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Rachel Levin
California Dancing
Hip hop
Acapulco, OT (Mexico)

El Alebrije

by Rachel Levin
November 12, 2001
Acapulco, OT (Mexico)

El Alebrije

Where: Acapulco, Mexico (locations in Mexico City, Cuernavaca, Puebla, and Cancun as well). Located on La Costera across from the Hyatt Regency.
When: Nightly, 11:00 p.m. Ð 5:00 a.m.
Music: Rock en español, American pop and hip-hop, salsa, and merengue
Cover: N$190 pesos (about $21 American dollars), includes unlimited drinks from a preset menu

Acapulco may not be the crown jewel it once was in Mexico's tourism industry. Acapulco Bay is crowded with jet skis and banana boats, and its streets are choked with exhaust and noise from taxis and buses. Compared to Acapulco, the beaches of the Yucatan likely offer more unspoiled white sand and warmer waters, while more isolated locales like Ixtapa on the Pacific Coast offer a better break from city life.

But Acapulco can still boast lush beauty, fine resorts, and above all a lively and dynamic nightlife. There are as many dance clubs in Acapulco to choose from as there are tropical drinks. Just choose your flavorÃ'you can find anything from live Latin jazz to American rock 'n roll of the 1950s.

A recent visit brought me and a friend to the popular nightclub El Alebrije, which was right across from our hotel, the Hyatt Regency. The proximity to our hotel was partly why we chose it; clubs in Acapulco go strong until 5 a.m., so we wanted to be close to "home" if we indeed managed to dance until the wee hours of the morning.

We were also taken in by a promoter handing out discount cards for El Alebrije for N$20 pesos off (the full-price cover is N$190 pesos, equivalent to about $21 American dollars). You can find these promoters milling around the major club venues, and they are happy to give out discounts to tourists.

Also, El Alebrije bills itself as a club for the "elite of Mexican youth and world society," and the Acapulco location has capacity for 5,000 people, so we figured this was something we had to see. The club mascot, a kind of gecko with wings whose tail forms the "j" in "Alebrije," represents the promise of tropical, nocturnal experiences inside the club, since geckos are indeed night-loving creatures of the tropics.

A long line had formed when we arrived around midnight, so we approached the guy in charge of the velvet rope to inquire how long the wait was. To our surprise, he took one look at us and waved us through immediately. We were puzzled; the Mexican women waiting in line were certainly dressed and made up like they were part of the "elite" (no jeans in this crowd). We realized shortly thereafter that we got in not because we looked so amazingly beautiful or hip, but because we were more or less European-looking. It was the off-season in Acapulco, so most of the club-goers were Mexican locals, and for whatever reason, they seemed to want American women inside.

Entering the club was a bit of a Disneyland experience. After walking up some dramatic stairs, we had to wait in line in front of a glass encased ticket booth in order to pay the cover, which includes the price of admission plus free drinks all night from a preset selection (from rum and coke to "sex on the beach"). Swooping through some velvet curtains and then going down a concrete walkway, we finally entered the club itself. Immediately we became aware that any light-colored clothing we were wearing was glowing in the purplish black lights reminiscent of the Peter Pan ride at Disneyland. We felt less like we had just paid for a cover than for a ride, a show, an experience. In Acapulco, it seems, you don't club hop. You choose an experience and stick with it.

I have to admit, the size of this place was impressive. You enter on the upper level, where there is a bar and some leather couches and coffee tables. And then it becomes clear why you went upstairs at the entrance: just beyond the upper bar, the club makes a cavernous drop into a kind of pit. This is where most of the action happens. A large concrete slab about halfway down serves as a dance floor, and the bar at the bottom is truly bustling. To the right and left, tiered levels rise from the pit like stadium seating, and each tier is lined with tables and couches. It is like a concert venue masquerading as a club.

Finding a table to sit at is rather difficult. The high tables with stools at the bottom of the pit were all full when we arrived, and every other free table on the tiers said "Reserved." We found out later that "Reserved" simply meant you had to pay for a table, about 50 pesos each. We opted not to pay since we figured we'd rather be dancing than sitting.

The music was quite an incredible mix of rock en español, salsa, merengue, and American hip-hop and pop, and the dance styles were equally varied to match the music. Many people chose to simply view the action from their perch on the tiers, but particularly good songs would turn each tier into its own dance floor. At one point, a group of male club employees got on the edge of the dance floor and provided a kind of boy band dance show to the enthusiastic crowd above and below.

Periodically, large twin "Video Descubro" screens would descend from the ceiling to display music videos. The reaction from the crowd provided a firsthand peek at responses to American pop culture in the age of globalization. Videos in Spanish induced a lively raucous of singing, dancing, and cheering—these videos ignited audience participation. But videos in English seemed to do quite the opposite. The dancers became a silent, attentive audience, and stood in their tracks and watched. It was probably just because they didn't know the words, but I don't think I've ever been so profoundly affected by 'Nsync's video for "Pop."

After a few hours, the volume and the smoke were finally getting to us, and we knew we weren't going to make it until 5:00 a.m. We bid our farewell to the winged gecko, and our tropical, nocturnal adventures came to a close. El Alebrije proved to be a spot that epitomizes the spirit of club life in Acapulco.

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