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Puerto Vallarta has many gay bars – it’s truly a city that comes to life at night. But there are five well known gay bars that have been operating since the turn of this century and have had an important impact on the gay history of the city.
Each has their own unique culture, clientele, and vibe. Some have slightly different names and locations than when they first opened, but all have in common an incredible longevity, and storied traditions.
Let’s discover the history of them all, and see how each, in their own way, has become an integral part of the LGBTQ community here in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.
Olas Altas 439, Zona Romantica, Puerto Vallarta 48380
Apaches, as it is popularly known, was opened in November of 1997, as a Lesbian Martini and cocktail bar by Mary Ann Rattray, originally from Kimberly, British Columbia.
Shortly thereafter, a tourist from the Netherlands arrived in town named Endra Bruining. It was love at first sight, and the two quickly became a couple. They began operating the bar together, and it became an instant hit with their fiercely loyal clientele.
After several wonderful years in Puerto Vallarta, and making an untold number of friends, they decided to settle into their retirement years in 2016. The stars aligned perfectly, as Apaches current owners Ricardo Brehm and Geoff Dodds took the reins, and have lovingly nurtured this iconic space ever since.
The couple, wildly popular among the Apaches family, are present nearly every night, to welcome, chat, provide introductions, and become personally acquainted with all who enter.
When I recently complimented Geoff on how he and Ricardo make Apaches exceptional, he responded humbly, “we just open the doors, you guys make it special.”
Outrageously fun, it has the warm feel of a supportive community center, with the added benefit of serving the greatest martinis in town.
The bar is colorful inside, an intimate space with a large personality. Locally inspired modern art is displayed throughout, while behind the bar a diverse range of cool signage reigns supreme.
A WWII vintage ad reads “We Can Do It,” while another simply says, “Love You More.”Directly outside of the bar are the highly coveted sidewalk tables that allow for the best people watching in all of Zona Romantica.
Sitting with Ricardo on a steamy mid-July evening, I asked him “what is it that makes Apaches so unique?” He pondered the question, and then responded thoughtfully, “we enjoy connecting people, making them feel at home, it’s a great place for the solo traveler, you come here once, and you’re family.”
Ricardo concluded, “We are here to be a community, to help one another, to make the bad times better, and to celebrate the special moments with each other.” If you are looking to connect, to make lifelong friends, you need go no further than a beloved spot named Apaches. Come for one, and stay till two.
Venustiano Carranza 493, Emiliano Zapata, Puerto Vallarta 48380
Bar Frida 4.0 is the current name of a long standing and beloved neighborhood bar.
It is in its fourth location since opening in 2001, hence the name Bar Frida 4.0.
Owned the entire time by Tomas “Tom” Finley originally from Cobourg, Ontario Tom moved to Puerto Vallarta in his mid 50s. He had retired from a 20 year sales career in Toronto, and a 10 year stint as the owner of a floral shop in Vancouver, Canada.
Visiting PV for the first time in the late 1980s, Tom described Vallarta as “the only place that ever grabbed my heartstrings.”
Spending his first two years in town at the beaches and cantinas, he felt something was missing. “It just didn’t feel right,” Tom said of his short lived stint as a beach connoisseur.
He eventually saw a flyer advertising a bar for sale at 361 Lazaro Cardenas, where Reinas Bar currently stands, and as fate smiled down, Bar Frida was born. For ten incredible years Tom’s dream was realized. Then wanting to expand, but unable to, he began the search for a new location for his beloved Frida. As luck would have it, he found a great location on Insurgentes, which Frida occupied for approximately nine wonderful years.
The property was eventually sold and had to be vacated within two months. For a second time, a spot was found on Lazaro Cardenas. Frida moved into the former Manny’s Bar, for the maximum amount of time the lease would allow, one year.
After a long search, Tom found the perfect spot on Venustiano Carranza, and on October 31, 2022 Frida 4.0 was born.
The space has a warm neighborhood feel, bright and friendly, with vibrant images of Frida Kahlo in every direction. Visiting with Tom recently, I inquired as to what his vision has been over the years for this iconic bar?
