MEXICO CITY – Ronda Di still dons the same outfits she had been wearing until recently at drag shows in the Mexican capital’s Zona Rosa neighborhood.
But now she and a fellow drag artist get dolled up to serve diners at El Tijuana, a new restaurant in Mexico City’s historic downtown that is carving out a unique niche for itself while providing work to people facing financial hardship during the coronavirus pandemic.
“I’d never done this very strenuous work before. We’re giving that little extra so the customer has a more enjoyable time. I’d been used to the nightlife, but we’ve switched to a family schedule, traded the booze for food, because the trick is to reinvent yourself and keep working,” Ronda Di told EFE.
She waits tables along with her friend, Daniel Veytia, at that restaurant-bar, where a sign out front in neon pink hints at the unorthodox dining experience.
Several tables separated according to coronavirus social-distancing rules and featuring chairs with different colors and patterns are set up outside. Inside, the walls are filled with magazine clips of celebrities popular with the LGBT community such as Paquita la del Barrio, Lady Gaga and Ana Torroja, former lead singer of the pop trio Mecano.
The slogan – “a chill place where everything is different,” from the lyrics to flamboyant Mexican singer Juan Gabriel’s song “El Noa Noa” – captures the ambiance of the establishment.
But owners Luis Rivas and Osvaldo Valdes, who have previous experience in the nightclub scene, also said the restaurant fills a need in Mexico City for a LGBT-friendly space with a family feel.
“Alameda Central (a public urban park in downtown Mexico City where the newly opened restaurant is located) had always been a gathering place for gays, but it had become very neglected,” Rivas said, adding that the goal of the venture in part is to help restore that area’s image.
“There’s also a different atmosphere at (El Tijuana). It’s not like a club where you can’t talk,” he added, alluding to the numerous nightspots catering to an LGBT clientele in the Zona Rosa neighborhood, located just west of the metropolis’ historic center.
Although El Tijuana currently operates from 1:00 pm to 9:00 pm due to the capital’s coronavirus-mitigation measures, the post-pandemic plan is to set up a stage for drag shows.
But for now, Ronda Di and Daniel say they are solely focused on their waitressing and want to excel in the job even though they find it exhausting.
“I hope we can go back to the shows, but we’d gone four months without working and it was time for us to find something to do. The important thing is to not get left behind. No one knows when the nightclubs will reopen,” said the 25-year-old Ronda Di, who has been working in Mexico City’s vibrant gay nightclub scene for three years.
Now she and Daniel expertly handle trays filled with enchiladas, chilaquiles, cochinita pibil tacos and glasses of mezcal, impressing the restaurant’s customers, some friends and an increasing number of intrigued passers-by.
Although Mexico has been hard hit by the pandemic – ranking fourth in deaths attributed to COVID-19 globally – the tables at the restaurant have been gradually filling up with more customers drawn to the innovative concept.
Ronda Di, for her part, said El Tijuana is a great project that has what it takes to navigate the current difficulties, joking that perhaps in the future she and her colleagues can work at the restaurant by day and perform in drag shows at night.