Monday, April 6, 2015

Remembering Saluté Amidst The St. Mary's Strip Boom

Posted By on Mon, Apr 6, 2015 at 3:20 PM

Editor's note: As we focus on the music and culinary boom along North St. Mary's, freelance writer Aaron Peña reflects on growing up inside Saluté and the legend of Esteban Jordan. 

It has been almost three years since the once famed Saluté International bar closed its doors in July of 2012, but the lasting impact of its legacy in San Antonio continues to live on. I can recall my first meeting with its proprietor, a woman who I would be proud to call my friend many years later, the lovely Azeneth Dominguez.

Upon our first meeting, a post Spurs victory fueled newly 21-year-old version of myself would drop a bottle of Negra Modelo in her bar, and even though I was quick to clean up the mess; it would be a few years until she would let me forget about it. During the course of those years, I began to get to know her as one of the most compassionate and strong women I have ever had the privilege of meeting. She would tell me about her experiences in being a single woman running a bar for 25 years in the wake of her late husband passing away.

On Wednesdays, in between band sets; Dominguez would let me plug in my music into the speakers and we'd listen to oldies. She'd tell me all about the bands we would listen to such as her time spent watching bands like The Royal Jesters and Sunny Ozuna throughout the city. While I loved listening to her stories, nothing made Dominguez's eyes light up like hearing and talking about El Parché, the legendary conjunto accordion product of San Antonio's west side — Esteban Jordan. Anyone who spent any amount of time within the walls of Saluté knew Dominguez's eternal passion for Esteban. The two had been lovers in younger days, and remained close friends throughout his life and until his untimely passing in August of 2010.

Upon the right wall of the bartop hung a neon sign, emphatically advertising Jordan's weekly residency performance at Saluté on Friday nights. It was here that people young and old would cram into the beloved bar to watch El Parché (described as “The Jimi Hendrix of accordion) play his squeezebox before a packed house of fans. If you can imagine barely being able to move, but still mustering the space to grab your dance partner and spin them; that was Saluté. It was like a family party that you never wanted to end; a rotating disco ball that shimmered on lover's smiles as they twisted and turned throughout the night.

click to enlarge Peña on the guitar inside Saluté in November 2010. - AARON PEÑA
  • Aaron Peña
  • Peña on the guitar inside Saluté in November 2010.

After Jordan's passing in 2010, there was an imminent feeling that the end was near for Saluté. I remember fighting back tears when Dominguez took me to the back of the bar to proudly showcase a shrine she had built in Steve's memory. I didn't know Jordan personally outside of being a huge fan, but it hurt me to see how much his passing affected her. I could hear the exhaustion in her voice as she professed to me her desire to retire after running the bar for so long by herself. I was happy that my friend would soon be able to enjoy her life after retirement, but selfishly, I knew how much I would miss her establishment, and more so her presence. Just like that, the brilliant pink neon Saluté sign that illuminated the St. Mary's strip for so long was turned off for good.

Some weeks later, I joined Dominguez at a city council meeting to ensure that Saluté International Bar would be designated as a historic landmark. She emotionally spoke about the history of the bar before the council while I and about 15 others (mainly life long bar patrons, and musicians) sat behind her in support. When the notion was granted to designate the bar as a historic landmark, we erupted in applause, and she wiped tears of joy from her face.

Since then, the bar has been reoccupied and transformed into TBA, a cocktail and snack bar that has developed a cult-like following from fellow service industry patrons. With all due respect to the folks who do a fine job at TBA; you could have put an amusement park in place of Saluté and it would still make me sad to pass by. Since closing, there have been several Tex Pop functions honoring the history and legacy of Dominguez and Saluté and their contributions to our culture and city. I wrote this as a commemorative piece of gratitude for all the good times, companionship and shirts I ruined with sweat while dancing in your cantina. Que viva Saluté!

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