I used to spend a lot of time in Juárez back when it was one of my favorite Mexican cities. Back in the late ’70s, I was producing custom car shows at the El Paso Civic Center, and in the ’80s I was visiting NMSU a lot to research chile peppers, so a trip across the border was not only commonplace, it was a lot of fun. There was a great mercado, my favorite tile shop, a very nice furniture store, and of course the La Florida Bar and one of my favorite restaurants, Martino’s on Avenida de Juárez. Mary Jane and I took our first trip together when we visited El Paso and Juárez in 1984, and of course we had to dine at the romantic Martino’s, which was like a trip back to another century, with waiters in tuxes, elegant service, gourmet food, and a wonderful menu including Boquilla Black Bass, a delicacy from Lake Boquilla in Chihuahua. I remember getting nearly drunk because of bar-hopping with Doug Kane, and when my brother Rick visited, I warned him that the margaritas at La Florida were very potent. He didn’t listen and I caught him when he passed out and fell off the bar stool.
After Mexican Mafia thugs sprayed Martino’s with a hail of bullets and slaughtered the customers and waiters in late 2007, the restaurant sadly closed after more than 80 years in business. With soldiers from Ft. Bliss in El Paso banned from going there, and students from New Mexico State University strongly advised to stay away, tourism in Juárez is dead. In October 2008, the Las Cruces Sun-News reported, “The U.S. State Department issued a travel advisory on Tuesday, warning Americans of daylight shootings at shopping centers in Juárez and suggesting applicants for U.S. visas at the consulate in Juárez not pay in cash to avoid getting mugged while in line.” That year, more than 2,000 people were murdered in that border city.
“What’s Up,” the El Paso entertainment blog, commented: “The drug war in Mexico has taken 800 lives so far this year (2010) along with another casualty: the Avenida de Juarez. The once-thriving stretch of bars and nightclubs known by El Pasoans, especially teenagers, as the Juarez Strip has become a ghost town and a symbol of the estrangement between El Paso and Juárez, two communities once closely bound by commerce, culture, family and yes, fun.” All of this is incredibly sad to me.