He smiled, and said “I really wanted to draw a local crowd; I wanted the expats and the Mexican nationals alike to feel welcome here.”
Tom concluded with a beautiful thought, “I knew when I opened Frida that I had to get back into life; it was way too early to just give up, if I had, I would have missed the best years of my life, I would have missed the dance.”
Venustiano Carranza 239, Zona Romantica, Puerto Vallarta 48380
If you are looking for an iconic, eclectic, old style cantina, look no further than Los Amigos. Opened in 1998 by Arturo Orozco Lopez, Los Amigos is the only gay bar here in Puerto Vallarta with the same owner, at the same location, and with the same great ambiance since the very first day.
Visiting on a hot July night as the Bee Gees played on a television screen across the bar, I felt as if I had returned to an earlier time, when Puerto Vallarta enjoyed a small town, more authentically Mexican feel.
I had the honor of meeting Los Amigos owner, Arturo Orozco Lopez, and was fortunate to discover the details of Los Amigos’ long, and storied history.
Arturo originally hails from Tepic, in the Mexican State of Nayarit, but spent ten formative years in Montreal, Quebec.
He discovered Puerto Vallarta in January of 1998. Arturo became a regular at a bar named Centro Botanero. He felt comfortable, and at home. He got to know the bar, and the clientele who patronized it.
When the cantina came up for sale later that year, he bought it with the money he had earned from his time in Montreal. On October 31, 1998, he was handed the keys to his lifelong dream.
When Arturo opened Los Amigos, he informed me that it was one of only four gay bars operating in Puerto Vallarta at the time. The other three were, Paco Paco, Los Balcones, and Why Not?
I asked Arturo, as we chatted in his cantina, what his vision was when it all began, those many years ago?
He stated quietly,” I created the name Los Amigos because I wanted people to come here and become friends,” continuing he offered “many, many couples have met here over the years.” Arturo smilingly explained that many guys met in his cantina because he played matchmaker numerous times. He concluded, proudly mentioning “we have many couples who come back to visit us, who originally met here long ago.”
As Arturo excused himself to welcome some regulars, I took a moment on the hot still night to just sit and drink in the vibe, so alive with memories of another time. Pulsating, flickering lights seemed to dance to the rhythm of music from the 70s and 80’s. As I peered outside, just beyond the bar, an open air dance floor stood waiting, beckoning yet unknown lovers under the soft moonlight of a Mexican night.
Ignacio L. Vallarta 278, Zona Romantica Puerto Vallarta 48380
Paco’s Ranch is an incredibly fun, exciting, authentically Mexican nightclub with some of the best late night entertainment in town. However, it is much more than that. It is the namesake of Paco Ruiz, the one man who arguably created Puerto Vallarta as a gay mecca.
I had the honor of meeting with Paco’s Ranch current owner, John King on an early August afternoon. As we enjoyed the view of the Malecon, and the Mexican Pacific just beyond, he wove the history of Gay Vallarta into a beautiful tapestry that left me spellbound. The recollections he shared are of people he knew well, from his early days in Puerto Vallarta.
When Paco Ruiz and his partner David Lansley arrived in Puerto Vallarta, they opened a bar on the corner of Pino Suarez and Francisco Madero. Located where the PVRPV laundry center now stands, it was named Paco Paco, after Paco Ruiz and one of his best friends, who was involved with the bar for a short time, also called Paco.
The bar was cruisy and fun, a great way to meet guys after a day at the beach. In order to serve the burgeoning number of gay men who were coming here to vacation, many for the first time, an expansion was needed.
To this end, Paco and David partnered with an investor. After improvements were completed, the club’s popularity soared. Times were good, but the noise was not appreciated by the neighbors who lived nearby.
JC Moore moved to Puerto Vallarta in 1995 from Albuquerque, New Mexico, where he owned a bar named The Ranch. He was excited to invest in a local establishment, but had one stipulation before taking the plunge with Paco Paco, a new and better location had to be found. Therefore, in September of 1995 Paco Paco moved into a bar formerly called The City Dump located on Ignacio L Vallarta. Great times were had at this wildly popular location, as well as the adjacent space, which JC had opened as Paco’s Ranch. His vision was to present top quality strip shows, while simultaneously honoring his Albuquerque roots with the name Paco’s Ranch.
