Cheap and welcoming, Hermosillo’s Club Obregon is where the city hangs out with itself
It was just after six on a recent Friday, and things were still relatively quiet at Club Obregon, a cantina in the middle of the city’s historic center at the base of Hermosillo’s iconic Cerro de la Campana hill.
Plastic chairs and simple wooden tables — hard-to-get commodities once the evening gets rolling — filled the airy room that wraps around three sides of the open air dance floor. Many had already been claimed by patrons, but a few still sat empty.
The club’s beer list is short but cheap: mostly national brands in standard bottles and big shareable caguamas that come with plastic cups. 1.2 liter caguamones are 75 pesos, or about $4.
Several members of the bar’s band — Grupo Nibbel 70 — were sitting at a table in front of the elevated stage, kicking back before another long Friday night that would stretch well into early Saturday morning.
Lead singer Edmundo Rendon said the band spent its first 10, 15 years hopping from cantina to cantina.
“We worked in every bar in Hermosillo,” he said of those early years.
With members of Obregon’s previous band getting on in years, they asked Obergon’s management for a shot nearly a decade ago, and they’ve been a staple ever since. Asked how many songs they know, drummer Rigoberto Flores guessed more than 300, maybe 400?
“500,” Rendon interjected. “Easy.”
With back-to-back shows every Thursday through Sunday, they need a deep repertoire. Rendon said they can burn through nearly 100 songs in a night, a genre-spanning mix of cumbias, rancheras, classic Mexican rock and whatever their fans request. For 50 pesos, they’ll even let audience members take the mic for a song.
“I leave destroyed,” drummer Flores said. “Pain in my arms, my back, because here it’s six and a half hours without stopping. A puro dale, dale, dale, dale dale. One song ends and the next begins.”
As the night builds, the energies of the crowd and band feed into each other, and guitarist Jose Luis Martinez said a “musical euphoria” eventually takes hold.
It’s grueling work, but the band has found its fortune at Club Obregon, their “little gold mine,” as Rendon put it. They’re getting on in years themselves now, and get tired more easily, but the love of their fans keeps them going.
“Our success was here,” the lead singer said. “And this is where we’ll finish, where we’ll give it everything we’ve got.”
'Vamos a gozar'
With 7 p.m. nearing, the band started warming up, and soon opened with the official club cumbia that Rendon wrote.
Vamos a bailar, al Club Obregon, vamos a gozar, the simple chorus goes. “We’re going to dance, at Club Obregon, we’re going to have a good time.”
Patricia Quiroz and her dance partner were the first to the floor. After a few songs, others started following suit, and by 8 p.m. there was a decent crowd. Quiroz was happy to chat about the club out front where it was quieter. But not until the song she requested — a Spanish cover of the Chuck Berry hit “No Particular Place to Go” popularized by the classic Mexican rock group Los Apson — was over.
She’s in her early 60s, and far from alone in her age group. But the club attracts people of all ages, and the crowd is consistently diverse in many ways.
“I love that,” she said. “Because it’s knowing how to share and coexist with all kinds of human beings, because we’re all human beings.”
The affordable drinks also help, as does the lack of a cover, but more than anything, it’s Grupo Nibbel’s retro sensibility that keeps her coming back.
A convergence point
By 9 p.m., the club is in full swing, and a line has formed outside.
One young man in his early 20s said he had heard of Obregon before he could even legally go, specifically that it was a bar for older folks that’s nevertheless a great time. He’s been coming regularly since he turned 18, the legal drinking age in Mexico.
Sofia Calvo had come with a small group of 30-something friends and colleagues. She compared the club to a big, loud family party, like her aunts’ and uncles’ weddings in the 1990s — and the soundtrack is about the same.
“This music brings back very nice memories from our childhood and adolescence,” she said.
“It’s Hermosillo,” she added of the club. “It encapsulates Hermosillo.”
Francisco Javier Verdugo — an actor better known for his folksy character El Tata Chile Bola - has his own reserved chair at the club. He called his preferred nighttime hangout unique as a sociocultural phenomenon — not just in Hermosillo, but across northwestern Mexico. Prominent politicos are regulars, as are, Verdugo noted, the well-heeled, down and out, punks and tattooed hip-hop artists.
“All of Hermosillo converges here,” he said.
A little magic
Back at the bar the following afternoon, there were few signs of the last night’s revelry. The beer and mud-slicked dance floor was bright white again — ready for another round. Manager and longtime barkeep Enrique “Kiki” Lopez was packing a box with chicharon and other snacks.
“I’ve always said that the club has a certain magic,” he offered as an explanation for the club’s broad appeal.
As far as magic can be explained, the band is a part of it, he said, and so is the dance floor, but just as important is the lack of judgment.
Repurposing a refrain also said about the city’s famous Xochimilco steak house, he said that if you visit Hermosillo without going to the club, “you didn’t come at all.”