It’s Sunday afternoon in November at downtown L.A. bar and dance hall La Cita, and the sound of wind exiting the bellows of an accordion spills out into the street, the melodies engraved in the memories of the many immigrants who call this place a second home. The house band Doble Poder goes into a rendition of the classic cumbia song “Cumbia Sampuesana” by Ancieto Molina. Colombian in origin, the song — like the genre — has spread across Latin American and U.S. borders. Partners quickly form and the crowd dances in sync to the age-old three step sway.
Upon entering, your eyes take a minute to adjust to the darkness, which is punctuated by sparkling Christmas lights and a deep red hue that envelops the whole bar. A wooden and brass divider separates the indoor bar from the dance floor allowing curious bar patrons to peek between the rails and observe the dance floor interactions.
“It’s an interesting intersection of two worlds and I like it best when they mingle. In a perfect world I like to say I build bridges with booze.”
The room is filled with after-church Latinxs in their Sunday best: sparkly dresses, cowboy hats, leather boots, and big polished belt buckles. It’s an older crowd — the dancers and barflies are mostly in their 40s, 50s, and 60s. They come to enjoy the live music that ranges from classic rancheras and corridos to old cumbia and merengue favorites. This is just one of La Cita’s worlds.
Make your way across the dance floor, past tables and chairs covered in formal linen and beer buckets, through the red-tiled hallway that turns your skin into a devilish color, and you’re in another one. A bright neon sign tells you where you’ve come: “El Patio.”
The cumbia sounds are a distant muffle. El Patio’s music is punk rock. A newcomer might mistake it for a completely different bar. The age range drops, the crowd diversifies: white punks and bikers, Chicanx hipsters, and a few of the old timers who prefer the sunlight. Above is the skyline of financial district skyscrapers, monuments to where Bunker Hill once stood.