In the early 2000’s, Paco and David said goodbye to the establishment they founded and pursued other interests. For the next several years the team of Raul Villapango and JC Moore ran Paco Paco and Paco’s Ranch at a time of increasing competition within the local market.
By May of 2007, much of their former clientele had gravitated to newer and shinier options. At this pivotal moment, John King, originally hailing from the state of Iowa, but a longtime member of the Puerto Vallarta community, saw an opportunity to bring Paco’s back to its heyday.
“They had a great name, I just had to build it back again, and I had someone named Benito to help me do that,” John stated, referring to his right hand man, and current Paco’s Ranch Manager Benito Aleman.
After John purchased the establishment, a decision was made to retain the sole name of Paco’s Ranch. He set his sights on turning the tide, and returning the iconic nightclub to its former glory. The crowds returned, and Paco’s move in 2010 to its current location solidified their return to prominence.
As I stood next to John, watching the 12:00 am drag show on a Friday night in early August, I thought of what he had mentioned to me days earlier.
“I wanted to preserve the atmosphere Paco created, but also put my own stamp on it,” he continued, “I wanted to create a place for people who work hard all week, to have a place to come and enjoy a great experience.”
As the star studded show unfolded in all its glory, I glanced over at John, enjoying it all with a gleam in his eye. As I peered out over the happy crowd, I thought of Paco Ruiz, gone now for many years, but looking down, and smiling.
267D Lazaro Cardenas, Zona Romantica, Puerto Vallarta 48380
La Noche in English means the night, and there is no better name for this legendary bar that has been opening every night since January of 2002 than the lovely words La Noche.
I had the pleasure of meeting the owner of La Noche, Kevin Johnson, in the heat of late July. Learning that he was originally from the State of South Dakota, I asked how he came to open a bar in the early part of this century here on the Mexican Pacific.
Kevin smiled, reflecting upon that period of time. “I originally came down here on vacation over a couple winters, going to the beach every day, dining every night, I got bored.”
A few months into one of his winter getaways, a bar named La Noche located at 257 Lazaro Cardenas, where La Cantina Margarita is currently, came up for sale. Kevin bought the bar in November of 2002, originally planning for it to be a seasonal operation.
Over time, the bar became so popular he decided to stay open year round. As the crowd grew, more room was needed for the loyal clientele who had fallen in love with La Noche.
Expanding into the space next door, where La Noche is now located, both bars operated simultaneously for a time. Eventually a decision was made to concentrate on the newer and larger bar, and make it shine. Kevin bartendered for many years and there is no position he hasn’t worked, except go-go boy and drag queen.
The grand, clubby feeling main room is exhilarating. Two giant chandeliers are suspended above the large bar, while a circular stage front and center highlights the talents of drag queens and go-go boys, performing the whole night long. After traversing several stairs, you enter a completely different force field. The intense energy below gives way to a relaxed, laid back, loungy atmosphere on the second floor.
As I walked into the open air bar area, a friendly cat named Kat purred her greeting. Walking up a few steps, moonlight shone down onto a sensual setting of palm trees, intermixed with sturdy stone topped tables and comfortable seating. Soft lighting, and warm hacienda style red brick provide the perfect setting to get to know that someone special.
I asked Kevin what his guiding light was, his vision behind the incredible success of La Noche.
He answered reflectively, “We want everyone who visits La Noche to feel welcome; all of the employees who attend patrons are bilingual, including the drag queens.” Continuing, he stated, “We strive to hire gay people, “approximately 90 percent of our staff is from the gay community.” Kevin proudly informed me. “We have worked hard to build a Mexican, as well as a foreign clientele, combining the cultures to ensure whoever visits has a supportive environment that provides a fun, memorable experience,” pausing, he emphasized, “the staff really makes that vision work.” Kevin concluded, with a twinkle in his eye, “every night is an event here at La Noche, every night is special. “