Preview 5-05-10 Sunland Park, NM

© Daniel "groknix" W.

Cinco de Mayo (American style): On U.S. side, holiday is an 'enormous day for bars'
By Doug Pullen / El Paso Times

EL PASO -- Cinco de Mayo is a largely American celebration of a Mexican historical event.

Sounds like a good reason to party, no?

While many bars will roll out drink specials and play a little more Mexican music than normal on Wednesday, a couple of them are going all-out in some unusual ways.

Austin roots-rockers the Gourds will share a bill with Mariachi Los Toritos, a local group, at Ardovino's Desert Crossing in Sunland Park.

An Elvis impersonator (no, not El Vez), a classic rock band, specials on tacos, costumed staff, and not one but two mariachi groups are on the menu at the El Paso Surf Club in Central El Paso.

Cinco de Mayo celebrations are a little like Secretaries' Day, sort of the alcoholic beverage industry's version of a Hallmark holiday.

But it's big and getting bigger, at least "three to four times" bigger than an average night, Surf Club manager Pat Devlin said.

"It's funny to say, but it's an enormous day for bars in America but not in Mexico," added Robert Ardovino, co-owner of the restaurant complex that bears the family name. "They don't celebrate it in Mexico. It's an American-made holiday."

Actually, they do celebrate it in Mexico, but mostly in the southern Mexican state of Puebla, where the Mexican army defeated the occupying forces of the much stronger French army on May 5, 1862.

U.S. celebrations, which typically honor people of Mexican ancestry, go back to California in the 1860s. But Cinco de Mayo as a bar night is relatively new, compared to Mardi Gras and St. Patrick's Day. "I call it one of our grand-slam events," said Devlin, a veteran of local bar and restaurant wars.

Ardovino's doesn't typically do anything special for Cinco de Mayo, but the restaurant's co-owner, who's a big music fan, has wanted to put the Gourds together with a mariachi group for a few years.

"I proposed this to Kevin (Russell, their lead singer) the last time they were here (in 2008). I said, 'I've got to get you together with a mariachi band,' and he was totally into it. He said, 'God, that's a great idea,' " Ardovino recalled.

So when the band's management called about a possible show on May 6, Ardovino dusted off his idea and suggested a slight date change. "It took a little bit of discussion with the band to get on board," he said.

But the band agreed.

Mariachi Los Toritos, a 14-member group of mostly young musicians and singers directed by local violinist Valentin Del Castillo, will open the show by roaming through the ballroom for about an hour, Ardovino said.

The Gourds will follow.

It's unclear if the two groups will actually play together, but Ardovino said the pairing isn't as unlikely as it may seem on paper.

"I saw a connection in the Mexican and American folk music they play," the restaurateur said. "I know the Gourds are a heavily string-oriented band and the mariachis are a heavily percussion-oriented band. They play two dissimilar but similar styles of music. It should make for an interesting evening."

Tickets cost $17 in advance, $20 at the door, on sale at the restaurant. Ardovino's also will offer drink and dinner specials.

The folks at the Surf Club, 2224 E. Yandell, hope to create an interesting evening, too, but in a very different way.

The idea, Devlin said, is to differentiate themselves from the countless bars that really won't be doing much out of the ordinary Wednesday night.

"The only way to attack these (theme) days is to be as legitimate as you can. It's always a letdown when you go into a bar and they're not really doing anything," Devlin said.

The restaurant, where Hawaiian shirts are usually the order of the day, will open at 11 a.m. Wednesday. Its staff will dress in costume and the 100-seat restaurant and its 150-capacity, tropical-themed patio (complete with waterfall) will be decked out, too.

The Surf Club will offer specials on margarita pitchers and its famous taco plates (varieties include shrimp, blue crab, beef and tacos al carbon). And it's cooking up plenty of music, inside and out.

Bud Sanders' Elvis tribute -- with geographically appropriate songs from the King's repertoire -- will start at 5:30 p.m. in the restaurant, followed by mariachi groups Los Pasajeros (6:30 p.m.) and Mariachi Del Sol (7:30 p.m.). The Birdogs, a local classic rock band, will hit the patio stage at 8:30 p.m.

Admission is free before 6 p.m.; $5 after.

Modern celebrations may not have much to do with that historic day in Puebla 148 years ago. Devlin said most people just want an excuse to party.

He's hoping his restaurant will give them more than just an excuse.

"Anybody can go out to a restaurant or bar and call it Cinco de Mayo and that's it. There are tons like that," he said. "But when you go all out and take the theme from A to Z, which is what we've always tried to do on all the big days, ... the public loves it."

Doug Pullen may be reached at; 546-6397. Read Pullen My Blog at

Make plans...
What: The Gourds and Mariachi Los Toritos.
When: 6:30 p.m. Wednesday.
Where: Ardovino's Desert Crossing, 1 Ardovino Drive, Sunland Park.
How much: $17 in advance, on sale at the restaurant; $20 at the door.
Information: 575-589-0653;

What: Cinco de Mayo at the Surf Club.
When: Starts at 11 a.m. Wednesday; live music starts at 5:30 p.m.
Where: El Paso Surf Club, 2224 E. Yandell.
How much: Free until 6 p.m.; $5 at the door after.
Information: 532-7774;

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