I never set foot inside the old Taco Land. I was a 19-year-old Valley transplant when Ram Ayala was gunned down at his beloved bar after the Spurs earned their third NBA Championship on the night of June 23, 2005. I never had the chance to don my beat-up All-Star Chuck Taylors and thrash about in a room filled with sweaty music lovers. I never got the chance to purchase an exquisitely cold Lone Star or take a shot with Ayala. I missed the fuck out.
But I did learn about Ayala through several articles written by Current staff members detailing his murder that balmy June evening. I learned about his no-bullshit personality and his love of live music. I read how despite doorman Douglas Morgan’s death, Morgan’s actions that night led to bartender Denise Koger making it out alive (albeit after several days in a hospital). This past week, after we broke news that TacoLand (one word, capital L) was opening at 103 Grayson, I learned that Ram’s spirit is very much still with San Antonio. In every rabid commenter calling us yuppie prostitutes, in every incensed Facebook post denouncing the use of the name, but most of all in every comment that quoted Ayala’s infamous motto, “Don’t be a pussy.”
On Wednesday, Chris Erck’s iteration of TacoLand held a very soft opening. No draft beer or cocktails were available, but the big oak tree remained intact (for now—Erck plans to add a tree house where bands will play in phase two of the project). The outdoor venue had shiny new picnic tables and a bar area overlooking the SA river. Ayala’s daughter, Sylvia Navarro, and other family members were also there to show their support for the new TacoLand.
Erck’s knack for renovating old buildings (he had a hand in turning the Finesilver) is obvious—he kept tiles and Ram-related graffiti. But like dozens of commenters and Erck himself have pointed out, this isn’t and will never be Ayala’s Taco Land.
There’s still plenty to get your blood boiling: the newly gentrified area (we paid $8.75 for a Modelo Especial and Lone Star Lite, I mean, really), or how Erck is literally profiting off of Ayala’s legacy—or at least is not very good at coming up with original business names—and how Ayala is flipping all of us the bird from heaven…
As the evening wore on, I overheard a conversation between two former patrons: “Todo lo que queda es la pared,” (“There’s only the wall left”) they said, “Es puro pedo” (Not entirely sure this translates…). When prompted, George Prida and Chuy Hernandez were more than willing to chat about Ayala, his not-so-secret liquor stash and their thoughts on the new joint.
“It’ll never be the same, it’ll never be Taco Land,” Hernandez said, followed by a pronounced, “This is gringoland,” from Prida.
Whether you plan to ever set foot on the premises again, don’t hold it against people like me who didn’t party with Ayala and thus don’t have an automatic, deep-seated hatred for Erck’s plan. I’d rather hold on to the fact that instead of being torn down in favor of a tweezer-food restaurant or a designer boutique, a piece of Taco Land still stands. And if you ever want to regale us with tales of the larger-than-life bar owner under that storied oak tree, the overpriced Lone Star is on us.