Saying Goodbye to Fontana’s, One of NYC’s Underground Latino Hubs

Photo: Pedro Rodrigo Gonzalez

On Saturday, NYC lost one Fontana’s, one of the venues that helped foster the city’s early aughts alt-Latino scene, to the plague of rising rents that continues to shutter many small businesses. Originally built to service the Lower East Side’s rock ‘n roll scene of the early to mid aughts, Fontana’s’ purpose was expanded in order to accommodate all kinds of patrons. The venue, located on Eldridge street between Broome and Grand, played host to various afterparties, comedy shows, concerts, film shoots, televised sports games, trivia nights, and two of my long-running Latino events: Nacotheque & Rico Suave vs D’marquesina.

New York City has become laughably saturated with bars and clubs. There’s great venues in almost every neighborhood now, but in the last decade the pickings used to be much slimmer, and many bar owners (or their bookers) weren’t always inclusive or particularly adventurous with their programming. In hindsight it’s understandable; nowadays most nightlife patrons expect to hear a very eclectic mix genres, styles, and formats – I blame it on everyone’s ubiquitous access to the internet – but back in 2006, which is when I moved to NY and started Nacotheque, well-defined music themes (‘60s soul, goth & new wave, Brit pop, disco, etc) were still the norm.

Nacotheque’s Marcelo C. Baez and Amylulita. Photo by: Dulce Pinzn
Read more

The latter is probably part of the reason why Nacotheque, an event which focused on promoting old, new, and ignored Spanish-sung pop, rock, indie, and tropical music, had such a hard time fitting in. The Latino venues I approached while trying to setup the first party told me they mostly played salsa, bachata, Maná, or other worn-out rock en español relics. They had no interest in hosting a night dedicated to upcoming artists (Javiera Mena, Silverio, La Mala Rodriguez, Miti Miti) or kitschy classics (Raffaella Carra, Juan Gabriel, Sandro, La Lupe, Camilo Sesto). Cake Shop, a great indie music venue located on Ludlow street, stepped up and offered to host my wacky party in their basement, but only on Tuesday nights and after 12am.

Fontana’s proprietors welcomed Amylu, myself, and our strange party concept with open arms.

Cake Shop is a lovely, cool place, but 12am on a Tuesday night was a shitty time slot for a dance party. Still, I didn’t pass on the opportunity because beggars can’t be choosers. (Trivia: While looking for ways to promote my new party online, I got help from a site called NYMosaico. Depending on your age, you may or may not recognize NYMosaico as Remezcla’s former incarnation.)

I met many cool people at the first Nacotheque parties – including Remezcla’s founders – but, most importantly, I met Amylu Meneses, a party promoter and DJ extraordinaire who went on to become my business partner during Nacotheque’s entire existence. Being a lot more connected than myself, Amylu suggested we relocate Nacotheque to a more dance party-oriented venue – Cake Shop is primarily set up for live shows – and on a night closer to the weekend.

The last Rico Suave vs. D’Marquesina at Fontana’s. Photo: Pedro Rodrigo Gonzalez.
Read more

After trying out various venues all over the city and not being entirely content with any of them, in early 2007 Amylu got us a meeting with Holly Ferrari, one of three women in charge of running the then-newish Fontana’s. Courteous and warm since the beginning, Holly – and eventually Deannie Wheeler and Mary Finn, Fontana’s two other proprietors – welcomed Amylu, myself, and our strange party concept with open arms.

For six years we set up shop in their hidden, dimly lit, loudly outfitted basement. We brought in artists and DJs from all over Ibero-America (La Prohibida, Kumbia Queers, Hidrogenesse, Zoé, Davila 666, Rita Indiana, Kinky, Zuzuka Poderosa, Dante Spinetta, La Terremoto de Alcorcón, Circo, Los Amigos Invisibles), which made Fontana’s a regular meeting hub for many Spanish-sung music fans. It got to the point where the NY Post, Village Voice, Time Out, Paper Magazine, and Daily News, among plenty of others, all took notice.

Ten ago, not even other Latinos were willing to take a chance on oddball experiments such as Nacotheque. Yet, Fontana’s did so without flinching.

Sometime in 2012 Amylu and I decided to take a break from Nacotheque in order to pursue other activities. Then, in 2013, I hit up the Fontana’s gang and asked to pencil in a few weekends for Rico Suave, a new party with a different take on Nacotheque’s 100% all-Spanish formula. Soon after I teamed up with Hector Arce-Espasas, co-producer of the D’marquesina party, and we launched Rico Suave vs D’marquesina, a series of events we’ve been hosting in Fontana’s for the last three years.

Sadly, a few months ago one of the venue’s proprietors informed me that Fontana’s was scheduled to close on the 19th on this month because their rent got hiked. So, after almost ten years of dancing to great music (not just my own – the upstairs always had great DJs), drinking tasty drinks, meeting people from all walks of life, making friends and lovers in many shapes, colors, and sizes, this month I, along with a packed house, danced my last Spanish-sung song at the venerable bar. It was a bittersweet moment not just for myself and the people around me, but for many absent friends.

Marcelo C. Baez and Hector Arce of Rico suave vs D’marquesina. Photo: Pedro Rodrigo Gonzalez
Read more

I’ll always be thankful the kind staff – seriously, everyone at Fontana’s is incredibly nice – but I’m especially grateful towards Holly, Deannie, and Mary for helping foster the Latino community in New York in such a grand, uncompromising way. Ten years ago not everyone – not even other Latinos – were willing to take a chance on oddball experiments such as Nacotheque and Rico Suave, yet, these women did so without flinching.

I’d like to dedicate this rant to the beautiful Patrick Salt Ryan, a former bartender of Fontana’s, and I highly encourage you, dear reader, to stop by Fontana’s sometime before they close on, again, the 19th later this month.