholes

nobrainer
nobrainer

While there will always be people like brainwashed who do well staying in their lair,there are other more adventurous individuals, like me and my wife, that open our minds and are willing to take a risk and re-discover what Baja California has to offer.

There are many things to enjoy on the weekend in Baja California but unfortunatelly, the Revu is not one of them yet. I truly hope that  it can be brought back to its days of splendor but it will take a complete restoration to revive the old buildings, to drive out all the pharmacies and do away with beggars and drug dealers and mainly, to educate the police force on the benefits of treating  tourist honestly.

Henry Ruiz
Henry Ruiz

Tijuana could make billions with tourism. This money made; however, must be shared with the poor. This would seriously affect the so called illegal immigration problem causing it to decline. I'm not so sure the big business interests will allow this. They are only interested in profit and not the common good.

Lynn Maners
Lynn Maners

As long as they don't take away the zebra painted donkeys!

deal.chad
deal.chad

Not on Revu, but a half-block west on Tercera, Mamut's new, expanded microbrewery is redefining balcony bars in Tijuana with around 10 taps of brew stored in wine casks from Valle de Guadalupe. The place is done up with art from TJ resident artists Teak and Lizardo, and regularly hosts live music from guys like El Muerto and PL DVNA. They also have a wood-fire oven IN THE SHAPE OF A MAMMOTH built by an artisan in Tecate. Part Sexta hipness, part Prohibition-era swank. What were you saying, Brainwashed?

cesar51
cesar51

What's with people just saying the first thing that comes into their minds? I live in Tijuana and much has changed regarding the old gringo stereotype about cops and filthy food. 

Mark Haber
Mark Haber

Never stepped foot on Avenida Revolucion in three years and 27 visits, tourist-ville.

Jorge Flores
Jorge Flores

That's awesome! As a tourguide from hollywood that goes at least once a week this will make my job easier. Now if only they can make those damn lines to get back in the US faster..

Gary Summers
Gary Summers

So much history and culture, it would be awesome for TJ to rise from the ashes and become THE destination to go to. Time will tell.

Brainwashed_in_church
Brainwashed_in_church topcommenter

Nothing in Tijuana is worth visiting considering the risks of corrupt cops and unsanitary unregulated conditions. It's also no fun to see the beggars either. Just about anything (food, goods, services) in Tijuana can be found in Southern California within a couple miles of where you live.

mendoza1h
mendoza1h

Because there are no beggars in the US right?

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